Europe’s Divided Memories After 1945

Notes on the Crisis of European Integration and Memory

This text is originally published in Transform!Europe 2020 Yearbook and is authored by Carlo Spagnolo.  Carlo Spagnolo is professor of contemporary history at the University of Bari. He holds a doctorate from the European University Institute of Fiesole. Among other occupations he is a member of the Scientific Committee of the Fondazione Istituto Gramsci in Rome. He has carried out research and teaching activities in Belgium, France, Germany, United States.

He deals with 19th and 20th century history. His publications focus on the reconstruction of Europe after 1945, on the Marshall Plan and on European integration, on the history of the Italian Communist Party and other issues. His interests also include the methodological implications of technologies and digital media for historical research.

The European Parliament’s 19 September 2019 resolution on the memory of the war and totalitarianisms[1] has stirred heated debate in national dailies; nevertheless, the motion’s objective has eluded a great part of the commentators and also many Italian MEPs, including the majority Italian left MEPs, who voted for it. Certainly, those historians who expressed themselves against the political use of the past and against the distorted reading of the 1939 Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact, which makes it into the principal cause of the outbreak of the Second World War, are not wrong. The moral equating of Nazism and communism serves to delegitimise the USSR’s role among the victors of the Second World War and erase the memory of the Battle of Stalingrad and the ca. 20 million Soviet citizens who died in the war. However, simply being outraged would impede us from understanding that what is involved here is not a scholarly revision of history but the establishing of an official locus for European institutional memories, one that favours one narrative to the detriment of other narratives. Those who proposed it were perfectly conscious of playing a political and cultural game. 

The resumption of a Cold War politics on the part of NATO against Putin’s Russia involves a strong emphasis on the protagonism of the memories of the Visegrád countries and thus a radical marginalisation of the historical experience of Mediterranean Europe. 

The consent expressed by the social democratic MEPs arises from the rhetoric of freedom divorced from specific social content, for which, in accordance with Blair’s and Schröder’s Third Way, neoliberalism has a progressive aspect. This disarms all strong objections to the Resolution. Thus Mario De Pero tried to explain to us in the Fondazione Feltrinelli’s website that ‘there is nothing particularly radical and the Resolution is in the same vein as many similar documents’. The final Resolution, as he said, softens some of the extremism of the original motion[2] and indeed calls for the condemnation of fascism and Nazism and the combating of the commercial use of their symbols. 

I will point out three of the hidden meanings that have eluded most people. 

The first is the overcoming of the concept of the national democratic and anti-fascist memories of the world war in order to adopt a collective European one. With the end of the division of Europe in 1991 a clear need arose for a European memory of the Second World War. The attempt to reconcile the Eastern newcomers’ past with the memories of Western European liberal democracies has led to a proliferation of resolutions on memory after 1991 – with the concept of memory flexibly adapted to the awkward search for a common apolitical, post-national past. The fear of Russia’s policies at the borders of the EU, aimed at responding to NATO’s expansion, has reinforced an instrumental reading of the past. Compared with the preceding EP resolutions of 12 May 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe on 8 May 1945, and that of April 2009, on European conscience and totalitarianism, the last Resolution abandons recommendations of pluralism and in-depth historical research. European memory becomes a uniform dispositif, judgement of the past has been acquired once and for all; Communism, Fascism, and National Socialism are not just equated morally, they are equally criminal and must be expunged from the EU’s collective memories. This kind of memory claims to be an effective firewall against the new Russian menace to Europe’s democracies. 

The second meaning is the shift from memory of groups to an active remembrance of nations, plainly visible in the motion’s English title ‘On the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe’. Beginning with the 2008 proclamation of 23 August as the Day of European Remembrance of the Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, the EU’s emphasis partially shifted from the Holocaust to the experience of oppression of the CEE countries. As a consequence, the pivotal role played by the anti-fascist democratic alliance in, for example, Italy and France, which prominently included their communist parties, has been eclipsed. Through this route, after the 2011 Warsaw declarations, the emerging victims are the nations, the perpetrators are totalitarian ideologies. And the nations most victimised are those of Central Europe, which were dominated by two totalitarianisms. The new European memory is to be constructed around this double sacrifice. The identity of communism and Stalinism – and the continuity between Nazism and Stalinism – is not a universal outlook; rather, it is the memory formulated by the Central Eastern European nations, Hungary and Poland, but also the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the Baltic republics. This appeal touches a raw nerve in anti-fascist narratives: Anti-fascism was consumed in the East by its instrumental use to legitimate Soviet occupation. The embarrassment of democratic and left memories, which, after 1989, did not grapple with the contradictory legacy of the occupations carried out by the Soviet Union, seeking refuge in a vague and abstract condemnation of features of Soviet policy, created fertile ground for neo-nationalist narratives. The Resolution’s third hidden significance is its defence of the narrative of the successful transition completed by the newly acceded EU countries from state socialism to market economy, which provides substantial legitimation for the Europe of Maastricht, by stressing the success of the neoliberal reforms. This ‘memory’, along with the western axis of NATO and anti-communism recalled in the Resolution, implies the rejection of the Keynesian compromise between market and state, as well as between class and nation, that underpinned the post-war welfare regimes in Western Europe. The nomination of the Lett Valdis Dombrovskis to oversee Paolo Gentiloni in Economic and Financial Affairs helps us realise the kind of process that is being kicked off in the Van der Leyen Commission. In this sense, the text only bodes ill for development policies, which will remain subordinate to neoliberal regulation. 

