Remembrance and commemoration genealogies
In the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, the countries of Eastern Europe were very diverse in terms of ethnicity and religion. This meant the processes of modernisation and the creation of nation states took place later than in Western Europe, and in a sense they are still shaping this region. The ENRS explores the traditions, stereotypes, images and dramatic events that played the most significant role during the process of building an individual and collective memory in Central and Eastern Europe.
Region – culture – identity
The politically created divisions of 20th-century Europe shaped the continent’s varied regions, each with its own history. The development of those regions was influenced by shifts in power, as well as social, ethnic and religious changes. These processes were particularly visible in Central and Eastern Europe following the First and Second World Wars. The ENRS aims to analyse the short- and long-term effects of such changes on the culture, mentality and identity of the newly established regions and their inhabitants.
The Holocaust, which manifested itself and took place in the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and numerous other sites of annihilation, represents a nadir in history. It has come to symbolise the lowest depths of what humankind is capable of doing to one another, the absolute epitome of political and human evil from which there can only be one consequence: ‘Never again.’ A generation at the end of the War – the meagre number of survivors of the concentration camps, together with all those who can still remember the German Nazi reign of terror and the crimes committed in the name of National Socialism (Nazism) – is becoming steadily smaller. This generation will soon die out. And so it becomes all the more important to keep the memories alive, beyond contemporary witnesses, and to pass them on to the younger generation in many different ways. The ENRS takes part in different kinds o f Holocaust research and Holocaust remembrance and sees these as a main area of concern.
Commemoration of the victims of Stalinism and communism
Creators of the ENRS also appointed the institution to research and document the crimes of the communist system, the experience of which traumatised the nations of East-Central Europe. Although the most repressive phase is associated with the rule of Joseph Stalin, these repressions continued with less intensity until the fall of communism between 1989 and 1991. Without the knowledge of these crimes, it is not possible to understand the modern history of the nations that experienced these crimes. Although the Holocaust together with other Nazi crimes and the crimes of Stalinism are fundamentally different phenomena, which cannot be compared, they should all find an appropriate space within the memory of Europeans.
Resistance, opposition and objection
Resistance, opposition and objection were an inseparable element of dictatorships and totalitarian regimes in the 20th century. These forms of protest differed in ideology, in their activities and in their specific form, depending on the situation in each country; they also varied according to internal factors (such as tradition or cultural and ideological standards) as well as external factors (détente, contacts with opposition groups, etc.). But what they all had in common was a disagreement with ideological indoctrination and system-driven repressions. Mutiny and conflict, which have always played a major role in communities that aspire to freedom and democratic values, are an important theme in ENRS projects.
Society and family life under dictatorship
Totalitarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe aimed to totally control their citizens. Some citizens cooperated with the oppressive system, while others opposed it; most, however, belonged to neither group. One of the goals of the ENRS is to facilitate research and to document the everyday lives of ordinary people who were forced to live in such undemocratic systems. In recent years the term Eigen-Sinn (obstinacy, stubbornness) is used to describe the attitude often seen in communist societies where people were not merely ‘pawns on the chessboard’ but actively strived to make their lives as meaningful and normal as possible despite the circumstances.
Consequences of totalitarianisms and dictatorships
The legacy of totalitarian regimes and dictatorships in 20th century Europe are still visible today. Many wounds have yet to heal. Legal actions have been taken to settle accounts, but the past still affects the political culture of many nations and the identity of communities. The legacies of history in Central and Eastern Europe still run very deep, which is why it is such an area of interest for the ENRS.