Collective reckoning with the past – the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity
„Memory divides, history unifies".
The end of confrontation between East and West, European integration and the process of extension of the European Union contributed to international exchange of experiences and communication between individual citizens and states to the extent once unimaginable for European nations – in all areas of economy, culture, science and politics. Also in the field of historical sciences possibilities of cooperation with the East European partners never were so diverse and contacts between scholars from the West and East as intensive as they are now. Such situation happened to a certain degree thanks to accession of the Central-European countries to the European Union in 2004 and 2007 and abolition of the most of inner borders in the EU. Not less significant was the influence of efforts that were made in Europe to promote culture which – thanks mainly to multilateral cooperation – are contributing to creation of so called „European added value”.
Krzysztof Pomian, a prominent expert on „Europe and its nations” and director of the Museum of Europe that is being created in Brussels, in his analysis that was recently translated into many languages examines the problem of „European identity” and surpassing communication and cooperation self-awareness of the Europeans. Pomian in his study comes to conclusion that the nations of Europe were shaped by Judeo-Christian tradition, mutually penetrating and interfering history, writing, law, numerous aspects of art, architecture and many intertwining cultural references and finally and most of all by „the birth of Europe in a spirit of Enlightenment”. Despite of that the European nations are not able to develop common identity because their ways of thinking and acting are dictated by categories and values prevailing in each particular nation. That is why the European identity while being a „historical fact” proves at the same time to be „more and more frequently a political problem”.
It really deserves to be noted that despite of above mentioned positive developmental tendencies the creation of European „WE spirit” did not (yet) succeed and common European historical memory and identity did not take its shape yet. Human reasoning is usually reduced to well known, national patterns and historical awareness as reflected in public debates and historical discussions in media to a great extent do not go beyond national horizons. „Europe” is uttered by many but „priority of national point of reference” and principle of „subordination of European memory to national memory” are still in force.
The most important role in creation of European awareness plays the problem of dealing with the past, the question if a common historical memory is possible. This problem is important since together with extension of the European Union the topic of the difficult past of the continent „came back” with surprising strength into minds of the citizens of Europe. History of 20th century was rarely present so frequently in political and social discourse as it is now. Certainly nobody will call now for separation of the past with „wide line” and to end reckoning of the crimes committed in this century. Quite on the contrary. Over six decades after the end of the World War II and two decades after fall of Communism in Europe such problems like discussion on history, memory and commemoration are back on agenda.
Germany and other European countries started anew process of investigating their own history and European history in a broader perspective. European states review the images of history taken from the others, discuss their own national memories of historical events and at the same time they look for common references for coherent, international culture of memory. A French historian Pierre Nora developed a model idea „Lieux de memoire” – the idea of „places of remembrance” in material and figurative sense, which was successfully tested in France. This success is a sign of a new interest in history and possibilities of understanding it. Together with implementation of Nory’s concept of „Lieux de memoire” also were carried out numerous studies about places of remembrance in Germany, Italy, Holland and many other countries. The idea of „places of remembrance” was recently employed within the framework of a big bi-lateral project of Polish-German cooperation.
The question of studying history and historical memory goes beyond limits of scientific research and is very up-to-date topic, what is shown by discussions we can listen to everyday about the newly created places of remembrance, monuments commemorating victims or information about historical museums dedicated to fate of individual groups or specific historical events. Already in 1990 there was established in Budapest the „Institute of History of Hungarian Revolution 1956”. The consecutive institutes investigating the Communist past and resistance against similar oppression were established in Warsaw, Bratislava, Prague and Bucharest. In 2001 was opened in Berlin the Jewish Museum and in 2004 the Museum of Warsaw Uprising. In 2005 was unveiled in Berlin the monument commemorating the victims of Holocaust, in 2006 in Tbilisi and Kiev were opened the Museums of Soviet Occupation. In 2007 they started to develop plans of the Museum of the World War II in Gdańsk and in 2008 in Berlin they started construction of a monument commemorating German Gypsies and Roma people murdered under Nazi rule. Also in 2008 there was established in Prague the Institute for Research of Totalitarian Regimes and in 2009 in Bucharest a central monument by Peter Jacobi, an artist of German-Transylvanian origin was erected to remind the victims of Holocaust. In 2009 Foundation „Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation” was established – the institution dedicated to expulsions from all over the world with special emphasis on fate of the German refugees and expelled. All these initiatives can be treated as a symptom of „new historical awareness”. Also we cannot forget about already mentioned „Musee de l’Europe” in Brussels that is dedicated to history of European integration after 1945, which should become the central place of confirmation of European awareness. There are many other examples from other countries.
