Tackling nationalist memory politics in modern Europe

Across Europe, nationalist movements are challenging the narrative of post-war reconciliation embodied by the EU. In response, EU-funded researchers are developing ways of remembering that are able to defeat such views.

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  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
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Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czechia
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia


 

Published: 6 March 2018  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Cultural Heritage
Research policyHorizon 2020
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Denmark  |  Germany  |  Poland  |  Spain  |  United Kingdom
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Tackling nationalist memory politics in modern Europe

Headstone in Jewish Cemetery

© james_pintar - fotolia.com

Much of the EU’s legitimacy is derived from the idea of peace and prosperity brought about by reconciliation following World War II. This is now being challenged by nationalist movements who are using the memory of war to promote confrontation-based notions of belonging.

The EU-funded UNREST project aims to counter these antagonistic forms of memory in a way that cosmopolitan forms – such as those upon which the EU is based – cannot, by developing a third way which it calls ‘agonistic memory’.

Viewing political conflict as an opportunity for emotional and ethical growth, agonistic memory aims to re-politicise memory and increase social cohesion around it. This happens by democratically channelling opposed views, political passions and social imagination through an adversarial dynamics of public contest and confrontation.

‘Agonistic memory’ is thus better able to engage with nationalist memory politics and to find ways of overcoming it. To formulate the concept, the project combines theoretical reflection with studying memory cultures and testing practices.

“The research addresses the problem of how to remember violent conflict. Nationalist memory politics is on the rise across Europe and our research aims to contribute to mechanisms that can defeat it,” says coordinator Stefan Berger of Ruhr University Bochum in Germany. “Our results show that memory politics surrounding war in Europe are determined by antagonisms and cosmopolitanism. Cosmopolitan memory frames are, however, relatively powerless in countering nationalist memory politics as they refuse to engage with them.”

Cultural studies

UNREST is hoping to get a clearer idea of dominant modes of remembering by examining mass grave exhumations and war museums. It is looking at the exhumation of graves of civilians killed in Poland during World War II, the Spanish Civil War and the Bosnian War, exploring how they elicit different forms of remembering and the memory practices and narratives arising from them.

The history, reception, narrative, aesthetics and political-cultural contexts of five war museums – the Historial de la Grande Guerre in Péronne, France, the Kobarid Museum in Slovenia, the German-Russian Museum in Berlin, Oskar Schindler’s Factory in Krakow and the Military History Museum in Dresden – are being analysed in depth. This is mainly achieved by research and interviews with people involved in creating and running the museums, as well as visitors.

Work on exhumations and museums feeds into the development, testing and dissemination of approaches aimed at promoting more reflective memory practices. A key part of this is creation of a museum exhibit and a theatre performance.

The exhibit at the Ruhr Museum in Essen, Germany showcases opposing opinions about different 20th century wars, without a priori favouring one perspective over another. Thus, it provides a space for testing new memory strategies.

The theatre performance is intended to challenge audiences on issues such as guilt, justice and revenge, and relations between perpetrators, bystanders and victims. Discussions and interviews reveal how people of different genders, ages and cultural backgrounds respond. It will be staged before an audience in Spain, while three screenings are planned for policymakers, cultural heritage professionals and memory activists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland and Spain.

“The play can be used by other theatre companies across Europe,” says Berger. “The results of the research will be made available through scholarly articles to the research community. Stakeholders will be informed of results via social media and a regular newsletter. We also develop teaching materials to encourage more agonistic approaches to memory politics.”

Project details

  • Project acronym: UNREST
  • Participants: Germany, Denmark, Spain, Poland, United Kingdom
  • Project N°: 693523
  • Total costs: € 2 489 648
  • EU contribution: € 2 489 648
  • Duration: April 2016 to March 2019

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