David Van Reybrouck on Flirting with Stereotypes

Can you name a stereotype that has a negative influence on public debate? What are its consequences?

Sicilians are lazy. Walloons are lazy, too. The Greeks are even lazier, not to mention the Moroccans! Not very helpful, this populist rhetoric.

But hey, there is also an elitist rhetoric that is equally problematic! "Europe is such a great and diverse continent!" "We have such amazing literature!" "Read Elias Canetti and you become a European advocate straight away! (or Kafka, or Kundera, or Celan: any Great Male, preferably Central-European Author from Mid till Turn of the Century will do)" "People who do not like the EU are so narrow-minded, nationalistic, fearsome, etc."

If cosmopolitism is the best argument we can invent for Europe, I fear for the future of Europe. If cosmopolitism is all we can come up with, I start losing my faith in Europe. Europe is more than academics sipping Chardonnay from Burgundy to Varna.

Take the point of view of a Chinese, Brazilian or Nigerian. Now look at a European. What do you see?

An incredible political project that has brought peace and well-being to an entire continent for over half a century. A political project that has, rather incredibly too, embraced hyperneoliberalism as its only valid models in the last twenty years. My Chinese alter ego would admire European accomplishments, for sure, yet he would also see the ends of a very reductive state. He would see certain benefits of the state- controlled Chinese model, too. He would start thinking about a mixture of big state and small state, about market economy and public control, about creating welfare and making sure it sustainable. Then, he would go and try to convince my Brazilian and Nigerian alter ego. The Brazilian would be readily convinced, for he sees the same battle in his country, too. And the Nigerian would dream of a country that is less dictated by the oil-extracting companies. But all three of them would certainly like to visit and perhaps even settle in Europe.