The 2018 edition of the annual Raymond Georis debate saw the role of ”Philanthropy and Culture for Europe’s Future” being dissected by Tere Badia and Andre Wilkens, with Raymond Georis moderating the lively discussion in the environs of Philanthropy House.

This year’s debate sought to put the spotlight on the power of culture and cultural diversity for social cohesion, a topical theme for a Europe facing internal struggles over identity and diversity and on the flip-side, a Europe celebrating the year of cultural heritage. Raymond Georis, to some the father, or in his words ”gardener”, of philanthropy in Europe, was welcomed back to the EFC to moderate a ”provocative and different” discussion on the role culture can play in helping Europe overcome its current issues with social cohesion and diversity.

The debate featured the two panellists, Tere Badia, Secretary General of Culture Action Europe, and Andre Wilkens, incoming director of the European Cultural Foundation, engaging with the topic at hand, and the audience, to answer a myriad of questions.

Ms Badia sought in her answers to illuminate the growing polarisation between those living in urban areas, and those in more rural areas, and the problems this poses to social cohesion and diversity, as one group lives with diversity and all the benefits and challenges it poses, while the other becomes segregated from the polis through its lack of diversity. Digital space, and its ownership proved another interesting point too, with its large scale social prevalence, while being majority owned by private companies, posing a serious challenge to diversity and sharing, as companies can dictate what users see, hear and interact with. 

Mr Wilkens however took a different approach and on a journey to 1989, to a lunch where the idea of the Berlin Wall falling was all but a fairy-tale of a young man, but by dinner it had become reality, and how this demonstrated to him, as an East German especially, that everything was possible. Once a positive ideal, this has however over time also come to be a negative one, with the election of Trump and Brexit being evidence of this paradigm shift. He too invoked the words of John Maynard Keynes, quoted by Raymond Georis in his opening speech, that ”the inevitable never happens, it is the unexpected, always.” The challenges these events pose in these so-called ”interesting times”  should however not be simply accepted and Mr Wilkens questioned what the philanthropic sector could do to help, if they could move beyond the easy tasks of grant-making towards advocacy and in this case, supporting culture. For through supporting culture, Mr Wilkens see’s the means by which a European identity can be created, and this is crucial to social cohesion and overcoming today’s obstacles.

The debate raised as many questions as it answered; how to serve the dichotomy of a bipolar world, separated between the elite’s and the people, the perhaps flaws of a European identity and the need for a common denominator to build a pan-European identity around, and what this denominator could be?