What does Trump mean for the European Union? Looking at the reality of a Trump Presidency from the perspective of the EU

donald_trump_approves_2016
Photo by Marc Nozell

Eoghan Hughes

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre  

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst  

Are full of passionate intensity.”  

The Second Coming

WB Yeats

Donald Trump is the next President of the United States of America. In the US this needs to be accepted as soon as possible so that those for him, and those against him, can start making the best of this divisive result. America will learn how to deal with Trump domestically- they are a robust democracy with rigid cheques and balances.

Within the EU we also have to come to terms with a result that many did not think would happen and did not want to happen. This was not a European decision though, but the choice of the US electorate, a choice that needs to be respected. The choice we are faced with now is how to react to Trump’s America in the international arena. This choice is especially important for the moderates of the EU. If they want to stave off the effects of Trump they will need to, to quote Anthony L. Gardner, current US Ambassador to the EU, “speak out with passionate intensity”.

To do this, we first need to answer the question on all of our minds- what does Trump mean for the EU? When you are dealing with a man who one day threatens to take the US out of NATO and the next promises fierce allegiance to allied states, it’s hard to pin down the policy from the rhetoric.

Below I will give The Euroculturer’s best guess at how Trump’s Presidency will affect the EU, by asking what policies we can actually expect from the eccentric millionaire. Once we have it on paper, I will make a few suggestions as to how the EU, and its Member States, might best respond to this new era in EU-US relations.

What will he do?

Although conventional wisdom says that we shouldn’t take a candidate on his pledges, this candidate said he would win, and he did, against all odds. So on this occasion, it might be best to look at what Trump has already said about his planned foreign policy:

Mike Pence

1200px-mike_pence_28757093263
Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Effect: Trump has claimed in the past that Mike Pence, his running mate and Vice President elect, would be left to take care of ‘domestic and foreign policy.’ Though perhaps even more conservative than Trump, particularly as regards reproductive rights, Pence is a more traditional Republican, and would be therefore easier to anticipate. Expect a dismantling of Obamacare domestically, but little overt change internationally- which would normally give the leaders of EU States some solace. However, it is hard to imagine that the natural showman that is Trump would be willing to completely eschew the opportunity of meeting world leaders and taking part in important international congresses. Fame is Trump’s bread and butter, he is an entertainer, and one thinks he would not miss the opportunity to, at the very least, be the face of America in those critical moments. Therefore, discounting policy for the moment, we think you can at least expect a visible Trump in Europe.

Already his presence has been felt, with right wing parties falling over themselves to congratulate him and to declare his victory as a feather in their caps. An official from France’s Front National has stated, in the aftermath, that Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built’. Nigel Farage, the man who brought about Brexit with his UKIP party, has gleefully claimed to be the catalyst for Trump’s victory, and believes Trump’s victory heralds further political upheavals in Europe.  (Side note: Farage, in this same interview, made a joke about Trump assaulting Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK, which perhaps shows the affect Trump is already having on the language of politics in European countries.)

So, for those who think Trump may just be a figure head, it is worth remembering the moral power a figure head has. Trump could embolden alt right movements in Europe, and with elections in The Netherlands, Germany and France coming sooner rather than later, Geert Wilders, AFD and Front National could be looking to shock the world with their surprise, poll defying victories. Nobody in the EU should take this possibility lightly.

Response: If Trump’s victory can embolden the alt right, it should also serve as a rallying call to the moderate and left movements in Europe (and the US). The fact that Trump won with the backing of traditional Democrats shows (as Brexit was passed with the backing of Labour voters) that the base of the left has been overtaken by the new rhetoric of the alt right, slamming global financial institutions and immigration. In many ways this is to be expected. Most countries in the EU have lived under austerity measures for nearly a decade, since the 2008 financial crash. While financial institutions have been bailed out, businesses have closed and rural areas have been decimated by a drain of the youth to cities and other countries. According to city dwellers and the middle class, the recession is over and austerity worked. For rural people and those living in relative poverty though, the recession never ended, and austerity is still keeping stride with their day to day lives. This is fertile ground for populists. Not because people are stupid, that’s the lazy answer, but because they are angry. Brexit was a sledgehammer to the system they felt encouraged their marginalisation, Trump was another.