Etienne Francois, the co-publisher of consisting of three volumes presentation „German Places of Remembrance” says about general tendency of „growth of importance of culture of memory” and „all-European demand for memory. At the same time he indicates, and rightly so, that this kind of memory in any case does not encompass the whole of the past. Indeed, contemporary historical discourse devotes less attention to the earlier historical periods when common values and cultural references common for many nations were being shaped in Europe. The new historical awareness to a higher degree refers in a particular way to the painful most recent history, especially to the history of the „short” 20th century. Such kind of historical awareness rather introduces division than encourages development of common identity, because continuity of history and historical memory was disturbed by crimes committed during this century, the crimes the scale of which was beyond any imagination. We should not to disclaim the history of 20th century, but today, 20 years after end of conflict between the West and East we have to refer in even stronger way to intellectual and cultural roots of Europe.
What specific events of 20th century have led to breakdown of memory, caused deep wounds in awareness of the European nations and resulted in such multitude of different images of history in our continent? The first break in continuity of civilisation was caused by the World War I which gave in Europe (and elsewhere in the world) the way for totalitarian ideologies and caused alienation of „Europe of our forefathers” (Pomian). Harms done later in the 20th century should be directly or indirectly linked to the World War I: „ethnic cleansings” (expulsions, persecutions and extermination of people) connected with the World War I, the World War II which turned out to have character of extermination of specific groups of people in Eastern Europe by Hitler’s Germany, Nazi occupation and regime that especially in Eastern areas of Europe destroyed whole cultural landscapes; incalculable war related damages, persecution of Jews and the Holocaust; flight, expulsions and forced migrations during and at the end of the World War II; the crimes of genocide committed under Stalin’s rule, occupation regimes introduced in the East and Central European countries by the USSR and finally the Gulag. Both „Auschwitz” and „Gulag” are the symbols of cruelty of that time. The countries of Eastern Europe became in 1933 – 1944 a stage for the Nazi and Soviet politics of terror.
Above mentioned events have one common and sorrowful trait – these deeds were involving boundless lawlessness and unimaginable cruelty. They brought about great suffering of millions of people who frequently were not involved in any political developments of the time. These facts and in particular the vast number of victims mourned in many countries are present in memory of European nations although this presence is diverse way since each nation is considering given historical event in perspective of its own fate first. It happens frequently that that memory about some event prevailing in one nation competes with or even contradicts the memory of the same event as seen by the other nation. Political division of Europe for the West and East, authoritarian/totalitarian and democratic systems which lasted for over forty years after the World War II influenced for a long time mentality of the people.
There is one principal problem that is obvious in contemporary international debates on the past (unless they are conducted within small groups of scholars), namely a certain asymmetry that occurs in mutual perception of western and eastern countries. During the Cold War era the western countries of Europe and former Federal Republic had strong links with the USA in questions referring to the reckoning with the past and the eastern countries seemed to be „considerably remote”. The long-term result of such traditional western orientation is the fact that because of language barrier the process of reckoning with the past that lasted in the countries of the Central and Eastern Europe from 1989 up to now did not find its way to awareness of many people and did not enter into political historical discourse. This thesis can be supported by the fact of fervent debate concerning expulsion and forced resettlement of Germans that was conducted in Poland both in scientific circles and in press. This debate still is waiting for its wider prevalence in Germany. On the other hand professional literature published in western languages constitutes a valuable source which is frequently used and further developed by people from the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
The published in 2002 position taken by the Czech Union of Historians – „Historians against constant violation of history” in which were touched upon controversial topics concerning Czech-German history of 20th century is a symptom of contradictory and competitive and asymmetrical understanding of history. This manifesto did not echoed strongly in Germany but was a sign of worry of the small country that the painful historical events experienced by the Czech Republic during 20th century and their historical achievements like debate „Forced migrations in Europe” are not adequately appreciated.