This reorienting of memory policies in the EU establishing yet another commemoration day – ‘of Heroes of the Fight Against Totalitarianism’ for 25 May – is a success of the Platform on European Memory and Conscience, an organisation founded on 14 October 2011 in Prague by the prime ministers of the Visegrád Group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia). It is the only organisation mentioned by the Resolution which promises the Platform considerable resources. It is a network of institutes that mobilised against some of the memorial projects of the newly founded House of European History in Brussels it considered too ‘cosmopolitan’. 

Thus this Resolution is only a further episode of a long development that suggests a deeper reflection on how European integration has shaped national memories of the war. In what follows we will try to flesh out this background.


After the 2007-2008 economic and financial crisis the new quality of the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’ – the polarising of a bloc of strong states in the centre-north against the Mediterranean states unabashedly labelled PIGS, together with the outlawing of Keynesian policies has meant a further de-solidarisation between European states. Its deeper origins lie in factors predating the financial crisis and attributable to separate political cultures and the absence of a European historical memory to draw on in times of crisis. At what point can one begin to speak of a crisis of the idea of political integration? Is there a connection between memory policies and this kind of crisis? 

To historicise the relation between history and memory in Europe means to investigate whether the idea of a dual level of European public memories ever took hold in a more than superficial way – a sort of dual canon constituted by a division between often incompatible self-sufficient national memories and a public abstract and cosmopolitan discourse on the integration of the different national experiences within an open, liberal, Western world design. If this dual canon really exists, if Europe’s memories are divided between its two levels, then we need to investigate when this division began and how the crisis of integration was prepared by a deep crisis of European historical consciousness, understood as the lack of awareness of a commonality based on the defeat of the Second World War and the end of the continent’s centrality. 

 

From 1945 to 1973: The recovery of the nation-state 

To take 1945 and the overall defeat of the continent as the point of departure for reflections on Europe’s divided memories means to recognise the gaps and inadequacies of the democratic and anti-fascist national memories of the post-war period, which sugar-coated, even if for noble and understandable reasons, the dimension of the defeat of European nations as world powers. The outbreak of the Cold War very quickly diminished the scope of the reflection on the idea of Europe launched in 1944 and 1945 by intellectuals of diverse origins and affiliations.[3] 

The debate on the crisis of nation could not be developed due to the attraction exerted by the social and cultural models of the two superpowers during the emergent Cold War, and it was supplanted by the discussion of models of democracy. The theme of nation, always present under the surface, only came to the fore again during the crisis of socialism and the collapse of the Soviet empire. Tony Judt was the first to emphasise how the formation of a European memory of the victors after 1945 occurred around the twofold axis of the democratic struggle for national liberation and anti- German memories. On those two pillars – the liberation struggles, which by nature tended towards a new kind of national unity, and Germany’s responsibility – the democratic memories of the war were consolidated at the cost of obscuring the controversial aspects, such as bombardment of civilians, massacres, and rape committed by the victorious allied troops and by the very compatriots of the victims.[4] The politics of amnesty, useful in consolidating a recovered democracy, with what were often summary sentences, amnesties, and mass pardons, was reinforced by the requirements of the Cold War. The shelving in the 1950s of Italy’s court cases against war criminals, in the so called ‘cupboard of shame’, had administrative parallels in various forms in France, Germany, and many ‘collaborationist’ countries.[5] A European perspective both reinforced democratic narratives and remained extraneous to them. A vision of European integration as the consequence of just war and peace was established gradually and not without contradictions, to different extents in each country. European integration was seen as a form of Western liberal internationalism overcoming inter-state conflicts, but this narrative has revealed its fragility in confronting national memories every time the problem of European integration was posed, for example in the 1950s by the European Defence Community, in the 1960s by the European Commission under its first president Walter Hallstein, and in 1970 by the Werner Plan for monetary union. Nevertheless, while it was in place, the dual canon made it at least possible to maintain, despite the Cold War, the memories of the world war along with the democratic anti- fascist commitment. 