Similarly, immigration has fuelled the alt right in the US and the EU. Here, fear of Muslim immigrants is felt in most EU states by a large section of society. This fear is not backed by fact; it’s not based on numbers and it is certainly not easy to address. However, this is no excuse not to address it. When liberal left society calls you a fool or a racist for a genuine fear, resentment brews. We saw this in the US where I personally believe that Clinton lost a lot of voters with her ‘deplorables’ comment. To this section of society the only place to turn is the right, where they may not be offered a perfect solution, maybe not even a message that they really believe, but they are paid attention to. The left and the moderates need to do more than dismiss the fears of this section of the population. We talk often about training immigrants to fit into society; we talk too little about how to prepare the current population. The left does not need to abandon immigration as a platform, it certainly cannot abandon asylum seekers, but they must innovate how this is communicated to the public. Research shows that interaction is the best cure for xenophobia, which explains why, consistently, city populations vote for more liberal immigration policies. Social democratic parties must lean harder on their ‘social’ aspect in Europe, get people to meet. Not just those who already support immigration, it’s not those we need to convince. Instead we need to find ways to reach out to those sections of society already facing hardship economically and are more likely to be segregated from international communities. Go where the people are- trade civic events that attract leftists for pubs, football clubs and all the rest. There also must be more that can be good to reach people in Europe’s small towns, Europe’s isolated farms. Regardless of how they do it, the left and the moderates, if they want to diminish the power of the fear of immigration, they need to realise that immigration should not be pushed, but introduced. Claims that the left has been betrayed by their base belie the fact that the voter base feels betrayed by their parties.

Pro-EU citizens and parties need to realise that only by tackling these aspects of globalisation, and by communicating with the people most affected, can the momentum of the alt right be slowed.  Otherwise the mere spectacle of a Trump Presidency might threaten the EU’s political establishments.

NATO

1200px-secretary_kerry_shakes_hands_with_polish_foreign_minister_waszczykowski_before_a_bilateral_meeting_at_the_national_stadium_in_wars
US Secretary of State John Kerry meets Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski at the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw.

“US leadership is as important as ever. Our Alliance has brought together America’s closest friends in times of peace and of conflict for almost 70 years.

A strong NATO is good for the United States, and good for Europe.”

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO

Effect: Trump, throughout his campaign, has threatened to reduce the US commitment to NATO, threatened to leave partners that fail to raise their contributions to the alliance to fend for themselves, and has even threatened to pull out of the organisation all together.  This, surprisingly, is not too far away from the policy of previous Democratic and Republican leaders. The US elite have for a long time said that NATO lacks support from its partners, particularly European nations who fail to meet the budgetary requirements of the organisation. The difference here is the tempo of Trump’s statement- threats to abandon the alliance already causes hairs to stand on end, particularly in Eastern Europe, where states such as Poland count on NATO for defence in the event of a conflict with Russia. NATO as a deterrent itself is weakened by this threat and the EU states that rely on it for the stable state of the continent face an uncertain future.

Response: In the aftermath of Brexit, Italy, France and Germany discussed increasing military cooperation, now that the tricky UK was no longer part of the picture. The UK, the Netherlands and Poland have opposed an increase in EU common defence as it is feared that this could undermine NATO. With the UK out of the picture, the new big three still failed to get the Netherlands, Finland or Poland on side.

With Trump this might change. Even the distant chance that NATO could be weakened can cause chaos. In response to this the EU should push harder for closer common defence in the EU. The Netherlands and Poland, traditional atlanticists, may be won over to this as an alternative to NATO, a stabilizing force in the region and a clear deterrent for any hostile states. Ideas such as a common defence research fund, a centralised military operation HQ and even an EU army, which have been so recently been rubbished may be revived. They at the very least should be talked about, to lay the groundwork in the case that NATO becomes an uncreditable source for European security. It centralises European control of their defence, alleviating fear by becoming self-sufficient in terms of protection. Honestly, looking at the trend with NATO, centralising European defence may just be inevitable, but by seizing the opportunity, the EU gets the chance to show unity and forward thinking.

There are of course many, many difficulties to such a course of action, political and moral. Politically, getting neutral Ireland on board will be difficult and not necessarily tractable. Morally, there are arguments to be made about warmongering and feeding the military industrial complex. These are no small matters and should give pause to any thought of increased military cooperation or spending. However the moral debate, essential to this policy, is beyond the scope of this article- which is merely arguing that increasing EU common defence is an appropriate response to a weakening of NATO in order to ensure security and stability, particular in Europe’s border regions.

