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    Impressions from the European Remembrance Symposium in Barcelona

    ‘We never learn enough from history’ – the 11th European Remembrance Symposium and 6th Taking Stock of European Memory Policies dedicated to ‘Resistance and Solidarity’ has ended. Once again, let’s take a brief look at this unique event and impressions it made.

    How can we remember the acts of solidarity and resistance occuring in the past century? Which forms of solidarity and resistance live on in social memory, and which forms have been misremembered or forgotten? What are the ethical implications of the practice of solidarity and resistance that emerged during the history of the 20th century? How does art shape our understanding of resistance and solidarity? Where does real solidarity begin? How can the ethical imperative of solidarity be translated into action?

    The 11th European Remembrance Symposium posted these and other questions to the broad community of the most prominent representatives of museums and memorial sites, employees of scientific and educational institutions, as well as NGOs active in the field of 20th-century history. As an annual project of European Network Remembrance and Solidarity, the Symposium aims at facilitating the exchange of contacts, experiences, and ideas between institutions dealing with historical education and memory politics across Europe. This year's edition took place on 9-11 May in Barcelona, with the European Observatory on Memories EUROM as a local co-organizer of the event.

    The format of the event was focused of ideas and open-ended dialogue rather than definite statements. In their welcome speeches, Prof. Montserrat Puig i Llobet, Dr Jordi Guixé i Coromines and Rafał Rogulski, emphasised the meaning of the resistance and solidarity itself, the role of the remembrance as the platform for common-shared values, as well as the importance of open dialogue in building the European culture of remembrance. Jordi Guixé also underlined that we can never learn enough from history and that solidarity is once again very much needed.

    Thus, the first day of the symposium started with a fundamental discussion between three exquisite intellectuals: dr Carmen Magallón, dr Piotr Naimski and Michael Žantovský who moderated the panel. Participants of the discussion shared their insights and experiences on resistance and solidarity from very different perspectives. In his remarks, Michael Žantovský observed that ‘Solidarity works in different ways, scales and direction. But, as well as resistance, it obliges in a justice way. We have to resist, even if we are not personally effected by the evil’. Dr Piotr Naimski admitted that ‘Solidarity cannot be mixed with moral obligations. Remembrance is the basis for noble ideas to become practices’. In her remarks, dr Carmen Magallón noted that ‘The one thing we can do as women to avoid the war, is avoid repeating the words and behaviour of men-in-power. Weapon will not safe us. Weapon is not a solution’.

    Although at first glance these statements seem to coincide, as prof. Jan Rydel pointed out in the closing remarks: ‘The superficial conclusion of the listener would be: the twentieth-century Spanish experience and the experience of the inhabitants of Central and Eastern Europe are completely incompatible, and even contradictory. Pacifism understood as a tendency to seek peaceful methods of resolving conflicts is right, but as an imperative to act in practice, e.g. in the face of unprovoked bandit aggression, it is completely pointless, because it practically serves only the aggressor. On a closer look, the experiences of the inhabitants of Central and Eastern Europe and the Spaniards have a common denominator. This common denominator is the concentration camps of Mauthausen, and especially Gusen, where Poles and Spanish Republicans suffered and died side by side. The defenders of freedom, despite their differences, were victims of the same totalitarianism that killed people not because of what they did, but because of who they were.’ These valuable first-hand recollections was followed by a series of 90-second-long ‘turbopresentations’, during which the representatives of almost 20 institutions presented their past, present and future projects at lightning speed. The first day of the symposium ended with a documentary film ‘Spain in Exile’ (1946), directed by Guillermo Zúñiga and produced by Paul Falkenberg. The film unveils the living conditions of Spanish exiles in France after the Second World War. The first day’s programme was closed by a concert by the NOGUIRA Trio, which made us feel that not only struggles but also musical art can be an expression of resistance and solidarity. The NOGUIRA trio, created and led by Nora Buschmann, performed a series of instrumental pieces and songs from all over the world, in a show that lasted an hour. The repertoire included protest songs against dictatorships and in support of oppressed people, and music arising from the migration from Europe to Brazil and Argentina in the early 20th century.

