'Growing together. The more we are, the stronger we are' is the title of a recent European Commission promotional video designed to send youngsters in member countries the message that unity is strength. Yet, it does so by showing an extremely orientalist version of the EU. But before describing the video, I would like to point out two questions that the title raises. Firstly, who are the 'we'? Second, against whom do that 'we' need to be strong? The answer to these questions is closely linked to the search for the identity of the European Union and its perceived threats.
The video begins with a woman, dressed in the style of Uma Thurman in the 2004 film Kill Bill, walking alone in an abandoned factory (is this a representation of European capitalism in decline?). Suddenly, one by one, men representing diverse origins ('civilizations' as Huntington would say) burst into the scene, each performing a different style of martial art. The first is a Kun-fu fighter, the second is a Kalaripayattu (martial art of India) warrior, and finally, after breaking a door the third figure appears, a capoeira fighter (art-dance which originated in some African countries such as Angola but was popularised in Brazil). In the middle of this scene of 'siege', the seemingly helpless woman multiplies herself several times, in a very calm and magisterial way until her clones surround the opponents. These figures, feeling outnumbered, decide to give up, sit down and finally vanish into thin air before our eyes.
Although the press release signed by Stefano Sannino, General Director for Enlargement of the EU, stated that it was not intended to disseminate any racist message, the video was quickly removed from the website of the institution because of the many criticisms it received (which can still be found on the Internet).
Clearly, and as an art form, the video gives rise to many possible interpretations. From the benign idea of 'mutual respect' and 'peace and harmony' that according to Sannino it actually intended to convey, to the racist, sexist and imperialist undertones which caused so much offence. This video is a message not only to youth as the European Commission claims, but also to many other recipients, such as Member States, candidate States, and the people of Europe in general. The slogan 'the more we are, the stronger we are' refers to a 'we', the European citizens (as Balibar might say) and some 'others' who come from abroad and threaten our integrity and security. It is significant that the three men that menace the woman currently represent conflicting (and interconnected) imaginaries as the economic threat coming from Asian countries like China, the issue of terrorism from Arab and South Asian countries, and the question of African and Latin American immigration. The Union and unity are the proposed defence against these threats.
Referring to the candidate states, the message is that of union (enlargement) among countries with quasi-genetic inheritance represented by the cloning of the European woman into identical women. But at the same time, the Commission is also calling upon its members to remain united. in a period of economic and existential identity crisis, when countries such as France, Italy, Denmark, Germany, and others call to break with Community symbols such as the Treaty of Schengen or the Euro. It is interesting to note the way in which the Union is facing its attackers through a kind of meditation. This is nothing but a symbol that represents the European-Western rule of law as a rational, thoughtful and non-violent response to foreign and hostile aggression.
Finally, it is not a coincidence that the clones, which subsequently become the stars of the flag of the Union surround the invaders as a large external border that delimits a territory and protects against outside invaders, at the same time as neutralising and assimilating them once they are inside.
Although the video has been withdrawn and the EU has apologized, the message has spread beyond that intended by its authors. The idea has been propagated. Like many other political and institutional discourses, seemingly harmless, neutral or even positive, this one has again sent out a subliminal message that Europe is vulnerable and the countries that comprise it should cooperate to resist the attack of other cultures and civilizations - forms of life that beset both from outside and within. Beyond the cost of the production of the video is the cost of building a European Union, a European citizenship, a European law and a European identity that orientalises imaginary of others.
Still from original promotional video produced by European Commission, Enlargement Directorate General