2.1 Fostering common European identity: a problem for heritage projects

Among the objectives highlighted by the European funding authorities are the integration of European citizens and to foster a sense of common identity. These objectives can be found at the heart of the decision by the European Parliament to set up the Culture 2000 programme. The decision highlighted European integration and the 'model of society' for Europe:

'Culture has an important intrinsic value to all people in Europe, is an essential element of European integration and contributes to the affirmation and vitality of the European model of society and to the Community's influence on the international scene.' (Official Journal of the European Union 2000).

In addition to the integration of European peoples, the declaration goes further by highlighting the need to draw upon 'common cultural values' in order to participate in such integration. In other words it emphasises the establishment of a common level of European identity through shared values:

'If citizens give their full support to, and participate fully in, European integration, greater emphasis should be placed on their common cultural values and roots as a key element of their identity and their membership of a society founded on freedom, democracy, tolerance and solidarity; a better balance should be achieved between the economic and cultural aspects of the Community, so that these aspects can complement and sustain each other.' (Official Journal of the European Union 2000).

It should be noted that within this call for the use of culture to establish a common identity in Europe there is still recognition of diversity. In the case of the Culture 2000 declaration the Union felt compelled not only to promote common identity but to 'promote the diversity of its cultures' (Official Journal of the European Union 2000). This acceptance of diversity is acknowledged in between the more explicit calls to strengthen common identity and a European model of society.

Several 'heritage' projects and academic researchers have sought to find legitimisation of a common European identity or social model in the past. These attempts have often been supported by national state departments responsible for 'the national heritage' as well as by the European Union. Historical searches for a European 'origin myth' have looked to periods for which written evidence exists, leading to an interest in the classical understanding of Europe and the role of Christendom as a defining feature of Europe in the Middle Ages (see sections 2.3 and 2.4). Other European 'origin myths' reach further into the prehistoric past, to the 'Neolithic revolution' when hunter-gatherer cultures gave way to farmers, the Bronze Age, described as the 'golden age of Europe', and the 'Celtic' Iron Age, which has been used in constructions of an 'origin myth' at both national and European levels (see section 2.2).The constructions of European identity underpinned by the pre-Renaissance past can therefore be divided into three broad categories:

  1. Constructing prehistoric 'origin myths'.
  2. Classical Europe: threats from the East and superiority over the barbarian.
  3. Medieval Europe: Christendom (the Cross) opposed to Islam (the Crescent).


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