Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Intriguing European history initiative

Sounds promising, from Russian human rights organisation (yes, there are such things) Memorial – recently raided by armed police. These guys are still on the frontline of history, while those of use sitting comfortably in Western Europe can, bar the odd credit crisis, often feel as if Fukuyama may have had a point.

In any case, at its most basic the fun of history was always – for me – the competing accounts of what happened, and the sheer inability of pretty much any source to be free of bias. It’s invaluable journalistic training, history – if more journalists did history at university, the quality of the press would be vastly improved. You come, Rashomon-like, to distrust every account, and so hunt for as many different primary sources as possible to get the full picture. Accept one version of history, and you risk ending up like the blind men and the elephant. (Which is why, of course, Holocaust deniers shouldn’t be outlawed. Theirs is an alternate take on history, and can – despite being just about as categorically, demonstrably wrong as it is possible for an historical theory to be – merely by existing prompt new research and new approaches that may be able to cast light on one of the murkiest episodes of human history. Flawed hypotheses need to be disproved, not banned.)

So the new Memorial European history initiative reported by Eurozine strikes me as well worth supporting:

The twentieth century left deep and unhealed wounds in the memory of almost all nations in eastern and central Europe. Often, the memory of one nation contradicts that of another. If these disparities are recognised and understood, the historical awareness of each society is enriched. If not, they can be exploited for political ends.

Some of the specifics given in the article raise some vital issues about the ongoing post-WWII, post-Soviet recovery of Central and Eastern Europe that it’s all too easy to forget in the West – with many more older Eurozine articles well worth another look in the boxout on the right, such as Isolde Charim’s Historical Myths Old and New (very good on the EU’s “foundation myth” and failure to reconcile East and West).

Europe needs to confront its bloody past openly and honestly if it is ever going to move forward as one. Yet so much of our history we fail to understand – or even learn about. Too many historical myths continue largely unchallenged in the national consciousness of every country, from the old one of Magna Carta in the UK to the newer one of the Resistance in France. Yet without an honest, open understanding of our pasts – both individual and collective – how can we possibly hope to build a better future?

One Comment

  1. What an interesting and hopefully worthwhile project. Confrontation of the past does seem to help a nation come to terms with what it was (look at the Truth and Reconciliation work in South Africa under Mandela), and could also help nations to understand how they are perceived by others (something I’ve always wondered about with the UK).
    Would be interesting to see what profile can be gained for some of the results so that it doesn’t just remain a conversation between academics.