The policy of psychologically repressing the brutal reality of the Second World War continued to accompany European integration. According to Norbert Frei, this strategy was indispensable in Western Germany (and probably in all countries co-responsible for the conflict and the crimes) for the reconstitution of peaceful democratic cohabitation up to the end of the 1960s.[6] 

Incidentally, the supranational level of memory was strengthened by the mediation exercised above all by moderate parties with a Christian outlook – and especially the Catholic ones which could boast of their relative distance from nationalisms and lend credibility to the process of supranational integration that began in 1949-50. 

If there was relative consensus among the six founders of the European Communities it was around the May 1950 Schuman Declaration’s establishment of Franco-German cooperation. European integration aimed not only at the protection of farmers, manufacturing growth, and collective security but also at a solution of the class conflict through the expansion of the governments’ economic and social policy instruments. In Schuman’s speech we find a consciousness that between the project of integration and Europe’s long history of inter-state conflict there was a gap that policies 

EUROPE IN THE BRAVE NEW WORLD 6eventually needed to confront via cooperative solutions that involved the whole continent: ‘Europe was not created, and we had the war. Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.’ 

The gap between the Anglo-American and the continental Europe was a problem for the construction of subsequent memory policies, and the question immediately animated the discussions in the Council of Europe starting in 1948-49. The difficulty of overcoming the divided memories of the vanquished and the victors is visible in the Council of Europe from 1949 when the federalist approach represented by the Frenchman Denis de Rougemont was opposed by British Conservative Max Beloff’s national stance.[7] 

It should be noted that the appropriation of ‘Europe’ on the part of its six founders, that is, the semantic slippage in which Community territory came to stand in for the continent, was not part of the Schuman Declaration but was a cumulative result of the coexistence of the two levels of memory. This appropriation, first undertaken as a way to recover the nation-state8 during the Cold War, coincided neither with historical nor with geographical Europe.[8] 

What Europe and the dual canon offered the German nation, after its catastrophe, was a new legitimacy as a pillar of the European project.[9] After the Marshall Plan and US policy were exhausted, integration made it possible to consolidate the western bloc and compensate European countries for the reduction of their international influence. Above all for France after the Suez Crisis in 1956, the Europe of the Six became a space in which to overcome the harsh divisions of the Second World War but also to deal with the repercussions of decolonisation. The Treaties of Rome entrusted to the European Communities the task of managing and substituting for the breakaway of the colonies. Not by chance the long colonialist past was expunged from memory. The rescue of the special relationship occurred through trade treaties, for example customs exemptions for ex-French colonies and various kinds of agreements provided for ‘third countries’. 

Europe’s salvaging of the nation-state, of which Alan Milward has written, finds its true fulfilment in the relegitimisation of the defeated nation-states [10] based on commercial growth and support for neomercantilist policies of public intervention, notwithstanding the free-market principle.

 

1973-1991: The Bretton Woods crisis – A brief opening, followed by the Washington Consensus

Starting in the 1970s, as the ‘Golden Age’ of western capitalism began to crack, and with the suspension of the convertibility of the dollar into gold and the oil crisis, the idea of a unifying and expansive western project began to be discussed. At the same time, in other ways, faith in progress, which had underpinned secular philosophies of history, withered away. 

Already in the 1960s, signs of the inadequacy of Germany’s repressed memory had appeared in the 1968 movement of the youth and still earlier in the Brandt’s Ostpolitik when an awareness of the duplicities inherent in the previous strategy of forgetting came to the surface, and a phase of public discussion of European history was opened up around Fritz Fischer’s essay on German responsibility in the First World War.[11] Then the dominant national narratives on fascisms as parenthetical episodes, or as madness restricted to very specific groups, were called into question. New subjectivities emerged from the 1960s; the successes of democracy and welfare opened up horizons and lifestyles that challenged class identities, complicities with fascism were discussed, a complex discussion of the past began, and the investigation of Europe’s social and political history was reopened.[12] This different historical consciousness, launched by Brandt’s famous gesture at the Warsaw Ghetto on 7 December 1970, was followed by a radical assumption of responsibility by the Federal Republic of Germany for German history. With the 1973 Copenhagen Declaration the Nine defined European identity, placing at its centre their cultural heritage, civilisation, and social rights: ‘[The Nine] have decided that unity is a basic European necessity to ensure the survival of the civilisation which they have in common. The Nine wish to ensure that the cherished values of their legal, political, and moral order are respected, and to preserve the rich variety of their national cultures. Sharing as they do the same attitudes to life, based on a determination to build a society which measures up to the needs of the individual, they are determined to defend the principles of representative democracy, of the rule of law, of social justice — which is the ultimate goal of economic progress — and of respect for human rights. All of these are fundamental elements of the European Identity.’[13] 

