United Europe – Divided History

 

Timothy Snyder directs the “United Europe – Divided Memory” project at the Institute für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (Institute for Human Sciences) in Vienna, Austria.

In 2014, three turning points in European history have been commemorated: the 100th anniversary of World War I, the 25th anniversary of 1989, and the 10th anniversary of the enlargement of the European Union to the East. The successful story of overcoming war, the divisions between East and West and the transformation from dictatorship to democracy paved the way for a reunited Europe with an astonishing variety of national cultures of remembrance. However, history also seems to have placed a limit upon solidarity in the European Union of the 21st century.

Even as European integration has progressed in commercial, financial, and political terms, the member states of the European Union continue to educate their citizens in the spirit of the national narratives of the nineteenth century which are overlain by a generally Western European story of progress through integration that is alien to the new member states. For all of their own variety, the new member states generally bring to the EU a common interest in comparative totalitarianism, born out of their experience of especially brutal German occupation practices during World War II, and then of four decades of communist rule thereafter. An experience that is unknown to the West European members of the European Union. Far from automatically resolving these differences, the enlargement of the EU has brought them to the fore. Thus far, the enlarged EU has seen the confirmation of national stereotypes, which have proven to be a barrier to the formulation of a common foreign policy, and, most importantly, a limit on the sense of European identity. Within individual European states, the emphasis on national history in a moment of pooled sovereignty has led to introspective symbolic politics with unfortunate consequences for democracy and for the larger European project. Can anything be done?

The history of contemporary Europe cannot be a pale compromise among national narratives or between competing experiences of East and West. A historical account that addresses these problems of memory, stereotypes, and politics must be built from the ground up, on the basis of thematic daring and with the help of the remarkable empirical research carried out since 1989. It must produce a new sort of history of Europe that addresses subjective problems indirectly, by way of a synthesis that embraces various points of view and unknown chapters of European history. This research focus seeks to overcome divisions among national historiographies and between East and West through scholarly history conceived in a novel way.

Information taken from IWM, the Institute for Human Sciences.

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