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Friday, 14 January 2011 07:39

A time for the East

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The 1st of January, 2011. Fireworks are exploding in various stunning patterns above the European capital cities. The residents of the Old Continent are withstanding the hard frost and recalling to themselves some of the Mediterranean aspects of their common identity, as expressed by Horace in the phrase nunc est bibendum – now we must drink. Meanwhile, Hungary takes on the presidency of the Council of the European Union. Although after the signing of the Lisbon Treaty, the rotational leader of the Council has fewer political instruments, it's still a very prestigious bonus for the nation states, especially for new members. 2011 will be the year of Eastern presidencies, because Poland follows Hungary in sunny July.

What's so exciting about back-to-back presidencies for Eastern Europeans? Apart from the obvious task of "making Europe more effective and close to its citizens", the presidency is seen as a great chance to show off culture, heritage and some evidence of being a part of, and not an addition to, "the European club”.

I would argue then that leading the Old Continent is far more important for the countries of so-called "New Europe" than for those which have been seen as traditional members of the community, or rather the old concert of Empires in Europe. Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz once wrote that what makes a country European is to not be the same or like the others, but to be somewhat unique, somehow different – irreplaceable. Hungarians, for instance have no problem with that question – just listen to their astonishing language, or Liszt Ferencz’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 or, as they've arranged, simply savour the gastronomic excellence of a Hungarian lunch. Egészségédre - Bon Appétit!

But most of us from the East tend rather to try to be as much "like the others" as possible. Obviously, looking towards the solidness of the Germans, the intellectual dandiness of the French and the mature democracy of the Britons isn't that bad, but does it make Easterners full members of the community?

Presidencies create occasions to make some efforts at looking for new aspects of Europe and that "irreplaceability". But, as always when it comes to uniting Europe, the efforts cannot just be one-sided – so maybe we should begin with a short lesson in a few useful Hungarian expressions!

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