What does it mean to be European?
This is an ambitious title for a presentation like this, that only can give scattered glimpses of the whole picture.
Rather than starting with a theoretical analysis of the question, working through theses, definitions and themes, and then starting the search for documents to illustrate these, we have gone the other way. We started with this question and found documents that we believe will tell of interesting aspects worthy of consideration in this matter. We then grouped into 5 main and several more subsidiary themes the presentations made on the basis of these documents.
By working this way, one might say that we are sure to have overlooked or misrepresented some important aspects of European culture. On the other hand we are certain that we have brought to light some interesting documents that will be appreciated, and that would not have been found the other way. Here the focus is on the archival material rather than a theoretical analysis of the question.
Of course the diversities within the common themes are quite evident. The development of free elections and universal suffrage is an interesting example. The introduction of democracy and elections in the 19th century is such a common phenomenon for most European countries. But when studying the examples given here, one becomes aware that the way the democratic principles were carried out was very different from country to country, even in the two Nordic countries Norway and Finland. Each country has had to find its own way, stumbling towards this ideal goal. Historical lessons like these might teach us the necessity of a humble attitude towards countries that strive today to establish free elections, without having the same traditions on which to draw experience.
The common European culture might be described as a dynamic mosaic
Dynamic, because it is submitted to constant change, some elements disappearing while other elements develop from regional or national cultural elements to become common European, and later, maybe universal (like the example of democracy, mentioned above).
A mosaic, because the single elements need not at all look like the total picture. When in place, the single element is hardly recognised for what it is. But, when removed, the hole in the picture will be evident. Regrettably, this is the fate of parts of our cultural heritage, including archives: sometimes the value of it is recognised only when it is too late. For a time, the pain may be acute. But then, the dynamism may bring other parts to the fore, partly replacing what is gone. And the picture looks whole and new again, although slightly different. But what is lost, can never be brought back.
For the moment, these pieces are here, for you to enjoy. To the best of our abilities, we shall try to preserve them for posterity.