In Europe, the past has always been much better than the present. Those who see European identity diluted, its legacy erased—public places smattered with graffiti and covered with advertising, names forgotten, classical languages unlearned, French and German replaced by broken English—are concerned that all that was ever good about Europe may be bound to transform beyond recognition. But their lament, however justifiable, disregards the fact that the meaning of Europe and the values assigned to it are indissolubly bound to practices and processes rather than ideas. The prosaic, the makeshift, and the managerial have come to prevail over supreme beauty and ethics.
There is no denying that the ubiquitous "Euro-" prefix that faithfully continues to promote Europe hardly designates a luxury brand. The enormous economic achievements of the single European currency notwithstanding, it would be difficult to claim that the Euro banknotes, with their drawings of fictitious historical buildings, make a fantastic contribution to contemporary art and design. And probably not too many people appreciate the sobering monument installed in the Luxembourg town of Remerschen to commemorate the 1985 Treaty of Schengen. These are just a few examples; in fact, quite a substantial share of European identity breathes boredom and cheapness, and this situation is not to be attributed to any form of central control or branding, but rather to the simultaneous deployment of market liberalism, good intentions, and managerial protocol.
This article compares a Europe of historical ideas with a Europe of practices. It is the comparison between two brand identities: one historical, highly visible, and very important; the other semi-new (already aging), stealthy (somewhat invisible), and cheap (affordable). This comparison leads to further reflection on the EU's idea of power (without coercion, of course), its territorial and monetary borders, and the surveillance and protocol used to enforce them. Meanwhile, various social movements have reclaimed resistance and rioting as a means to occupy precisely those historical symbols belonging to Europe's past.
Our story begins in a French banlieue. Fontbarlettes is an unheard-of suburb on the outskirts of the southeastern city of Valence, and it is here that we are suddenly reminded of European heritage.
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