Fantastic news. I can stop stressing about understanding and reporting on the European Union. Really I should just tell the Brussels Financial Times bureau we can start covering the capital of beer and chocolate rather than the capital of Europe, because it’s all going to collapse five years.
At least, that’s what Friends of a Reunited Europe would have you believe.
This museum (loosely called) was organized by the Royal Flemish Theatre and can be found just a few streets from the heartbeat of the European Commission. The exhibition transports you to year 2063.
The brilliantly dusty and drab museum displays “the final years of the long peace,” before the EU dissolved into chaos due to its own bureaucracy and inadequacies.
Though unification brought peace following the two bloody European Civil Wars, “the ensuing prosperity and stability lulled Europe to sleep,” according to a pamphlet written in both English and Esperanto and handed to every visitor before entering into an eerily lit hallway to the future.
But before we get there, let’s take a look at the EU as it stands in September 2013.
The Friends of a Reunited Europe ask their visitors to reflect on a time in Europe when a single currency was used, boundary lines evaporated and “when it came to climate summits and international conflict resolution, Europe had to content itself with a place along the side-lines.” Striking a chord yet?
Highlights from the multistoried exhibit include the EU’s “Acquis Communautaire” — or body of European law — which grew to about 311,000 pages by 2017, according to the Friends of a Reunited Europe. All 311,000 pages are on display, stacking from the first floor to the fourth. Also on display is the now extinct euro, old EU propaganda and two maps that illustrate how extremism and regional separatism grew into the kill shots that derailed the European Project in 2018.
Perhaps most powerful is the last room of the exhibit. After your eyes adjust to the sheer darkness, you’ll see a window on the far right, illuminating a series of print paper. In both English and Esperanto rests a real-life letter from exhibition creator and visionary Thomas Bellinck to a friend who committed suicide after bankruptcy.
At first glance, it may seem Bellinck is overly pessimistic and critical of both the current and future EU. Yet, a theme carried from dusty room to dusty room is the “Fear of Loss,” which Bellinck nicknamed the last room in the exhibit. Much more can be found in any of the great articles written about Bellinck and his creation. Whether in an interview or speaking with patrons in the bar on the top level of the museum, Bellinck stresses the exhibit is very critical but ultimately is a pro-European exhibition.
What stayed with me the most is that the problems within the current EU Bellinck highlights with his dark humor are very real and very dangerous to the health of the European Project. The further I dig into the convoluted system that is the EU for my internship, the more I’m taken aback at how much of an experiment it is. Much like the building layout of the European quarter, there’s no clear organization or finish line to the Project. Bellinck says the collapse of the EU is not science-fiction, and is a worst case scenario that is becoming more and more possible every day.
I take comfort, maybe naively, in the fact I’m working with and learning from journalists who are working to illuminate the issues in the EU that caught Bellinck’s creative and critical eye. Perhaps with enough voices and opinions, the European experiment will still be standing strong in it’s egg-shaped headquarters come 2018. And if not, you’ll find me on the fourth floor of a museum, toasting the former European Union.