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The following text was written during and just after the seminar entitiled "L'artiste, le citoyen et l'entrepreneur" organised by the CICV in collaboration with ARTEC and the Council of Europe during the Festival "La Vallée des Terres Blanches" held in the village of Hérimoncourt (France) and the surrounding villages.

I'd like to express my gratitude to all the team of the CICV (in particular Pierre, Isabelle and Marie-Reine), to the people of Hérimoncourt, Blamont, Glay, Meslières, Dannemarie and Seloncourt (in particular Guilaine, Pierre and their friends and family) and to all those who attended the event (in particular the group "Lila Fichet" for their marvellous singing, Emma for the light, Karine for the stones that talk, and the woman from ex-Czechoslovakia who dared to speak her mind in public). Without them all, this text would not have been possible.

The voice of the "citizen" ...

The mention of "The voice of the citizen..." no doubt conjures up ideas of democracy and participation for many people. Despite the importance of these issues, the following text does not deal directly with the need to find new forms of decision making and the management of public affairs. In English, the word "citizen" is generally used in conjunction with a particular place or group of which the citizen is a part. Belonging is of extreme importance. In this text, however, I concentrate on the individual person with all his or her particularities and plead for a new vision of the individual which has nothing to do with individualism. A vision based on the essential link between recognising the richness and diversity of the individual and developing a sense of being connected to all that surrounds us and the associated deep-rooted personal engagement. Clearly what is meant by being "connected" here has nothing to do with wires and networks. For want of a better word, I have used the word citizen here in the sense of such a "connected individual".

Too many troublesome words

I find it very difficult to follow what someone is saying when he or she uses too many words that raise questions. Take the word "citizen", for example. It was one of the key words of the seminar at La Vallée des Terres Blanches. Yet, although the role of the citizen was constantly questioned by the form of the event and the behaviour of those present, the illusive meaning of the word itself was rarely evoked during the seminar. The French word "citoyen" implies something quite different from its English counterpart. For many of the people present at Hérimoncourt it had strong connotations related to active participation in society...

Sleepwalkers are not citizens

Grappling with troublesome words requires a pause in the flow of ideas that only discussion in a small group or reading allow. One wonders if the torrent of ill thought-out words that characterises the discourse of some people is not a deliberate strategy to force listeners to acquiesce and cease questioning what is told them. In hypnosis, the use of unconnected, apparently logical statements is a common technique to induce a trance-like state. Sleepwalkers are no doubt capable of shouting "Heil Führer" in chorus, but they can hardly be called citizens!

The Spirit of Words...

Yet, however important the careful use of words is, there are other potent levels of communication that can belie or reinforce what words have to say. Have you noticed how difficult it is to sustain interest in what someone is saying, no matter how interesting the subject is, when the way the person speaks is flat and lifeless, as if there were no living substance in the words. One might say that the words lack a body behind them.

The Hall of Treasures

During my stay in Hérimoncourt, I visited the "Hall of Treasures" with a group of local people, two of whom - Guilaine and Philippe - had had the generosity to offer me their hospitality and put me up. In the darkened local hall, the "Hall of Treasures" turned out to be an ingeniously displayed collection of personal objects both of artists and people from the surrounding villages. A time-worn family photo, a baby's dress from another age, a home-made toy passed down from generation to generation ... all silently telling a touching story. As we peered in on these living objects, a group of young people clambered onto the stage at one end of the hall. My deep-rooted English education rose in protest. "You shouldn't stand out in a crowd" whispered a little voice in the back of my head. "Why do people have to show off" The answer was quick to come. They began to sing. Not sentences as such, but bits and pieces of words echoed from one group to another. The group "Lila Fichet" - that was their name - sang with such hearty vitality, malicious humour and frank good-will that all of us were profoundly moved. Here was part of the answer to an unanswered question of the seminar: "Who is a citizen?": a person whose words, whether they be spoken or sung, bear witness to a living engagement both in himself or herself and to the other people around him or her.

The lost individualist

In our society the individual is both everything and nothing. How many people proudly claim or guiltily confess to being individualists? Individualists are supposed to set their personal interests above those of all others. But do they really have their own well-being at heart? The individual is strongly under pressure to satisfy his or her slightest desire, providing he or she has the money to do so, even if it is to the detriment of the world around. In so doing, the individualist tends to cut himself or herself off from other people and has to rely ever more on market products and payable services to replace - if ever that were possible - what people would hitherto have provided: love, care, attention, human contact, recognition, a sense of belonging,....

Do numbers count more than diversity?

At the same time, only those speaking in the name of an organisation or group of people are listened to, especially by organisations, in particular public administrations. Clearly it is more economical to talk to the representative of an organisation than to listen to a series individuals, each with their specific characteristics. Could it be that numbers count more than the richness of diversity and particularity? On the market place and in the public sphere, the individual has little else to say than "Yes" or "No" - "I'll buy it" or "I won't buy it". Having next to no voice and no weight in public affairs aggravates the feeling of loneliness and powerlessness of those motivated individuals who try to speak up in public.

A heart-felt cry for recognition

This lack of recognition can have unfortunate consequences if you are not careful. It can drive you to be needlessly reckless provoking ostracism rather than recognition. Such was the case of one of the speakers at La Vallée des Terres Blanches. He got on people's nerves by enumerating at considerable length the numbers of lines, projects, connections,... they had in his country. Whereas what he was really trying to express was a heart-felt cry for recognition: "It is hard, but we have made it so far. Don't look down on us because we are not so far ahead as you. Let us join you. Please help us to go on with your encouragement."

Moving forward with tears in your eyes ...

At the end of the second morning of the three-day seminar Pierre Bongiovanni, Director of the CICV spoke both of the institutions involved as well as individuals like myself. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. Pierre's attentiveness made me aware of the continuous battle fought by those like myself who seek to express themselves without the legitimacy of representing a structure or company. Such people - unlike the angry young man on the last day of the seminar out to get revenge against the establishment - are moved by a strong desire to create rather than destroy. It is very difficult for the individual to receive recognition for such unglamorous activities as the patient, steadfast work of trying to understand what is happening in the world and sharing that understanding with others. Yet it is only through such pains-taking work taken hand-in-hand with the active recognition of what other individuals are and do that we can create satisfactory relationships with others and build communities fit to live in.

... and a smile in your heart.

The idea of the citizen is not an abstract concept. The voice of the citizen cannot be reduced to a statistical calculation as a result of an opinion poll. The citizen can never be reduced to a series of numbers. The citizen is not a citizen of somewhere or of something, even if he or she is an absolutely essential part of the community. The citizen is always a person before he or she is a representative of some cause or other. The citizen is a living being that is different from all other living beings and yet who feels very strongly the forces that link him or her to all other living things and beyond them to all that exists. It is this fundamental kinship that is at the heart of his or her engagement in society. With a smile in his or her heart, the citizen makes those that meet him or her with an open mind feel great to be alive...

Alan McCluskey, Hérimoncourt and Saint-Blaise Share or comment
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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey,
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Created: May 17th, 1997 - Last up-dated: May 17th, 1997