European Memory and Politics: A Crisis of What?
Warsaw, 7 July 2021
The debate between Ivan Kratsev and Marek Cichocki, titled ‘European Memory and Politics: A Crisis of What?’ was organised as a hybrid event. It was available for both the audience at Zielna Conference Center in Warsaw as well as online for the participants of the Memory Studies Association conference and anyone else through open ENRS channels on YouTube and Facebook.
Both speakers are not only well-renowned scholars of political science and philosophy, but also public intellectuals actively involved in shaping Bulgarian and Polish public political debate. While they represent differing ideological viewpoints - liberal and conservative respectively - they both voiced similar concerns about the future of Europe, its politics, and memory.
The initial question posed by the moderator, Małgorzata Pakier, asked the discussants to characterize the source of the feeling of the crisis that seems to dominate European economic, political, and cultural discourse, and whether or not our anxieties about historical memory are justified. While, according to Kratsev, a lot of the anxieties about the future stemmed from the unprecedented but paradoxical breakthroughs brought by globalization and technological development, Cichocki pointed more toward the exhaustion of the old political frame defined by the liberal democratic order established after the Cold War. Both of the discussants agreed that one of the obstacles in facing this crisis is our approach to the past, still dictated by the logic of the Fukuyamian “End of History”, in which it is seen as a subject of memory, not history. It is re-learning how to use history that was seen as a possible solution to future challenges.
Both of the discussants also tied the end of the “End of History” with the rise of populism, pointing out that the change in framing the European project will be needed in order to respond to it. While Cichocki proposed turning toward supra-national projects of “civilization-states” as the only forces that can withstand challenges posed by the end of the “End of History”, Kratsev pointed out that creating a historical narrative which will be equally attractive to the participants of such European project might prove extremely difficult.
This observation about the necessary exclusive nature of common European memory returned when discussants were asked about changes they would propose to the narrative presented by the House of European History in Brussels. Taking this opportunity to reflect on broader problems of unified European memory and identity, Kratsev argued that the creation of such a memory narrative would require accepting certain exclusions and accepting the absences. Paradoxically, he claimed, the commonality of Europe comes from the fact that we don’t share the same reading of history. Cichocki’s answer also pointed toward the problem of still not discussed-over differences in the memory between Western and Eastern Europe, with the former looking at the current crisis through the prism of liberal democracy, while the latter views it through the lens of their communist past.