How we shaped ourselves: Conclusions by the project coordinators

Group outside

In the beginning there was a simple plan: Together we would define our focus points and determine what is important during the first event. With such a framework, we would then approach our four different locations, and evaluate both the memory of fascism and of Stalinism. Based on eight case studies examined at 4 locations, we would compare our observations, analyze the reasons detected and conclude how we, as Europeans, shape our past. Each event would be organised by one partner in own responsibility but based on the agreements made beforehand.

When trying to set up our focus points, it became clear that our ideas on relevance could not be more diverse. As a result, the focus points be- came a ‘work in progress’ throughout the whole project, modified and adjusted continuously. Often, controversies and heated debates emerged about the framework of analysis. Or on the question, whether the institution or monument visited was ‘typical’ or ‘representative’ enough. In such cases, not only the respective concept of remembrance was at stake, but the very plan for the same day. It also became obvious how different the partners were in their experience of history.

The Berlin organisers invited participants to explore their views than confront them with lectures. Different points of view where contrasted and analysed – which made some of the guests ask about “the truth” and for experts to inter- pret and give unbiased information. Attempts to explain the absence of objectivity in historical writing and the social sciences was rejected as being an hegemonial Western approach, relativizing differences in order to destroy diversity and identity – an accusation the people were simply unprepared for. Many of us were surprised by the different perceptions and mind sets, after we seemingly had agreed on everything.

We also discovered dramatic differences in the way we deal with history. Most guests were con- fused when politicians and activists invited to a debate could not agree whether Stalinism receives enough attention in the German collective memory. The German “self-critique”, presenting all dark sides of the own history openly and in a very demonstrative way, was seen as confusing and interpreted by some as a strategy to avoid deeper deliberations. On the other hand, Hungarians declared the Holocaust and Lithuanian Nazism as non-topics not to confront people with in their countries, as they were too sensitive.

As a result of this turbulence, we experienced four different but very interesting events. Although tension was high and debates were heated, one could also sense how a slow understanding of the differences was growing. Having under- stood the different concepts and perceptions, views expressed by others became more logical and respected.

The project challenged everybody involved. It forced us to question convictions and to explain what we had thought to be clear. Already in the very first project concept, we had stated our intention “to give participants the authority and autonomy to reclaim European history for themselves.” At the beginning of the project we could clearly see how everybody involved claimed the own authority and autonomy. After it had finished we understood how demanding and therefore enriching the process was.