Sassoli: Stefan Zweig gave birth to the European dream 

 

Inauguration of the Stefan Zweig Building

Good day to you all.

Dear friends,

Dear Iratxe,

Dear Evelyn,

Please allow me to welcome Professor Larcati, Director of the Stefan Zweig Institute in Salzburg. I should like to thank him for accepting the invitation to be here with us today and to take part in this inauguration ceremony.

I should also like to welcome back to Parliament Josef Weidenholzer, who needs no introduction. It is always a pleasure to have him here with us.

It is a great honour for me to be here with you today to pay tribute to one of the great European writers of the 20th century.

Today we are renaming the Atrium Building in honour of Stefan Zweig, as a modest token of our gratitude towards a man who, through his work, his thought and his philosophy, was one of the very first to give expression to the European ideal, influencing generations of thinkers, politicians, artists and ordinary Europeans.

Reading his works has always been a source of great inspiration to me, because, through his words, Zweig shows that he is a European to the very depths of his soul, that he almost regards being European as a calling.

But he also tells us that a calling alone is not enough, because the European ideal is nurtured day in and day out by human relationships which transcend national borders, through the sharing of culture and knowledge which must be within reach of all citizens, so that they have the feeling of being active participants in this wonderful project.

The force of reason and unity is the only effective weapon we have to overcome national self-interest and the brutality of war.

Unfortunately, however, Zweig felt that Europe, ravaged by two world wars and disfigured by the atrocities of Nazism, had allowed brutality to triumph over reason.

His best-known work, his most celebrated masterpiece, is certainly The World of Yesterday, Memories of a European.

He saw this and his other works as a way of bearing witness, of passing the torch to future readers, to all of us.

They were to serve as a warning that the horrors he witnessed should never be repeated, that Europeans should never again find themselves in a Europe they did not recognise.

I, however, would like to quote an invaluable small volume, entitled An Appeal to Europeans, which is less well known, but in my view essential. It contains two articles and the proceedings of a number of conferences held in Italy in 1932, and they show that even then Zweig had already grasped the necessity of bringing about European unity, of establishing the United States of Europe.

Only too aware that European civilisation was going through its most terrible crisis, Zweig believed in what he himself termed the ‘moral detoxification of Europe’.

The moral poison of which Europeans had to rid themselves was nationalism in all its forms. The tragic and destructive confrontation between those nationalisms had culminated in the Great War, and now they were gaining ground once again, dragging Europe inexorably towards the Second World War.

All energies therefore needed to be focused on the only project capable of drawing nationalism’s teeth: the real and practical unification of the continent.

European unity was to be achieved above all else through cultural unification, because culture experienced by people is the most powerful tool for transcending national borders and building bridges and channels of communication.

‘The free market of ideas and feelings’, Zweig wrote, ‘like commerce, give humanity as a whole a feeling of greater prosperity and well-being’.

If we are to spread culture, we need to go back to basics, take school and education as our starting point. If we learn about history only through the study of wars and conflicts, it can only drive us apart; if we combine this with a study of our European civilisation, however, we will discover that there are in fact far more things that unite us than divide us.

With that aim in view, Zweig made a range of practical proposals: you won’t believe this, but he even imagined a kind of Erasmus programme, decades before the idea had ever been conceived of, and emphasised the need to step up cultural exchanges and exchanges of university students, for example by providing grants.

He also had very clear ideas about communication. In the article on the unification of Europe which closes the collection, he wrote that ‘through books, conferences and debates we reach only a tiny number of Europeans, and generally those who are already on our side; in reality our efforts will be in vain if we don’t make use of the new technical and visual means of disseminating ideas’.

He was an extraordinary man: he lived very much in his time, but his ideas were far ahead of his time.

His message and his teaching are horribly topical, and his words could have been written yesterday, so accurately do they describe situations we are experiencing today.

We would do well to pick up his books once again and discuss them with the new generations. They would inspire us all.

Today we remember Stefan Zweig for what he represented, for his life and for his works, as one of the fathers of Europe. Through this modest gesture, symbolic but significant, we express our gratitude towards him.

It is an honour for me to share this moment with you today and to inaugurate the Stefan Zweig Building here at the European Parliament.