Troubled pasts, and their implication for European integration
How do you build a common future from a legacy of conflict? Determination goes a long way, as the history of the EU shows but building bridges is not easy. EU-funded researchers are analysing collective memories of past strife that still affects community relations today, in a bid to help advance European integration.
© sewcream #304603641, source:stock.adobe.com 2020
The EU-funded REPAST project is exploring how societies deal with the long shadow of past conflicts, in a bid to generate insights and provide advice for policymakers and civil society. Case studies are being conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Kosovo, Ireland, Poland and Spain.
We want to understand what aspects of various difficult legacies live on in a problematic fashion today and create obstacles to the integration and relations of the various populations in Europe, says project coordinator Dimitra Milioni of the Cyprus University of Technology. To do so, we are investigating how conflict discourses are being formulated and disseminated in the public sphere.
As of March 2020, the projects vast data-collection exercise has been completed, and the researchers have begun to process the extensive material they have gathered. The causes and characteristics of individual conflicts may differ, but the researchers still expect to find commonalities in the handling of painful and potentially contested collective memories, Milioni explains.
Our goal is to arrive at some kind of typology of troubled past discourses today, she says. Were analysing how people in various cultures and nations came to remember the sources of these conflicts and how they negotiate and hopefully renegotiate the initial triggers. And we also want to see how all this is connected to Europe today, and European integration.
Northern Ireland, for instance, is one territory where the past is never far away.
Theres a constant undercurrent of tension, especially around controversial issues, Milioni explains. It is an example of how even a settled troubled past can re-emerge and could potentially also be revived, especially through political discourse, sometimes through media discourse, but also through public discourse. In REPASTs other case study countries, the situation is similar.
The projects data collection considered four areas of expression: politics, history both oral and official and the media, as well as art and culture. It included activities as varied as interviewing locals about their own recollections of past events or about the memories that were passed on to them by elders, exploring traditional and citizen media, scouring party manifestos and viewing stage performances.
In Cyprus, for instance, we found out that various artists are working with political dance, which is not widely known, she says. We observed how this kind of artistic activity actually attempts to recreate the past, and potentially also challenges hegemonic representations of this past.
The emphasis in the project, which is due to end in April 2021, will now shift from data collection to data analysis, and to the production of resources and recommendations for policymakers both in the REPAST case study countries and at EU level and civil society organisations such as non-governmental organisations invested in peacebuilding.
Other target audiences in areas with a bitter legacy include tourist guides, for whom REPAST intends to organise seminars and produce e-learning materials. A data platform will enable anyone with an interest to explore, compare and contrast information collected by the project and access its various other outputs, Milioni notes. The partners are also planning to formulate methodology to facilitate future research in the field.
One tool under development is an online game that fosters players ability to assess historical information. Several adaptations of the game, which is primarily intended for schoolchildren, will be developed to suit different ages and national contexts.
REPAST strives to convey the idea that history as taught in schools, for example, or as presented in public discourse, is always constructed, Milioni emphasises. As citizens, we need to take a step back, we need to develop the skills to understand that what is being projected corresponds to a specific point of view, to a specific entry point.