The attempt to consolidate a unified project of the democracy of political and social rights made an innovative, specifically European contribution to a relaxation of tensions on the continent between the two blocs through the formation of the CSCE and the Helsinki Conference. At the end of the 1970s a new attention to the Holocaust emerged, which involved television, film, and literary production of increasing scope and ambitions. A phase of historiographic renewal opened, and from the 1980s its long wave also affected the historiography of European integration, which expanded its horizons from diplomatic to economic and political developments and to the culture of Americanisation.[14] 

Why did this not lead to an assumption of collective responsibility on the part of European Community institutions for the entirety of European twentieth-century tragedies? At least two phenomena contributed to this result, and they differentiate Western from Eastern Europe: the spectacularisation of the Holocaust and the generalisation of totalitarianism. The adoption of the totalitarianism canon had a long preparation in Western Europe through a political culture within the framework of an anti- communist bloc that made ‘Atlanticism’ and modernisation the mainstay of its history. Anti-communism and anti-Sovietism blocked the construction of a plural European memory. The project of integration accompanied the silence of national memories of the major problematic junctions left open by the memory of the War: that is, defeat, the inadequate purging of fascists, the limits of reconciliation between fascism and anti-fascism, the psychological repression of Vichy and collaborationism, and the persistence of colonialism. The solution of the Bretton Woods crisis occurred in fact through a relaunching of the relationship with the United States, the victory of Mrs. Thatcher’s conservative patriotism, the EMS’s monetary stabilisation, and the putting aside of the federal project. A window of opportunity quickly opened and closed, the recasting of memories tended to be channelled by the overcoming of the Fordist model and by the political marginalisation of the social democratic parties in the emerging ‘Washington Consensus’. This phase of uncertainty in the relations between the United States and Western Europe, opened by the Bretton Woods crisis, ended in the mid-1980s with the Single European Act that officially adopted neoliberalism and closed off the possibility of presenting Europe as a third entity between the two blocs. It took a decade for the new openings of the 1960s and 70s to bear fruit on the level of historiography as well, with various and still open results. In launching globalisation, memories remained narrowly national, even reinforced by Pierre Nora’s innovative methodological studies on lieux de mémoire, whose first volume appeared in 1984. His fundamental studies opened up a new field of investigation around the relation of history and memory and laid bare the problematic and sometimes manipulative character of the politics of memory. Nora defines a place of memory as a ‘symbolic element of the heritage of a (not necessarily national) community’, and in this sense he points to social and cultural ties that are not necessarily on the state level. While his research demonstrates the crumbling of national identity into groups that are bearers of different memories his interest stops at the threshold of the nation and its decline, thus neglecting the new supranational identities and the nexus between national memories and the European question.[15] Be that as it may, there is great heuristic potential in the nexus that exists between the discussion that has been initiated in France on places of memory, in Germany on the ‘past that does not pass away’, and the long-term attempt at overcoming national histories initiated by European institutions and the bilateral or multilateral commissions.[16] 

This potential has been applied on the terrain of new international law and new rights. Between the 1970s and 80s the recovery of a culture of rights as a peaceful form of resolving conflicts was to require ad hoc studies, examinations of its intellectual and political effect, along with the rise of communitarian law as a form of political extra-constitutional regulation. In the 1980s there was a redefinition of national memories that did not call European integration into question. The direction was towards the single market desired by the Single Act by majority vote without a corresponding political dimension. 

At any rate, in terms of memory, a genuine caesura took place in 1989- 91, when the end of the division of the two blocs and the launching of the European Union was accompanied by the definition of a new memory canon based on the Holocaust and on the victims of totalitarianism, which marginalises the theme of the Second World War and removes the political conflict between countries and ideologies that had traversed the Cold War. 

 

From Maastricht to the present: Currency without state – the irruption of the Eastern European countries – De-historicised Holocaust and totalitarianism 

With the end of the continent’s division, the attention to human rights and the great upheaval based on a currency without state, the unification of Germany, and the irruption of the Eastern European countries did not put an end to the dual canon of memory. Western Europe continued to see itself as an integral part of the US’s sphere of influence. At the same time there was hope that the end of the Cold War would open a new era of peace and international cooperation. This was the naïve vision of globalisation. But at the same time the new economic and political contradictions made the internal consistency of the EU ever more precarious. This is perhaps why the politics of memory became increasingly ‘Jacobin’, imposed from the top. At this point we see increased interventions in memory policies – previously the almost exclusive prerogative of the Council of Europe – on the part of the institutions of the newborn European Union, the Parliament and the European Council of heads of states, and in particular the extension to all European countries of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day established in Germany in 1995 and tied to the date of Auschwitz’s liberation. In 2003 the European Council adopted a resolution approving its celebration; on 27 January 2005 the European Parliament recommended its observance throughout the EU.[17] This first attempt at constructing a European memory on this basis exhibited several contradictions. It forgot, for example, that Auschwitz was liberated at the hands of Soviet troops, which, instead, began to be mainly remembered for having perpetrated massacres and violence.[18] 

