European identity in the twentieth century

European identity is a concept much deliberated due to its ambiguous nature, for it is a matter of opinion. However, in accordance to David Miller's, On Nationality, the main components of the formation of one's identity usually derive from five factors, which are; firstly through a recognition of one another shared by the members of the nation, secondly through an identifiable historical continuity, the third feature being an active identity of cohesive decisions, the fourth being the connection to a geographical place, and finally an identity requires shared characteristics.

The development of a European identity has been a question of the definition, for the nations that symbolise Europe can be categorised through different aspects, such as political, economic, cultural or religious, and geographical. Therefore classing a nation, as 'typically' European is difficult, for to create an overview of a culture made of different nations is too ambiguous, and therefore this is vague enough to incorporate all aspects of being 'European'.

Throughout the evolution of Europe significant points in history have altered the identity and ideas within it, such as the domination of religion throughout the Middle Ages which defined Europe through; the split of Rome in 395 and the fall of Constantinople to Mohammed II in 1435. Then throughout the renaissance the expansion of geographical knowledge of the world saw the rise in secular political ideology, and two important dates: the 1530s (Reformation); 1532 (Machiavelli's The Prince) saw the identity of Europeans alter as they looked at the Empire as an entity comprised of different states, rather than a singular religious empire.

Cultural identity altered during the Enlightenment as Europe was seen as a pinnacle of civilisation; the first time the term 'European civilisation' was used was in 1766. As Europe progressed through the 19th century the significance of the French Revolution in 1789, and the romantic reactions to it (Burke, Novalis) altered the perceptions of Europe and the began to alter political life within it as it emerged on the balance of power of sovereign nation states.

However throughout the twentieth century Europe once again evolved due to the world wars, which gave birth to a 'European idea,' this description though has had to manifest itself to adapt and incorporate new definitions of being European as the century progressed, for with altering the geography by creating new nation states and declaring independence to others, such as Norway in 1907, and Finland in 1917, as well as the recreation of Poland in 1919 challenges to the identity of Europe have emerged.

Therefore this shows that, as Miller suggested, historical aspects alter the perception of identity. A common history aligns the people within the nation to correspond to one another, each seeking for a common goal, and thus using nostalgia to embrace the collective. As Jeffery Richards suggests in Films and British national identity, "As the millennium looms, Britain is undergoing a crisis of national identity… the questioning of traditional institutions and general sense of spiritual malaise infecting all generations.

"1 In this sense Richards suggests that national identity is an aspect of culture which can be adapted and lost if not corresponded to, his belief is that using memorabilia such as war mementos outline a nations nostalgia for unification and their want to embrace a common identity. The world wars are one of the most significant factors in shaping this identity; the shared experiences left Europeans feeling closer through this common heritage, and united the west against the pull of communism.

The devastation they left behind created a want for this destruction to never be felt again and to help build each other up, therefore Europe pulled together by after 1945 creating the European Economic Community, 1958-86, which evolved to becoming the European Union in 1992 through a want of inter-dependence. The 1951 European Coal and Steel Community were founded through this reliance upon one another founded after the wars. These wars were a massive shock of devastation that shook Europe in such a way that to ensure this never happened

"It appears too as a vast symbol of futility, a conflict in which immense effort and sacrifice were misdirected and wasted, achieving nothing"2 therefore bodies were founded, and treaties were signed to give countries the object to talk over problems, and through inter-dependence would not be able to go to war with one another; "In the decades after 1914, Europeans were only rarely conscious of the historical fate that was overtaking them.

They continued to live their lives (as Europeans), absorbed in national and ideological struggles and in the maintenance and extension of their cultural heritage. "3 These wars threatened the nature of being European and as such drew its citizens closer to protecting it, as Amin Maalouf states in On Identity "It can happen that some incident fortunate or unfortunate accident, even a chance encounter, influences our sense of identity more strongly than ancient affiliation. "4 Thus the impact of the wars brought about a change in identifying one another based upon a new sense of recognition.

The wars altered the diversity of nations, the second world war saw Hitler's persecution of Jews lead to mass extermination, and as this was discovered a new breed of acceptance emerged after the war, such as with the embracement of black's in America through the helping in the war effort and the acceptance of women and their movements, such as universal suffrage in the UK 'as women over thirty were enfranchised in 1918, and those between twenty-one and thirty in 1928. '5 For incorporating and accepting those diverse from oneself it led to a widening of a common identity through recognizable characteristics.

"We customarily take gender, ethnicity, and class as given parameters and boundaries within which we create our own social identities. "6 Therefore to understand issues on identity and how they affect and are affected by social, political and ethnic divisions to gain insights into the communicative processes by which they arise, However communication and language cannot be judges as the most significant aspect of identity alone, for in accordance to Ernest Barker's National Character, religion, law and government and education all take shape in creating a national character.

For a common character has 'a material basis within a spiritual structure' and as such a European identity is a belief in one another being part of a common culture, thus culture, as it is a formation over time, as Eric Hobsbawm suggests in Invented Traditions, correlates to the wars which are a shared historical feature of all European countries.