In the conversations and presentations over the past two days, there has been a focus on Slovkia's multicultural history. We had a tour of the city of Bratislava from the perspective of Jewish history, which exposed both the hegemonic and alternative history of the city including the extemination of the Jews by Hitler. We had another presentation at the Institute for Memory which documents and catalogues the files listing the persecution of the Slovak people by the Communist regime. In the evening, I saw a dance that went through Slovak history.
Some interesting frames come out of this experience:
1) Europeans histories and identities layer one on top of each other.
People joke about being Eastern European and then Central European without moving. The city of Bratislava has undergone many name changes from Pressburg to its name now. The only parallel would perhaps be the experience of Native Americans and Mexicans in the South West, in terms of being Spanish, Mexican, and American without moving. This is very different from the migration and hyphenated experiences of many Americans. Although the fluidity of identity and the wearing of masks is similar, the stability in physical locale makes a difference.
2) American individualism has a positive structure to it.
During a conversation with a Slovak woman on a river cruise we took to see Devin Castle. She said that American individualism is good. Now, from an African American perspective, I am skeptical of (1) claims of American individualism considering all the group oppression that is part of the history, and (2) the use of "individualism" to ignore the need for systematic change. But in the discussion, what I realized is that the legal basis of individualism is a good thing. The problem has been that it took nearly 200 years for most women, blacks, hispanics, asians, etc. to be treated as individuals. The Civil Rights movement could be seen as a collective movement to gurantee individual rights for all people.
Now Europe, according to Alexandra, still thinks legally and structurally in terms of groups. Wars have been fought for centuries in Europe because of the legal system operates on group structures. Thus for her, good solutions will not come out of the framing of a "Roma" problem. It can be said that perhaps they would result in the same failures as those addressing the "black" problem in the past. So how do you construct policy that provides enough individual opportunity that it makes up group inclusion.
Of course that is one that has not been addressed well by the US. As some of our hosts point out, the race issue in the US, as demonstrated by Katrina, is the country's biggest problem.