More importantly, with the paradigm of totalitarianisms, a Central European reading of history is affirmed that does not coincide with the experience of the rest of the continent. We should recall that the concept of totalitarianism is not only Hannah Arendt’s interpretative category and that the US doctrine of the ‘two totalitarianisms’ presided over the opening of the Cold War. The full convergence between Clinton, Kohl, and Mitterand, which accompanied globalisation’s expansive phase, was wedded to the relaunching of a politics of human rights. The memory of Nazism was mobilised in Germany, as in all of Western Europe, to motivate military intervention in the Balkans, entrusted to the US and to NATO, the improbable armed wings of Europe’s ambition to affirm the primacy of international penal law. With the Yugoslav wars ‘there was an inversion of the interpretation that, from Nuremberg to the 1990s, had defined the relation between the crime of war and a crime against humanity in which the second appeared as an emanation of the first’; from now on crimes against humanity prevailed over those of war and became ‘a recurrent accusation in courts of law where criminal conduct in war is adjudicated’.[19] All concrete and determining conflicts disappear in the face of genocide, and hatred and totalitarianism are meant to cover all the causes of war. Appeal was made to human rights in explaining the higher historical legitimacy of the ‘international police’s’ intervention in Kosovo and theatres beyond Europe. It was the new Hitler in Belgrade, in Rwanda, and shortly afterwards in Baghdad that was being pursued. 

Clearly, a major issue in the process of adaptation of West European national memories is how they have been affected by the public memories of the new entrants to the EU. The Europe to which the ex-socialist countries aspire is different from that of Western Europe. For the eastern countries totalitarian oppression is perceived as having taken place against the nation as such – through imperial occupation by the USSR after 1945 – rather than against the individual. 

At the centre of public discussion in Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, and all countries that were gradually incorporated into the Soviet bloc from 1945 to 1948 was whether 1945 meant liberation from Nazism or occupation by the Soviets. The ‘“new Europeans” are contesting the memorial status of their experiences of World War II in the EU-endorsed remembrance of this war as ultimately a “good war” where the Allied Coalition was supposedly acting on the common ground of anti-Nazism.’[20] The abstraction of the Holocaust from its socio-historic specificity and conceived as criminal conduct without political and military context gradually unleashed a momentum of claims of victimhood levelled now against war crimes committed by communist partisans and Soviet soldiers fighting Nazi troops. This search for recognition of victimhood is a byproduct of the Holocaust and victim paradigm supported by the EU’s official memory policies. 

The result was a kind of détente between western and eastern memories: The new Europeans accepted Western innocence, only contesting one aspect – that the Second World War was a good and ‘just war’ for the USSR too. And thus, after 1991, Western countries never had to consider rethinking their responsibilities in the Second World War and the Cold War. Moreover, the demand for a complete and rapid liquidation of Eastern European socialism took further pressure off the need for a corresponding critical revision of the western past. 

The ‘victim/perpetrator’ (‘Opfer/Täter’) paradigm, however, has no corresponding supranational instance to which claims can be presented. In the absence of a European agreement it is the unified German state that, through selective agreements, takes responsibility for compensating certain categories of victims of the occupation, thus opening the chase after recognition of the status of victim of Nazism. The thread with which a European historical memory could be woven after eastward expansion is thus ensnarled in the attempt to assign equal worth to the victims, of any political and national colour, through the allocation of guilt to the metaphysical subject of totalitarianism that morally equates the Soviet and the National Socialist experience and at bottom marginalises the Second World War, which is seen merely as a conflict in which two ‘totalitarianisms’ fought each other. Isolated from war, the status of victim state can free all of Nazi Germany’s allies from responsibility and obscure the aggressive chauvinism of European fascisms. 

In fact, a confused debate has begun around the establishment of the Day of Memory in European countries for the recovery of the memories of many victims of violence and war in which many militants or sympathisers of national fascisms are classified among the victims, and those who fought on the side of these fascisms are absolved as long as they did not participate in the Holocaust; thus there are good fascisms and bad fascisms.[21] For instance, with the legislated establishment in 2004 in Italy of another day of remembrance – for the Istrian victims of the Yugoslav partisans – the narrative of the victim has legitimated the nationalist narrative of a post-fascist party. 