In the context of differentiated perception of 20th century history among European nations and quite often stormy media and political discussions, national differences concerning interpretation the most important events, inconsistent images of history and „parallel realities” in Europe there emerged demand for discussion forums, initiatives and institutions mediating – in possibly the most multi-lateral way – between differently orientated cultures of memory. Only understanding of „diversity” may support mutual understanding and strengthen foundations of European awareness.
In 2008 „International Society Memorial” (Moscow) published „an appeal” calling for establishment of „international historical forum” to promote international discourse. In spite of that this proposal referred then mostly to the question of memory in the context of area of the Soviet rule this appeal formulated by the Memorial and goals it supports is marked by general topicality: „National differences in interpretation of important historical events are naturall unavoidable question. Nevertheless the important thing is to know how to attempt these differences. […] It makes no sense to ignore „foreign” memories and pretend that they do not exist. It makes no sense to declare them unjustified [...]”.
In the same year 2008 the Czech part called for establishment in Europe of international „Platform for Examination of Totalitarian Past”. The aim of this institution was – inter alia – to infer to „common European heritage” the specific experiences of new member states of EU. Besides this Platform supposed to take over scientific and educational tasks and coordinating functions. This idea although in many respects similar to principles and goals of the operating since 2005 Foundation „European Network Remembrance and Solidarity” was not implemented.
Today principally there exists consensus that historical events should be looked at considering their complexity in reference to all parts involved or all parts afflicted by these events. There is no doubt that „demand for historical memory” of all parties has to be equally respected and to be the point of reference during discussion. There is no doubt that the past should be analysed while taking into consideration and referring to perspectives of the partners of discourse. Awareness of peculiarity of each country is condition for establishment of common „European market of history”. The goal of the Foundation „European Network Remembrance and Solidarity” are activities promoting multi-lateral and communitarian perception of history oriented at differences and common characteristics.
prof. Matthias Weber (born 1961) - historian, Germanist. Since 1999 associate professor in University in Oldenburg. Since May 2004 director of Federal Institute for Culture and History of Germans in Central and Eastern Europe. Member of Steering Committee of the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity.
1 Citation: Pierre Nora: Nachwort. [Afterword] In: Etienne Francois, Hagen Schulze (ed.): Deutsche Erinnerungsorte [German places of memory], vol.. III. München 2001, p. 681-686, here p. 686; see also publication in: Transit. Europäische Revue 38 (2010), subject: „Vereintes Europa - geteilte Geschichte" [United Europe – Divided History].
2 The title of Pomian’s disertation, compare Krzysztof Pomian: Europa i jej narody. (Europe and its Nations.) Translation from French: Matthias Wolf. Berlin 1990.
3 Krzysztof Pomian: Europäische Identität. Historisches Faktum und politisches Problem [European Identity. Fact and Political Problem], link: www.eurozine.com/articles/article-2009-08-24-pomian-de.html, downloaded 01.01.2010, publication in Transit. Europäische Revue 37 (2009); Original title: De Europese identiteit. Een historisch feit en een politiek problem. W: Leonard Ornstein, Lo Breemer (ed.): Paleis Europa. Grote Denkers over Europa. Amsterdam 2007, p. 29-54.
4 Etienne Francois: Geteilte Erinnerungsorte, europäische Erinnerungsorte. [Divided places of memory, European places of memory] W: Robert Born, Adam S. Labuda, Beate Störtkuhl (ed.): Wizualne konstrukcje historii i pamięci historycznej w Niemczech i w Polsce 1800-1939 / Visual constructions of history and historical memory in Germany and Poland 1800-1939 (Wspólne Dziedzictwo, III), p. 17-32, here p. 26.
