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Skip to 0 minutes and 11 seconds Identities are constructed through drawing a dividing line between the self and the other. We can better understand who we are by defining who the other is. I am a woman. He is a man. He is Muslim. I am Christian. We are Greek. They are Swedish. That is how we understand European identity as well. We imagine Europeans in contrast to their significant others. In fact, to define Europe, we look at those minorities, different nationalities, and world regions that are relevant to Europe, but from which Europe seeks to differentiate itself.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 seconds Europe’s main cultural others have been the East, the Ottoman Empire, and nowadays, Turkey, Islamic countries and cultures, Russia– the Russian empire in the past and the communist bloc of countries during the Cold War– the USA, and in general the Americas. Despite feeling as the mother of the new world, Europe believes it is radically different. Through practises of othering, Europe has built its identity as profoundly different. Due to its cultural roots, history, and institutions, Europe understands itself as a power of the good that promotes positive values and collective norms, ideals of democracy, tolerance, and human rights. But do the others perceive Europe this way? How does the world see Europe and the European Union?

Skip to 1 minute and 44 seconds How do people and institutions outside Europe understand European culture? How do movies and the media represent the European Union? And how is Europe’s seen in Africa and Asia? Non-Europeans do not see Europe the same way it sees itself. First, people outside Europe do not know much about the EU. Non-European media coverage is limited mainly to the role of the EU in international affairs as the EU internal affairs are perceived as complicated and bureaucratic.

Skip to 2 minutes and 19 seconds The images most frequently associated with the EU are those of an economic giant, but still not a world power. Europe is regarded mainly as an area of successful regional integration rather than a space of political unity or cultural diversity. When the EU intervenes for development in non-European countries, it is sometimes perceived as a self-interested and patronising actor. Non-European activists and NGOs often depicted as a neoliberal agent. Its economic policies are seen as a threat to the social and economic conditions of people inside and outside the European boundaries. When it comes to the ongoing economic crisis, the EU is often equated with the IMF and the World Bank.

Skip to 3 minutes and 10 seconds The picture changes when it comes to the sphere of democratisation and human rights. The EU is often perceived as a promoter of democracy that engages in political dialogue, and advances development and environmental standards. In fact, it is seen less aggressive than the US when intervening in other countries’ politics.

Skip to 3 minutes and 33 seconds The EU has been at the forefront of important global campaigns, from the fight against climate change to the adoption of international agreements based on the rule of law. Non-European social movements and NGOs look at the EU as an important ally for bringing positive changes to their home countries. They often appeal to the EU in order to obtain the implementation of human rights, democratisation, or gender equality at the domestic level.

Skip to 4 minutes and 4 seconds However, the EU is often criticised for being hypocritical and politically biassed in its human rights policy, as is the case with the recent refugee crisis.

Skip to 4 minutes and 16 seconds So, how do other countries see the EU? Is the EU regarded as a force for the good? Is it a political, or an economic power? Is it supporting human rights, or promoting its own political interests? Has the ongoing economic crisis changed the way the EU is read from the outside? There is no definitive answer as different cultures and countries in different times have a different image of Europe. Taking into account how Europe is perceived from the outside will make us understand better what it means to be European today.

Europe seen from the outside

In this video, we explain how European identity has often been defined against an “other”: the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, and the United States of America.

Then we move on to stress the difference between how Europe perceives its place in the world, as a “power of the good”, and how others see it. Outside, Europe is often perceived as a successful space of regional integration. But its image can be ambivalent. While some perceive its international action as a force of democratization and of promotion of human rights, others regard it as patronizing

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This video is from the free online course:

Cultures and Identities in Europe

European University Institute (EUI)