At a deeper societal level, ‘the increasingly greater centrality assumed by the notion of victim’, Rosanvallon noted, ‘has to do with deep upheavals of citizenship and liberal democracy and translates the diffuse forms of alienation of individuals or groups which ‘do not see their histories […] taken into account’.[22] The paradigm of the victims channels their request for recognition to Germany and forces them into the US-German rhetoric of totalitarianism, even if the latter does not explain many crimes such as ethnic cleansing, murders of civilians, or those involving collaborationists. These ‘surfeits of memory’ are due to the fragility of the EU’s cultural identity, which seeks to exorcise its own internal divergences through a merely moralistic condemnation of the past.[23] 

After the Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam had placed states in economic competition with each other, even national memories were called on to enter into a symbolic competition. Every country was asked to liberate national memories from the shadows of violence and to condemn totalitarianisms. It was no longer politics but ‘morality’ that was supposed to direct the attention of the media to the past, and historiographical work was influenced by the availability of research funds strongly oriented in this way. History became a crime novel, and the particular novel of civil crimes became the most widespread narrative of contemporary literature. In this epochal shift, the complex cultural and political implications of the process of integration were reduced, in Milward’s words, to ‘managerial claptrap and narrow authoritarian deductions from abstract economic principles which dominated policy discussions in the 1980s’.[24] 

When a Northern and Central European bloc emerges as the bearer of its own vision of the twentieth-century past and of continental history that is incompatible with the experience of the diverse memories of other European countries, the problem is to keep the arena open and not close it by imposing legislation. There is a risk of abandoning democratic memories centred on welfare and social rights to the benefit of the demands of nationalist and populist movements. The decline of historical anti-fascist memories is not enough to jeopardise democracy but it can deplete some of its sources, and not only in ‘peripheral’ areas. 2008 to the present: Economic crisis and the legislation of memory The maintenance of two levels of European memories which has up to now on the whole accompanied the process of integration seems to have exhausted its own capacity to manage the EU’s contradictions. With EU enlargement and the financial crisis what is being emphasised is the legislation of public memories. The 21 April 2007 framework agreement, which establishes as a new crime the denial or trivialisation of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes has sparked dissent among historians, as have the concomitant proliferation of draft laws on memory and the ‘juridicalisation’ of the past. Pierre Nora is leading the criticism of abuses of a politics of memory that imposes legislated revisions of history. Henry Rousso has also reflected on the contradictions that emerge from the new but ever more frequent recourse to official celebrations: ‘Societies whose political elites are less hesitant about their vision of the present and the future do not, in general, need memory in the contemporary meaning of the term.’[25] It is hard not to see anything other than the rise of national opposition to integration behind this emphasis on legislation. [26] It is hard to see anything other than the loss of a vision of the future on the part of left narratives as well as the rise of ‘populist’ national opposition to integration behind this emphasis on legislation 

The fragility of public memory constructed on human rights is exploding in the face of the structural problem of expanding inequalities and migratory flows. The German welcome policy based on a very strong national economy is not shared by many EU members, also because it is not reconcilable with their chauvinist pasts. Can Germany be the only point of reference for European memory? The question, which has been circulating for some time now, has prompted cautious responses and proposals for a broader ‘politics of remembrance’.[27] 

Today’s challenges of immigration and the Stability Pact, together with the major threat of regulatory restrictions, polarisations, and rifts, present opportunities for revisiting Europe’s divided memories. The possibility of Brexit makes clear the impossibility for EU members of continuing to adhere to the narratives of the victors of the Second World War and shows the need for a continental point of view, an assumption of responsibility for the two world wars, and a rethinking of the heritages of the Cold War. While the cosmopolitanism of human rights, centred around the Holocaust, presupposed a global political project in which the European Union would be located as a ‘civilisational power’, the contradictions provoked by the economic crisis are menacing the unity of the West. The United States declared itself to be less convinced of a universalist politics of human rights and, from Bush Jr. to Trump, with Guantanamo and in the Middle-East theatres of war, has made it plain that it intends to pursue policies of national imperial power.[28] 

In the transition from bipolarism to a contended multipolarism, the United States and the EU diverged significantly on the military export of democracy in 2001-2002, around the Iraq invasion, on the management of the financial crisis, and most recently on the limits to environmental pollution in the G7 Summit at Taormina in June 2017 – the day after which Chancellor Merkel declared: ‘The time when we could completely rely on others has passed quite a while ago, I’ve understood this in the last days. […] We Europeans really must take our destiny into our own hands.’[29] The urgent need has appeared to relaunch the discussion of the construction of a European public memory that abandons the rhetoric of the victors and takes up the well- thought-out language of the tragedy of the Second World War and of its deepest origins. A democratic construction based on European civilisation, understood as a historically pluralist civilisation, requires a corresponding politics of memory that breaks the self-referential circle of divided memories in Europe. 

NOTES 

[1] European Parliament resolution of 19 September 2019 on the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe, <http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/ document/TA-9-2019-0021_EN.html>.

[2] Joint Motion for a Resolution, <http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/RC-9-2019-0097_EN.html>.