    The second day of symposium began with a panel discussion chaired by Keith Lowe with participants Prof. Zsuzsanna Bögre, Dr Jesús Alonso Carballès, Dr Claudia-Florentina Dobre, Prof. Elżbieta Ciżewszka-Martyńska. It sought to answer the question whether memory can be a form or vehicle of resistance and solidarity. The panellists have proven that this is indeed the case. ‘Solidarity lies in the consciousness. Solidarity does not need any enemy’ – prof. Elżbieta Ciżewska-Martyńska said. ‘Remembrance can also be a form of resistance, as the struggle against commemorations of the victims of General Franco's dictatorship during its period demonstrates, as well as the thousands of fierce battles that took place between the communists on the one hand, and the people and organisations trying to remember the crimes of the Soviets and the local communists on the other. Remembrance is also an excellent platform on which solidarity can grow’ – summarized prof. Jan Rydel. The second panel of the day was dedicated to Q&A session – Taking Stock of European Memory Projects on Solidarity, moderated by Constanze Itzel in a very dynamic way. During the session the representatives of various European institutions, such as Bogdana Brylynska, Dr Luiza Iordache Cârstea, Fynn-Morten Heckert, Maciej Piotrowski, Dr Erkki Tuomioja gave an overview of the projects they facilitate in the area of solidarity and remembrance. Bogdana Brylynska observed their undoubted importance: ‘Poetry that was written under the war conditions tells you more than any other stories you may hear in that times’. Dr Erkki Tuomioja emphasises that ‘Although memories are not reliable resources of history, are subjective and selective, they have to be collected and shared as different perspectives and insights of common history’. The fruitful discussion culminated with the visits to the air-raid shelter, Refugi 307, La Modelo prison and the pearl of Barcelona – Sagrada Familia.

    The final day of the symposium saw departure towards topics focusing on the bonds of solidarity and art, as well as art as a form and vehicle of solidarity. Simon Krbec, Mirosław Nizio, Tszwai So, dr Piedad Solans and prof. Bibiana Crespo (as a moderator) gave their excellent examples of such influence of art, in which it carries not only emotions, but factual knowledge serving the purpose of commemoration and solidarity as well. As pointed out in the debate and as demonstrated by the concept of Tszwai So’s memorial to the victims of the totalitarian dictatorships, which is to be realised in Brussels, art has the power to make present something that is no longer present, to give voice to the experiences of the victims, to convey their voices to us. Following on from that, a round-table discussion, involving Olha Honchar, dr Matej Medvecký, dr Marek Mutor, Géraldine Schwarz, Barbara Walsche and Otmar Lahodynsky (as a moderator) focused on the consequences and the lessons of 20th-century history. What does the history of 20th-century solidarity and resistance teach us in the context of the new challenges we face in the 21st century? – it was the main question discussed during the session. There may be at least several answers to that. ‘One totalitarian regime ends and the next one begins. It is important to show the continuity of the evil’ – Olha Honchar said. ‘Without common memory it is hard to share common European identity’ – added Géraldine Schwarz.

    Three days of panel debates, roundtable discussions, and turbo presentations brought opportunities for the participants to present their ongoing projects and find new partners as well as to reflect on the state of the European culture of remembrance.

    We wish to thank everyone who contributed to this year’s edition of the event! Thank you to all distinguished panellists and participants for sharing experiences, exchanging ideas and creating an atmosphere of cooperation and understanding.

    We expand our sincere thanks to the co-organisers of the Barcelona Symposium: EUROM – European Observatory on Memories, Fundació Solidaritat UB and the Symposium’s partners: Universitat de Barcelona, Ústav pamäti národa, Consulado General de la Republica de Plonia en Barcelona, Honorary Consulate of the Czech Republic in Barcelona.
    Thank you for all the participants of the Case Studies session: Lviv City of Literature, UNED - Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Observatory on History Teaching in Europe, Council of Europe,, Stowarzyszenie Folkowisko, Nizio Design International, Historians without Borders in Finland, House of European History.

    We’re looking forward to meeting you all again in 2024!
    We invite you to visit  photo gallery of three-day discussion in Barcelona!

    Learn about the 11th European Remembrance Symposium