On the eve of Schuman Day, the 9th of May, Nijmegen University (together with the City of Nijmegen, Royal Haskoning and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs) has honoured the famous scientist and author Umberto Eco with this year's Treaties of Nijmegen Medal.
Eco was awarded this medal for having devoted himself to promoting peace in Europe, in remembrance of the Treaties of Nijmegen that were in 1678 and 1679 one of the first forms of European agreement and cooperation.
Receiving the medal, Eco started his speech with the remark that Europe is obsessed by conflict, nowadays mainly conflict within its own borders. "We still are, inside our frontiers, involved in a form of warfare with people who are living in Europe but whom we are considering as non-Europeans."
"We are not yet prepared to accept the idea that in the forthcoming years every European city will be like New York or like some Latin American countries." By mentioning New York Eco negated the utopia of a 'melting pot'. "In stead of merging together, different cultures coexist [...] and all succeed in cohabiting on the basis of some common laws and a common lingua franca."
Face the facts
So how to tackle the ever present intolerance? Eco thinks it starts by facing the facts. "Europe will definitely become a multiracial continent or a 'colored' one, if you prefer. If you like it, that's how it's going to be; and even if you don't like it, that's how it's going to be just the same [...] However, racists ought te be a race on the way to extinction."
"Intolerance is a perpetual menace for our state of presumed peace, and it is difficult to eliminate it. Intolerance has biological roots, it manifests itself among animals as territoriality, it is based on emotional reactions that are often superficial - we cannot bear those who are different from us, because their skin has a different color, because they speak a language we do not understand, because they eat frogs, dogs, monkeys, pigs, or garlic, because they tattoo themselves..."
Umberto Eco sees no point in inculcating tolerance in adults that shoot at one another for ethnic and religious reasons. "Too late. Therefore uncontrolled intolerance has to be beaten at the roots, through constant education that starts from earliest infancy, before it is written down in a book, and before it becomes a behavioural 'skin' that is too thick and too tough."