[3] Tony Judt, Reappraisals: Reflections on a Forgotten Century, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2008. Marc Bloch, L’étrange défaite : témoignage écrit en 1940, Paris: Société des Éditions ‘Franc-Tireur’, 1946 <http://classiques.uqac.ca/classiques/bloch_marc/etrange_ defaite/etrange_defaite.html>; Benedetto Croce, Taccuini di guerra, 1943-1945, ed. C. Cassani, Milano, Adelphi, 2004; Croce, Scritti e discorsi politici, ed. A. Carella, Naples: Bibliopolis, 1994; Friedrich Meinecke, Die deutsche Katastrophe: Betrachtungen und Erinnerungen, Wiesbaden: Brockhaus, 1946; Karl Jaspers, Die Schuldfrage, Heidelberg: Schneider, 1946; Federico Chabod, L’idea di nazione, ed. Armando Saitta and Ernesto Sestan, Bari: Laterza, 1961, Chabod, Storia dell’idea di Europa, Bari: Laterza, 1961; Thomas Mann, Germany and the Germans, Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1945; of lesser relevance is Georg Lukács, Die Zerstörung der Vernunft, Berlin 1954 (written mostly in 1933-1942), which indicted German philosophy as such.

[4] Mark Mazower, Dark Continent. Europe’s Twentieth Century, London, Penguin, 1998; S. Salvatici, Senza casa e senza paese. Profughi europei nel secondo dopoguerra, Bologna, il Mulino, 2009; K. Löwe, Il continente selvaggio. L’Europa alla fine della seconda guerra mondiale, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2013. It was only in 1999 that a literary work was first published on the allied bombings in Germany: W. G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction, London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003.

[5] Mimmo Franzinelli, Le stragi nascoste. L’armadio della vergogna: impunità e rimozione dei crimini di guerra nazifascisti 1943-2001, Milan: Mondadori, 2002; Marco De Paolis, Paolo Pezzino, La difficile giustizia – I processi per crimini di guerra tedeschi in Italia 1943- 2013” Roma: Viella, 2018; Clemens Vollnhals, Evangelische Kirche und Entnazifizierung 1945-1949. Die Last der nationalsozialistischen Vergangenheit, Munich: Oldenbourg, 1989; Henry Rousso, Le syndrome de Vichy, Paris: Seuil, 1987.

[6] Norbert Frei, Vergangenheitspolitik. Die Anfänge der Bundesrepublik und die NS- Vergangenheit, Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1999; Gustavo Corni, Raccontare la guerra. La memoria organizzata, Milan: Mondadori, 2012.

[7] Marcello Verga, Storie d’Europa XVIII-XXI secolo, Rome: Carocci, 2004.

[8] The first public use of Europe in this sense after 1945 may well be dated from the Assembly of the Council of Europe at the Hague in 1948 when a debate on the meaning of Europe arose. There was a French version against a British version of Europe. This was followed by a debate among historians of the two countries, which has been in part outlined by Marcello Verga in chapter three of his Storie d’Europa, Rome: Carocci, 2007.

[9] Paradoxically, supranationality intended as an overcoming of the nation actually allowed Germany to recover national legitimacy over time. Germans and Italians could be proud of being different from fascist Italians and Germans and radically better than their fathers because capable of cooperating with former enemies and even of sharing sovereignty with them. One was no longer a closed nation, but an open one, able to accept diversity and recognise pluralism. Until 1950 Germans did not go abroad for holidays except to Switzerland and Austria; Europe’s first steps facilitated their going back to Italy as tourists , and Italians warmly opened their arms to Germans, etc.

[10] Alan S. Milward, The European Rescue of the Nation-State, London: Routledge, 1992.

[11] Fritz Fischer, Germany’s Aims in the First World War, New York: W. W. Norton, 1967 (original 1961).

[12] Anselm Döring-Manteuffel and Lutz Raphael, Nach dem Boom. Perspektiven auf die Zeitgeschichte seit 1970, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008; Thomas Großbölting, Massimiliano Livi, and Carlo Spagnolo (eds), L’avvio della società liquida? Il passaggio degli anni Settanta come tema per la storiografia tedesca e italiana, Bologna: il Mulino, 2013.

[13] ‘Declaration on European Identity’, Copenhagen, 14 December 1973, in Bulletin of the European Communities, December 1973, no. 12. Luxembourg: Office for official publications of the European Communities, pp. 118-122.

[14] For a recent synthesis see Daniel W. Ellwood, Una sfida per la modernità. Europa e America nel lungo Novecento, Rome: Carocci, 2012; and Victoria De Grazia, Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance Through Twentieth-Century Europe, Cambridge MA: Harvard Belknap, 2005.

[15] Pierre Nora, Présent, Nation, Mémoire, Paris: Gallimard, 2011, p. 20; see also his recent book Come si manipola la memoria. Lo storico, il potere, il passato, Milan: Editrice La scuola, 2016 (2013).

