Why leave a promising job at the European Commission to set up a cultural movement aimed at bringing together Europe’s 13 Slavonic nations? We spoke to Slavonic Europe’s founder and president David Chmelik.
Chmelik left the European Commission’s directorate general for budget to set up a unique new concept, a Slavonic Europe association aimed at building a bridge between east and west whilst uniting 13 Slavonic cultures. Slavonic Europe aims to provide the basis for a new Slavonic network, first in Brussels then worldwide, bringing together the cultures of Belarus, Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine.
“Slavonic Europe is a cultural movement aimed at the reunification and reinforcement of the 13 Slavonic nations,” Chmelik says. “We want greater visibility for Slavonic culture in Europe and beyond. We also aim at bridging the east and west.” He adds that the Slavs, Europe’s largest linguistic group, are natural intermediaries between east and west. “But at this point in time, we are not playing this essential role.”
Born as Russian tanks invaded Prague, Chmelik grew up both in Czechoslovakia and Germany. A dual national, he quickly learnt the advantages and enrichment of biculturalism. “Slavs have never achieved a strong spirit of togetherness. That’s my personal goal.” He said a Slavonic House in Brussels would be at the heart of the new movement.
“It would add visibility and host Slavonic cultural events in an integrated form with concerts, exhibitions, a Slavonic restaurant, a library and a Slavonic shopping centre. We’re also planning several business elements with, for example, a Slavonic co-working centre for young start-ups from the Slav countries.”
But why set up the association now? “This is the right moment. Europe needs a new approach – from the bottom-up. The European Union cannot be united by individual states top-down but only by large cultural entities of which Slavs are the largest one.We have so much in common but lack a sense of togetherness. Europe needs more emotion and we Slavs can give that.”
He does not envisage an “aggressive nationalistic” movement but, on the contrary, stresses the positive cultural and linguistic ties between Slavs. Mathematician and composer, he also dedicated a brass sextet to the European Commission on the occasion of award of the Nobel peace prize to the EU in 2012.
Chmelik, though, left the Commission bemoaning a lack of creativity. “I write — string quartets. That was always what I wanted to do. I never wanted to remain an official. I wanted to do more,” he said. Chmelik’s artistic interests and cultural reflexions led him to conjure the setting up of a Slavonic Europe. But why now, especially given the daily reports about the sore state of relations between the EU and Russia? Is Slavonic Europe not a subtle vehicle for Russian interests? “We don’t go into politics. We deal with culture. We don’t want to separate but to unite. We have an alternative approach to what has been European integration for almost seven decades. We are convinced that the EU has neglected European cultures. In today’s world, we need to make the bridge on a non-political and cultural basis. Of course, we have many contacts with Russia as it is the largest and most influential Slavonic state. But we also have close dealings with the Poles, Bulgarians and more,” he said.
But Chmelik appreciates the Russians for having no fear and being courageous. “We can’t build Europe on negative feelings,” he adds. Still, Chmelik adds that Russia is not “behind” Slavonic Europe.
“We are behind it. This is a unique concept. We want this project to be auto-financed. At full cruising speed, we want to become fully independent,” he said. He has set his sights high with an ongoing feasibility study of a 4000 square metre Slavonic House in the European quarter. “We’ll then approach potential investors to join an incorporated company – the Slavonic Investors Consortium.”