The power of connection: united in diversity
May 27, 2024

The power of connection: united in diversity

“United in diversity”. This is the motto of the European Union – so much more than a mere slogan, yet words whose forgotten power is often underestimated.

We live in a globalised world, our lives more interconnected than ever. We can travel to any corner of the planet in a very short time or, even faster, we can “teleport” in the blink of an eye through our digital devices. If our ancestors could see this world, they would either be fascinated or terrified by such huge power. But what is this power?

The European Union per se is both the premise and the fruit of this power. A dream sparked and sprouted in the minds of far-sighted men and women who in the middle of that disarray of the last century managed to think of a potentially powerful future different from their actual grim reality. In 1941, at the darkest hour of European history, Altiero Spinelli, Ernesto Rossi, and Eugenio Colorni, wrote the Ventotene Manifesto[1]. A work of peace, hope, and future. An idea of coexistence and union of the European peoples in the midst of carnage and slaughter. A dream born from the idea of unity in diversity. This was the power of connection: it was not a lonely person who wrote this powerful text, and nor was it just Spinelli, Rossi, and Colorni, together with Ada Rossi and Ursula Hirschmann, but it was all of them, all the various anti-fascist figures exiled on that small island in the Mar Tirreno. The Ventotene Manifesto results from the meeting of a multiplicity of people and the connection of their ideas.

The power of connection lies in the fruits resulting from the meeting of people and the clash and confrontation of their ideas. Not for nothing is freedom of movement one of the founding pillars of the European Union – freedom of movement of goods, capital, services, and people. Europe arose from the power of connection; thus, it cannot but advocate for it: United in Diversity. Once upon a time a Polish anthropologist who travelled the world in the dying days of the Cold War, observing the global metamorphosis after the fall of the Berlin Wall, elucidated the concept of being face-to-face with someone different from you. His name was Ryszard Kapuściński, and he depicted the meeting with “the Other”[2] (i.e., a human just as human as you are, but for the essential difference that it is not You) as the source of three potential feelings: fear, indifference, and curiosity. From each of these feelings, humans respond with a specific behaviour: I don’t know you, and I fear you, so I fight you; I don’t know you, and I don’t care about you, so I live alone by myself; and finally, I don’t know you, but I am curious, so let’s get acquainted. The first two lead to war and division, and the last reflects a connection. In this sense, the power of connection means the potential bonds and outcomes deriving from meeting with the Other, the one diverse from you.

However, it is not all rainbows and unicorns. First of all, coexistence and union are not an easy, nor automatic conclusion. In Kapuściński’s example, curiosity is just one out of the three reactions – and we might add, the most challenging. On the contrary, fear is the most common emotion that pervades us when confronted with the Other. We can have proof of that just by looking at the wars and conflicts in our past or, unfortunately, our present. What is worse is that fear and war are not just the most common but are growing nowadays. Despite the fact that after the end of the Cold War, humanity saw a reduction in the number of conflicts and war-related deaths, since 2014 this trend has been inverted[3]. We now live in a more conflictual world. We now live in a more fearful world that pushes us to close ourselves and distance ourselves from the Other. It is exactly for this reason that our mission is to keep alive that dream of Europe that was first sparked in such a dark time.

Furthermore, coexistence and union are not an immediate outcome. Fear is sudden and overwhelming from the first moment, while curiosity takes time. While war quickly provides destruction, union requires time because it is a process of building trust. The European Union may be the most striking case: almost 30 years have gone by since the formal birth of the Union, 70 years if you consider the Community, and around a century including the first discussions and the first proto-embryonic ideas, and yet still it is not finished.

Neither its internal integration nor its external enlargement are complete, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and beyond. There was once a dream, an idea of Europe arising from the clash and the confrontation of different people, arising from the power of connection of individuals, coming from various places but building a common vision. Now, precisely now, in our more warring and fearful world, is the right time to bear our responsibilities and reignite the power of this dream, of this idea. Our generation can no longer take for granted what so far appeared normal for us. Our generation must now take up the present and fulfil its own idea of the European Union. How? By not fearing to meet the Other, by clashing and confronting our ideas with their ideas, in order to unleash the power of connection and be finally, truly united in diversity.

[1] Altiero Spinelli, Ernesto Rossi, and Eugenio Colorni, Il manifesto di Ventotene, Torino: CELID, 2001

[2] Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Other, Verso Books, 2018

[3] David Harland, ‘War is Back: The International Response to Armed Conflict’, Horizons: Journal of International Relations and Sustainable Development, 2016 no. 7. p. 224–234

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