[16] See Patrick Garcia, Une politique mémorielle européenne? L’évolution du statut de l’histoire dans le discours des institutions européennes, in Robert Frank, Hartmut Kaelble, Marie- Françoise Lévy, and Luisa Passerini (eds), Building a European Public Sphere / Un espace public européen en construction, Brussels: Peter Lang, 2011, pp. 179-201.

[17] Point B of the 27 January 2005 European Parliament resolution on remembrance of the Holocaust, anti-semitism and racism, P6_ TA(2005)0018 reads: ‘ […] the crimes committed at Auschwitz must live on in the memory of future generations, as a warning against genocide of this kind, rooted in contempt for other human beings, hatred, anti- Semitism, racism and totalitarianism’

[18] A representative example of the autonomy of memories from history is the narrative inversion in Roberto Benigni’s film La vita è bella (1997), which won an Oscar and in which the extermination camp – which is supposed to be Auschwitz – is liberated by armed tanks with American insignia. Another prime example, also awarded an Oscar, is Schindler’s List (1993), in which the protagonist’s humanitarian contribution absolves him of his complicity with Nazism. These are important films that are shown in schools on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which promote a critical appropriation of the history of the Second World War and threaten to depoliticise the way it is seen.

[19] Luca Baldissara, Dal punto di vista del diritto. Violenza bellica e punzione dei crimini di guerra, in Rolf Petri (ed.), Balcani, Europa. Violenza, politica, memoria, Turin. Giappichelli, 2017, pp. 113-130, quotation on p. 128.

[20] Maria Mälksoo, ‘The Memory Politics of Becoming European: The East European Subalterns and the Collective Memory of Europe’, European Journal of International Relations 14,4 (2009), 653-680.

[21] The emphasis on the Italian victims and the mitigation of Italian responsibility for the war is already evident in the wording of the 20 July 2000 Law No. 211, ‘Establishment of the “Day of Memory” to commemorate the extermination and persecution of the Jewish people and the deportation of Italian soldiers and politicians to the Nazi camps’, Gazzetta Ufficiale 177 (31 July 2000): ‘Art. 1. The Italian Republic recognises the day of the 17 January, the day the gates of Auschwitz were demolished, as “Day of Memory” with the aim of remembering the Shoah (the extermination of the Jewish people), the racial laws, the Italian persecution of Jewish citizens, the Italians who suffered deportation, imprisonment, and death, as well as those who even if belonging to other sides were opposed to the project of extermination and who, at the risk of their own lives, saved lives and protected the persecuted. Art. 2. On the occasion of the “Day of Memory” of which see Art. 1 ceremonies, initiatives, gatherings, and common events narrating and reflecting, in particular in schools of every classification and grade, what happened to the Jewish people and to the military and political Italian deportees to the Nazi camps in order to preserve in Italy the memory of a tragic and dark period in the history of our country and Europe, so that similar events can never again occur.’

[22] Rosanvallon, Democratic Legitimacy, p. 250 of the published Italian translation (La legittimità democratica, Turin:, Rosenberg & Sellier, 2015).

[23] Charles S. Maier, ‘A Surfeit of Memory? Reflections on History, Melancholy and Denial’, History and Memory, 5,2 (Fall-Winter 1993), pp. 136-152, reference to the published Italian translation: Charles S. Maier, ‘Un eccesso di memoria? Riflessioni sulla storia, la malinconia e la negazione’, Parolechiave 1995/3, pp. 35 ff.

[24] Milward, p. xi.

[25] Sonya Faure, Dessin Sylvie Serprix, Catherine Calvet, ‘Henry Rousso, ‘“Le surinvestissement dans la mémoire est une forme d’impuissance”’, Libération, 8 April 2016, <http://www. liberation.fr/debats/2016/04/08/henry-roussole- surinvestissement-dans-la-memoire- est-une-forme-d-impuissance_1444888>.

[26] Nora, Présent, Nation, Mémoire, chapter 2.

[27] Markus J. Prutsch, European Historical Memory: Policies, Challenges and Perspectives, European Parliament, Directorate-General for Internal Policies, Policy Department B: Structural and Cohesion Policies, Culture and Education, IP/B/CULT/NT/2013- 002, September 2013.

[28] Charles S. Maier, Among Empires. American Ascendancy and its Predecessors, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2006. 

[29] See Michael Bauchmüller, ‘Merkel hält USA für nicht mehr verlässlich’, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 28 May 2017, <http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/g-gipfel-merkel-haelt- usa-fuer-nicht-mehr-verlaesslich-1.3524283>. 

Photo: At the Berlin Wall (source: Pixabay, CC0)

The Barricade is an independent platform, which is supported financially by its readers. Become one of them! If you have enjoyed reading this article, support The Barricade’s existence! We need you! See how you can help – here! 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *