A different Europe…

I have spent quite some time recently working on a textbook on European Integration history in Finnish. It should come up in 2014, with an historical presentation (me) and a part on European institutions by a colleague of mine (Kimmo Elo) – pretty much the same organization as Desmond Dinan’s Ever Closer Union.

There is something weird in working on such a project, something to do with the language. While writing for a readership whose cultural relation to European integration might be different than my own, French or English words infused with cultural meaning have to be streneously explained, broken into pieces, reassembled. Writing European integration history in Finnish means I have to constantly lean back, look at things from a different angle, describe elements of context that would seem obvious…

One of the things the book would like to achieve has something to do with this sense of linguistic/cultural otherness. In Finnish public debates, “Europe” is mostly seen as “something else”, something beyond the borders, and European Integration history looks like a series of external events most Finns would agree are not part of “Finland’s history” before 1995. France did transfer Jean Monnet’s ashes to the Panthéon, and most French would consider European integration as an extension of French politics – not so in Finland. In a way, the language makes all these events suddenly a part of Finland’s history – writing about the Schuman declaration in Finnish makes it an event of Finnish history, like the Yalta conference or the Tilsit meeting.

Let’s see whether this one will ever get ready…

Edit: The German language has incredible words for everything. Sprachgefühl goes a long way to express a part of what I wanted to say: while writing a first draft in Finnish, I tend to think things in French or English, which feel different, have a different character, and force your thoughts into different modes of expression. This is one thing – another is the feeling that things expressed and events described in Finnish exist in a different cultural context, at a different level than in French or English.

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