5 Out of many publications on this subject let us name following exemplary studies: Pierre Nora (ed.): Les lieux de memoire, t. 1-3, Paris 1984-1992; Mario Isnenghi (ed.): II luoghi della memoria. Simboli e miti Dell'ltalia Unita. Rom, Paris, 1996; Etienne Francois, Hagen Schulze (ed.): Deutsche Erinnerungsorte [German places of memory], t. 1-3. München 2001; Pim den Boer, Willem Frijhoff (red.): Lieux de memoire: et identites nationales. La France et les Pays-Bas. Amsterdam 1993.
6 Currently implemented project „Deutsch-polnische Erinnerungsorte / Polish-German Places of Memory” under direction of Robert Traba and Hans Henning Hahn at Centre for Historical Research of Polish Academy of Sciences in Berlinie / Zentrum für Historische Forschung Berlin der Polnischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zob. www.cbh.pan.pl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=46&catid=21<emid:::74&lang =de, downloaded 01.01.2010.
7 Compare Johannes Feichtinger: Europa, quo vadis? Zur Erfindung eines Kontinents zwischen transnationalem Anspruch und nationaler Wirklichkeit. [Europe, quo vadis? Creation of the continent between need for internationality and national reality] In: Moritz Csäky, Johannes Feichtinger (ed.): Europa - geeint durch Werte? Die europäische Wertedebatte auf dem Prüfstand der Geschichte. [Europe – unified through values? European debate on values in historical perspective] Bielefeld 2007, p. 19-43, here p. 35; Publications of Austrian, Czech and Slovak authors about above mentioned subject Moritz Csäky, Elena Mannovä (ed.): Collective Identities in Central Europe in Modern Times. Bratislava 1999; Krisztiän Ungväry: Belastete Orte der Erinnerung. [Burdened places of memory] W: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte [From politics and contemporary history] 29-30 (2009), p. 26-33.
8 Francois: Geteilte Erinnerungsorte (see footnote4), s. 17, 19.
9 Pomian: Europa i jej narody / Europe and its nations (see footnote 2), P. 141.
10 Compare Editorial Transit 38 (2010), brochure „Vereintes Europa - geteilte Geschichte“ [United Europe – divided memory].
11 Burkhard Olschowsky: Erinnerungslandschaft mit Brüchen. Das „Europäische Netzwerk Erinnerung und Solidarität” und die Traumata des alten Kontinents. [Cracks on the landscape of memory. The Foundation „European Network Remembrance and Solidarity” and trauma of the old continent] In: Transit 35 (summer 2008), p. 23-48, here p. 26.
12 Stance „Historikove proti znásilnováni dejin. Stance of Sdrużeni historikü Ćeske republiky", published in: Priloha ke Zapravodaji Historickeho klubu 12, 2 (2001), p. 3-7; Polish translation: Przegląd Historyczny 94 (2003), s. 59-63.
13 Heading of the appeal: „Nationale Geschichtsbilder. Das 20. Jahrhundert und der Krieg der Erinnerungen. Ein Aufruf von Memorial” [National images of history. 20th century and war of memories. The Appeall of the Memorial; reprinted in: Osteuropa 58 brochure 6 (2008), p. 77-84, citation p. 81; link: www.eurozine.com/articles/2008-12-05-memorial-de.html, downloaded 01.01.2010.
14 On initiative started as a part of Czech presidency of EU see: Mateusz Gniazdowski: Czeska propozycja utworzenia platformy ds. badań totalitarnej przeszłości Europy. (Czech proposal to create platform for examination of totalitarian past of Europe) „Biuletyn" (Polski Instytut Spraw Międzynarodowych / Polish Institute for International Affairs), no 47 (515) 26 September 2008, p. 1931-1932; see also: „Europas Gewissen und der Parlamentarismus - Entschließung des Europäischen Parlaments vom 02.04.2009 [European awareness and parliamentarism – resolution of European Parliament fromm February 2nd, 2009]. No: P6_TA(2009)0213, link: www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P6-TA-2009-0213+0+DOC+XML+V0//DE, downloaded 01.01.2010.
15 Nora: Nachwort [Afterword] (see footnote 1), p. 685 and next.