 Russia

1200px-VVPutin21042016.jpg
Photo by Администрация президента РФ

Effect: More concerning for security is Trump’s stated desire to cool tensions with Russia, potentially ending the EU-US joint sanctions regime and recognizing the annexation of the Crimea. These are points which the EU and some of its major Member States are unlikely to support.

Trump’s promise to end the deadlock and work with Assad to defeat ISIS also fits with his desire to improve relations with the Kremlin. However working with Assad, who is widely disliked in EU circles, risks alienating prominent Member States and encouraging Russia to take a more active role in international affairs, a situation that would make the EU’s eastern flank nervous. This could help destabilise states in Eastern Europe, with Russia interfering with more gusto in the aftermath of a warming of relations with the US.

Response: Despite recent problems amongst Member States in the EU’s eastern flank, the EU should take this opportunity to reaffirm the place of Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia and Czechia at the heart of the European project. Support should be offered if tensions with Russia do rise, and a strong voice on their behalf should be coming out of Brussels in any talks with Russia. Likewise, if these states want a better relationship with Russia, they should be allowed to pursue it within certain limitations. They share a history which might be advantageous to exploit in building upon the EU’s autonomous relationship with Russia, something that will be needed if the US pursues a specific policy as regards Russia. Europe has different red lines with Russia than the US. For central Europe the Ukraine situation and the annexation of the Crimea is not an area where many concessions can be made to Russia.

Trade

stopttip
An anti-TTIP poster. Graphic by Mehr Demokratie

Effect: Under Trump and a House and Senate controlled by the Republican Party the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement is very likely dead. This would have seen tariffs between the EU and US cease to exist in most areas, a harmonisation of standards and the setting up of an arbitration system by which organisations can bring cases against states that introduce practices which disadvantage them commercially. While there are many who would like applaud this development, and perhaps rightly, there nevertheless stands the risk that this weakens EU and US trade, which would in turn weaken both our influences worldwide. Similarly, while not perfect, and not yet fully negotiated, TTIP offered the chance for two regions, which share many of the same values with regard to human rights, to work together and set the international agenda as regards workers’ rights. There are many legitimate criticisms of the TTIP concept of course, and even without Trump it may not have gotten off the ground politically in Europe or the US.  However, the jobs TTIP would have created could maybe have eased domestic tensions in the EU and the US, and therefore its loss cannot be counted an uncomplicated victory for anyone, as youth unemployment ravages the young voting population. Trump’s pledge to reduce the US corporate tax regime is also troublesome, as it will harm industry in the EU, particularly Ireland where many ostensibly US companies have their bases due to Ireland’s tax regime.

Response: The CETA deal with Canada is an example of how the EU should respond to TTIP. Although not free of problems associated with TTIP, such as the controversial investor court, CETA is an example of how the EU can expand its trade with smaller, likeminded regions as a way of offsetting the damaged trade relations. Seeking trade relationships similar to this with smaller states, such as Australia and New Zealand, will help bring investment into the EU and hopefully bring jobs to lift the many jobless of Europe into employment. It could also help the rural regions by boosting agricultural exports, and in this way respond to chronic problems in the EU’s rural areas. However, to avoid public opposition, these new deals should not seek to establish investor courts- even if these means the deals need to be more limited.

Conclusion

979px-donald_trump_at_aston_pa_september_17th_cropped
Photo by Michael Vadon.

Trump means that the EU will be faced with new challenges, many of which are not anticipated in these responses, and many of which cannot be anticipated. However with this article I hoped to suggest that even if Trump were to be as extreme as his campaign suggested, there are moves to be made. The EU is not powerless to respond to a changing world, and for the sake of its citizens, it certainly should not stand idly if these changes will have a negative impact on their livelihoods. Trump’s Presidency does not necessarily represent anything revolutionary- he is not the first business man to be elected President, he is not the first man to be elected President, and he is certainly not the first Republican. His campaign was vicious and his comments on women and minorities have caused shock, but only time will tell if he really is anything other than another Republican President. However, if this does mark a new era in international politics, the EU is morally obliged to take its place in the world.

Click here for more by Eoghan Hughes.

Click here for more on the US Elections.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“The Silver Lining of the 2016 Election and the Way Forward” 

“The Trump Presidency: The Importance of Staying Rational” 

Advertisements

The Americorner: EU launches new campaign to retain its 28 member structure

ec-eu-enlargement_animation
The EU has always had an upward trend in terms of membership…. until recently. Graphic by Kolja21.

Ryan Minett

With the United Kingdom bound to leave in the near future, the European Union is working on a daring plan to keep 28 member states. With Brexit approaching and no suitable candidates for accession to the European Union, the European Parliament has decided to split off a part of one of the remaining 27 members in order to keep 28 member states. Federica Mogherini remarks, “We have had an upward trend in regards to membership in the European Community, and we will not allow one referendum to get in the way of that.”

In regards to how this would play out in reality, the Parliament has offered a few suggestions. Among the more obvious options we have Cyprus, who would require the least effort to split up, and Germany, who already has plenty of precedent when it comes to dividing their country. Other suggestions include splitting Holland from the rest of the Netherlands “because then everyone would finally have to get the names right”, Wallonia from the rest of Belgium “because now everyone knows that Wallonia actually exists anyway”, and Paris from the rest of France. One of the earliest suggestions from German MEP Frauke Petry was to split Czechoslovakia in half before she was informed that this had already been achieved. As for the obvious choices like Catalonia, the Parliament shot this idea down immediately. President Martin Schulz said, “If we give Catalonia their independence, next thing you know the Bavarians will want independence and maybe even the Basque. We are committed to 28 Member States, 29 is just a nasty number.”

breakup_of_yugoslavia
Yugoslavia is a good example of the ease with which the EU’s new plan could be implemented. Here is a graphic of just some of the divisions it has made since 1989. Image by Hoshie.

Mogherini sounded upbeat about this radical plan despite the lack of specifics or tangible details. “Europeans arbitrarily creating new borders has a long history of success. Just look at the old colonies- look how successful that has been.” This is expected to be a top priority of the European Union in 2017 and they have asked the European public for their opinion. The EU has set up a hotline for suggestions at, +32(0)X XX XXXXX, for anyone wishing to have their voice heard.

Featured picture: construction of the Berlin Wall.

Click here for more of The Americorner with Ryan Minett!

The Euroculturer Recommends:

 “The Hybrid War: Russia’s disinformation campaign and the New Cold War” by Lianne Arentsen

“Trumped in America: Undercover Europeans at Trump’s Cincinnati rally” by Sabine Volk and Elisa Abrantes

“What is an Erasmus Mundus Master’s Degree?” by Virginia Stuart-Taylor

 

Little Europe in Bengal: Contemporary trends in conservation

Click here To read Arnab Dutta’s first foray into “Little Europe”.

Armenian_Church_Chinsurah.jpg
Armenian Church Chinsurah

Arnab Dutta

‘Little Europe in Bengal’ is a coinage generally referred to a small patch of landmass on the bank of river Hooghly in the Indian province of Bengal, where a number of European national groups, such as the Brits, the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Danes and the Armenians, had once settled, in order to carry out their trade and colonial ventures. The setting up of these trade settlements and their indulging in colonial rivalry dates back to late sixteenth century. Although the area became more and more homogenised as Britain rose to dominance in and around this region, the French held their last bastion, Chandernagore, right up until 1952, when this town was handed over to the Republic of India.

Since then for almost half a century there has been little, if any, interest from these different European ‘national’ communities in the region, mostly because there was no immediate necessity on their part to do so. There were indeed a few archaeological remains of the bygone era, scattered around in Dutch Chinsurah or Danish Serampore. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) took unfocused measures to preserve some of the prominent remains such as the Dutch cemetery in Chinsurah or the Danish one in Serampore. However, it was neither the priority of, nor feasible for, the ASI to physically maintain every single tangible ‘heritage artefact’ belonging to the Dutch, Portuguese or Danish settlers in the region. The French case has been unique. French Chandernagore has been the only place that succeeded in maintaining its both tangible and intangible Frenchness. The façade of Frenchness on its architecture has been one aspect of this. It could sustain certain other features as well. Chandernagore’s French museum, which is housed at the erstwhile residence of French governor, attracted tourists for a long period of time. Chandernagore’s College still boasts of its department of French language and literature, although it has rechristened itself in recent years to remove the name of a former French Governor of India, Joseph-François Marquis Dupleix (1697 – 1763). Now the college has adopted the name of a local hero rather than a colonial figure- Kanailal Dutta, a Bengali revolutionary fighting against the British Empire,. Up until the time when the common European framework of language learning (we usually know it as A1-C2 system) and the global networks like Allinace Française conquered the French-teaching industry in India, Institut de Chandernagor religiously offered French tutelage to its Bengali pupils and had its own accreditation system named certificat d’études primaires, or ‘certificat’ in local Bengali parlance. There has been, sadly, no Portuguese, Dutch or Danish cultural centre of similar repute in the formerly held territories. There have also been instances in the 1990s of PhD students of history in that region, dropping their plan of researching Dutch settlement in Chinsurah primarily because of the dearth of any place in the entirety of Eastern India that offer Dutch language courses.

800px-courtyard_-_bandel_basilica_-_hooghly_-_2013-05-19_7791
Courtyard of the Bandel Basilica, built by Portugese Settlers 

Here comes the questions as to how and why did everything change in recent years? The last few years of twentieth century saw a major upheaval in the interest shown by Europe in this patch of ‘Little Europe’. 1999 marked the four hundred years of the establishment of the Basilica of Holy-Rosary in Portuguese-held territory of Bandel, considered to be the second oldest surviving Christian church in India. A major renovation and reconstruction project was carried out with a lump sum coming from the Holy See. This, in a way, changed the course of the wave, and more and more European powers started coming in with a renewed interest in their Indian past. The Dutch followed suit. Different parties with their individual interests came ashore. The Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands in India took keen interest and invested a substantial amount of money in order to document the Dutch remains in Bengal. A conservation architectural firm, ATA (Aishwarya Tipnis Architects) has been appointed to do an extensive survey in the region, and come up with plans to engage contemporary populace of Chinsurah with both the tangible and the intangible remnants of Dutchness in their town.

a_view_of_chinsura_the_dutch_settlement_in_bengal
A view of Dutch Chinsurah

ATA, along with a number of personnel from the Presidency University, Calcutta, tried to offer newer directions for conservation. At the end of this a multi-disciplinary project was meant to be on the table, focussing on creating a digital archive for shared cultural heritage of the erstwhile Dutch Chinsurah.  These initiatives involved the physical mapping of remaining tombstones in the historic Dutch cemetery, and digitally showcasing the mapping on a digital platform wherein the visitor can actually click on the location of a single tombstone and be redirected to a lot of stories for that era of Dutch rule. A lot of students from the Presidency University, under the leadership of Souvik Mukherjee, a professor of English literature and one of the key figures interested in digital humanities in India, worked day in and day out deciphering the almost washed out Dutch inscriptions on the tombstones. They simultaneously spent time in the archives, going back to the historical narratives around those people whose tombstones they were trying to read. All these findings came together to form a single online platform. By clicking on a location in today’s Chinsurah, one could navigate from one temporal frame to another, from an inscription on a dilapidated tombstone of an erstwhile Dutch governor to a digitally organised visual representation of the lifestyle he could have led in eighteenth century Dutch Chinsurah. One mouse click after another can now lead us to endless possibilities for knitting together a number of otherwise disconnected tales from the Dutch past.

Another_view_of_Dutch_Cemetry,_Chinsurah_NKN_1513.jpg
Dutch Cemetery Chinsurah

At the same time Bauke van der Pol, a Dutch anthropologist, was trying to unearth the hidden narrative of Dutch presence in India. This has culminated in his book, De VOC in India: Nederlands erfgoed in Gujarat, Malabar, Coromandel en Bengalen. These two projects – one narrating the tale of the fringes of the Dutch Empire, and another documenting with the tools of Digital Humanities the remnants of that past scattered across present-day Chinsurah – came to mingle at a dingle juncture, when in 2014 Presidency University simultaneously launched van der Pol’s book and the website of ‘Dutch in Chinsurah’.

The French Embassy has commissioned a similar approach to conservation. This project ran until 2012 and received support from the Embassy of France in India and the foundation Vieilles Maisons Françaises (VMF), and was executed by the same architectural firm involved in Dutch Chinsurah, ATA. Although it was not exactly like what the Dutch initiative tried to pursue, it has its own charm as well. Apart from documenting the French architectural heritage and presenting the findings on an online platform, ATA organised workshops with children to encourage them draw comic strips about the French past, and hosted a French cookery show.

chandernagore_home_1870s
Interior of a Chanderagore Home in the 1870s

The Danes, as usual, were not lagging behind. The ‘Serampore Initiative’, a project initiated by the National Museum of Denmark in 2008 with the purpose of documenting and preserving cultural heritage from the Danish period in Frederichsnagore (today Serampore), is among the largest conservation projects taken in recent years by any European nation outside Europe’s immediate neighbourhood. Apart from the funding from the Danish Ministry of Culture and the local population, it could also garner interest from other quarters of Danish society and life, and could therefore secure funding from a Danish philanthropic organisation, Realdania. As a result of this initiative- taken as an Indo-Danish joint architectural venture- the dilapidated church of St. Olav has undergone a major facelift, resulting in its reopening after being declared abandoned and unsafe in 2013. This year the totally renovated St. Olav’s has again been consecrated to the parish of Serampore. The Danish Tavern, the residence of the Danish governor and the riverfront in the Danish style are now being restored.

serampore.jpg
Image by Debraj Goswami of the Shrirampur (Serampore) Heritage Restoration Intiative, a group of locals aiding in restoring the various heritages of the area.

As far as this narrative of restoration goes it appears like a pretty and tranquil tale of European powers suddenly remembering their bygone past and investing a huge sum of money in the conservation and the restoration of their heritage. A closer scrutiny would, however, prove otherwise. The path towards the conservation of heritage can always lead to certain uncomfortable questions being asked, like whose heritage is it, and why at this point in time it has suddenly come under the umbrella term of heritage? Since, with the exception of Chandernagore, most of these settlements did not have a unilineal colonial narrative attached to them, defining what ‘true’ heritage is, in certain towns, gives rise to a lot of itchy smirks. Should the conservation recently carried out in the name of restoring Dutch heritage in Chinsurah prior to its British annexation in 1825 totally neglect layer after layer of British ‘heritage’ laid there over the next one hundred years? How should a conservationist deal with the alterations the Anglican establishment had once made to the erstwhile Danish Protestant Church of Serampore?

st-olavs_church_dr-_b-j-_sarani_serampore-1
St. Olav’s in former Danish Serampore

Even these problematic questions are sometimes overshadowed by even trickier questions of entitlement and participation. Who is indeed entitled to stake a claim to a physical space inhabited by people who by no means feel interested in the colonial narratives of these European powers? Although it did not always appear like an old-school colonial rivalry between major European powers of early modern times, the way one conservation project taken up in one town by a modern European nation immediately gets rivalled by another one in an adjacent town might raise one’s eyebrow. There seems to be justifiable reservations from other quarters as well, the most prominent being from the local historians. These are the people who often devoted their life sustaining in the public the interest in this patch of ‘Little Europe’. For almost half a century, up until the first decade of the twenty-first century, these individual endeavours kept the awareness alive. How do they feel when governmental bodies armed with professional architectural firms start expressing renewed interest in conserving the heritage or generating historical awareness in the region? ‘Little Europe in Bengal’ is again at the crossroads. It is in a unique situation in its contemporaneity, where different national communities from Europe are again chiselling in its physical territory, not as the colonial intruder but as the conservationists. The future of the ‘Little Europe in Bengal’, and its ties with Europe would definitely be subject to its various approaches to conservation, and simultaneously the love-hate relationship of the local populace with those approaches.

Join us next week, when Arnab Dutta will conclude our tour of “Little Europe in Bengal”.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“Scotland – are you ready for more? Scotland on course for second independence vote after Brexit.” by Emily Burt

“Online Terrorism: Radicalisation on the web” by Eric Hartshorne

“What does it means to be a European citizen? The realities of EU citizenship and the nationalism problem of Europe” by Elizabete Skrastina

Little Europe in Bengal: Patches of multi-national interests on the bank of Hooghly

 

bengal
Kolkatta (formerly Calcutta) was once the centre of British power in the Indian subcontinent

Arnab Dutta

Whenever I tried eating Dutch spice cake, Ontbijtkoek, during my semester in Groningen or Swedish cinnamon buns, Kanelbullar, during my time in Uppsala I couldn’t but wonder at the long history of Europe’s culinary tryst with spices. It is these spices that allured Europeans to cross difficult terrains and set sail to distant shores. The fascination with spices made a group of Europeans take part in maritime trade across the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese were the first, the Dutch were not far behind, followed by the French and pursued by the Brits. Spice trade gradually gave way to trade in cotton, followed by Europe’s stake in the global slave trade and the mobility of indentured labourers. However, the nature of trade and the interaction in the early modern era between European traders and local communities in various littorals around the Indian Ocean were much different from what they came to look like in the days of high colonialism. In most of cases during sixteenth and seventeenth century, the European maritime powers could only access a few places nearer the sea, not the continental hinterland lying beyond it.

baybengal
Bay of Bengal

Our narrative is about such a patch of landmass known as the lower Gangetic basin of Bengal, where the Ganges, one of the mightiest rivers in Asia meets the Bay of Bengal. For strategic reasons the mouth of the Gangetic delta, the largest of its kind in the world, allured maritime traders throughout the early modern era. Land-based trading communities, such as the Turks and the Armenians in the India of that time were met with seafarers like Portuguese and Dutch traders. Conflicting interests controlled their destinies; and Gangetic Bengal became what would later be known as the potboilers of wandering traders and changing communities. Calcutta (now Kolkata), the capital of British India till 1911, and the second city of the vast British Empire, grew out of this unique story of conflict and reconciliation. However, this was never a unidirectional and easy narrative, for multiple political actors from Europe flocked into a tiny patch of landmass and made this region a unique exception in an otherwise homogenous story of British colonialism in the Indian subcontinent.

bandel-bascilica
A church is Bandel, a former Portugese colony in India

Long time before the Brits got involved in lower Gangetic Bengal, the Portuguese were busy operating their riverine ports of Hooghly and Bandel, some forty kilometres upstream on the river Hooghly (Ganges) from what would later become Calcutta. This dates back to mid sixteenth century CE. As the navigability of the river decreased with time the Dutch East India Company settled some three-four kilometres south of Portuguese Bandel. The Armenians got their fair share within Dutch territories, allowing them to operate Armenian Orthodox churches in the region. The French East India Company settled in farther South, nearer the sea, in a place they named Chandernagore, managing to keep it under their hold until 1952, five more years after India gained its independence from the British Empire. Greeks were in the next town called Bhadreswar, and the Danish were busy with the next town, Serampore, the only Danish colony in eastern India. With the decreasing navigability of river and a want to have a British fortress in an advantageous position closer to the sea, British Calcutta was founded some twenty kilometres south of Danish Serampore. To make this long story short, the essence of it is that for almost two centuries in this small patch of land on the bank of river Hooghly, hardly forty kilometres in length, there were trading posts or proto-colonies of so many European communities that it was not surprising for later historians to refer to this tiny area as ‘Little Europe’, way before Brussels got its theme park of the same name.

dutch-fort-gustavus-1665-courtesy-rijksmuseum-amsterdam
Fort Gustavus in Dutch Chinsurah before its demolition

These small towns, which now make up the northern suburbs of the metropolis of Calcutta, were once very distinct from each other in their respective culture and architecture. Portuguese Bandel boasted its culinary distinctiveness, as it provided modern Bengal with Bandel cheese, a Portuguese variant of cottage cheese and were responsible for the invention of Bengal’s national sweetmeat, Rasagolla.  Dutch Chinsurah was an amazingly fortified city with a fort named Fort Gustavus. French colonialists were so invested with their Petite France in Chandernagore that they remodelled the Gangetic riverbank with French-styled promenades. The Danes followed suit. The church of St. Olav in the heart of Serampore and the Danish cemetery were distinct from the British architecture of Calcutta.

One might notice that although the different ‘national’ actors were competing with each other for more than two centuries in a tiny space like this, the political structures gradually became homogenised, as it was seemingly impossible to practice exclusivity within the otherwise British surroundings.  Brits were late in reaching the shore; but following the saying that slow and steady wins the race, Brits were the ones who remained in pursuit of colonial power and eventually got hold of most of these other European trading posts in exchange for something or the other. The Dutch East India Company left Chinsurah in 1825 in exchange for complete hold over Java in Indonesia. Brits gave up their stake in the Dutch East Indies, modern Indonesia, and occupied Chinsurah; the Dutch fortress got demolished and with the dismantled Dutch material they made a British Chinsurah. However, the civil institutions conceived during the final days of Dutch rule over Chinsurah remained as a bizarre mix of Dutch, British and indigenous Bengali customs. Hooghly Collegiate School, established in 1812 and the oldest European styled school in Eastern India bears testimony to this rare Dutch-English-Bengali conjunct.

danish-church-serampore-source-www-wmcarey-edu

Danish Serampore’s fate was a bit different, mostly because of the Christian missionaries.  Since the late eighteenth century Danish Serampore had become a melting pot of missionaries coming from different European backgrounds, eventually making it a prominent centre of scholarship and printing. Whether or not all these activities were Danish or English or Scottish does not make the narrative less fuzzy and complex. Panchanan Karmakar, a master craftsman from Danish Serampore, assisted Nathaniel Brassey Halhed and Charles Wilkins, two Englishmen coming to serve the British East India Company; and together they made possible the first ever moveable typefaces for Bangla script. With this Danish-English axis in the background there came out the first ever book in Bangla printed with those moveable typefaces. A Grammar of Bengal Language by an Englishman Nathaniel Brassey Halhed was printed in 1778 in Hooghly, the erstwhile Portuguese port next to Dutch Chinsurah.

Chandernagore, ‘la petite France en Inde’ for the French colonials, was perhaps the only place that passionately resisted, for more than three centuries, the cultural influence the English could exert from its surroundings. Chandernagore, along with a few other French towns like Pondicherry in the south of India, remained a symbolic and ideal space of what could have been a French-influenced Indian subcontinent, had the British not defeated them in the Indian extensions of the Napoleonic wars. Chandernagore continued to be a French town up until 1952, making it a safe haven for French architecture and culture to flourish. It was the only town in eastern India to have a school-curriculum with French as the medium of instruction. Generations of Bengalis in Chandernagore were taught in Bangla and French, with little or no English interference whatsoever.

chandernagore.jpg
Chandernagore’s riverside

In a nutshell, this small patch of land, affectionately called ‘Little Europe in Bengal’ garnered among generations of Bengalis a sense of Europe in its totality. This awareness of an ‘other’ Europe, a Europe outside the immediacies of British colonial interests, kept fascinating the Bengali psyche for a rather long time. Bengali revolutionaries who were struggling against the British Empire often took refuge in these non-British territories so as to avoid arrest, eventually taking French ships to flee to the mainland of Europe, the Continent in British parlance. This, in turn, gave rise to a different pattern of mobility that was quite different from usual colonial mobility within the metropolis and the margins of a single empire. Little Europe’s legacy transcends those otherwise homogenous patterns of binaries. Just like the  theme-park in Brussels, this Little Europe had also tried casting the idea and image of Europe in a multi-national and pluri-cultural mould. The narrative, however, does not end there. Permeating its historical specificity etched in a distant past, Little Europe has again started attracting various European nation states to have a closer look at the somewhat forgotten territories they had once occupied. The early twenty-first century has brought back Dutch historians to Chinsurah, allowing them to have a closer look at their forgotten Dutch-Bengal style of painting and architecture. Danes, as usual, are not far behind. The National Museum of Denmark, under a project named ‘Serampore Initiative’, has plunged into one of the biggest urban conservation projects in recent times, taken by a European state outside Europe’s territorial outreach. These renewed national interests are manifold, involving more and more historical nuances to unearth and contemporary narratives to explore. Little Europe continues to be an incessant point of convergence between Europe and South Asia.

Join us next week, when Arnab Dutta will continue our tour of “Little Europe in Bengal”, leading us into the contemporary conservation efforts being made  in the region.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“Five terrifying takeaways from the British Conservative Party Conference: Notes from a Lonely Island #3” by Emily Burt

“The Public, the Private, and the Privates: Europe’s Abortion Debate against Shifting Backgrounds” by Sophie van den Elzen

“Why does Ireland have the EU’s strictest abortion regime? Applying and Repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution” by Eoghan Hughes