‘Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is Europe, all of Europe, which will decide the fate of the world!’
– Charles de Gaulle, from a speech given in Strasbourg, 1959
For European thinkers, defining things has always been a serious hobby. They did this in the firm belief that things have an essence that must be expressed in a formula, a definition. The Latin word definire initially meant drawing borders; a word of surveyors and landowners. But so far nobody has owned the entity called Europe, and thus its borders are drawn by geographers, philosophers, demagogues and politicians.
Politicians have spoken often about ‘Europe without borders’ between the member states of the EU. But Europe is also a continent without a firmly defined eastern border. Where does Europe end? Where is the line between Europe and Asia? Following a tradition in our culture that is without doubt borrowed from ancient Iran, we consider ‘European’ to be light and good, ‘Asian’ dark and bad. For some of us, for example Nazis or the extreme nationalists of Ukraine, Europe ends where Russia begins. Russia is Asia: darkness, tyranny and collectivism.
De Gaulle, who fought against the Nazis, put the border of Europe at the Urals. Vladimir Putin has spoken about an economic and humanitarian cooperation zone extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Perhaps it will become reality, despite the protests of Americans. But for several hundred years there have already been substantial cultural exchanges between East and West, Europe and Asia. After all, the Jesuit missionary records on Chinese philosophy were one of several factors that gave rise to the European Enlightenment, and ultimately to what many Europeans are, or think that they are. If we have Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok, why not Asia from Shanghai to Galway?