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How can the misuse of Europe’s history be stopped?

Starting 10 October, the Körber History Reflection Group will convene in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, bringing together 25 high-ranking experts and allowing for confidential discussions on how to overcome diverging historical narratives in the former “bloodlands” of Europe.

From Russia and the Baltic States through Poland and Hungary to Belarus and the Ukraine – the violent history of the 20th century has left indelible marks on the nations of Central Eastern Europe. In times of rising political, national and religious divisions throughout Europe, current discourses on history have become inseparable from their political meaning. Through them, questions of national unity, identity and values as well as claims to power are debated and affirmed – with implications that touch both on domestic and bilateral or international conflicts. A heightened understanding of historical events and developments is therefore imperative to counteract the political exploitation of Europe’s past.  

Since 1989/1991, dealing with the Soviet past has been a major issue of political and societal debates in all countries of the former Eastern Bloc. Political changes enabled societies to address previously suppressed, disregarded or contested aspects of national socialist rule openly and without ideological bias. Questions of national remembrance and their place within the broader European past and present were intensely debated throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

But in recent years, singular conflicts either rooted in national historical narratives or justified through claims of righting historical wrongs have exacerbated bilateral disputes and domestic tensions. The Crimea and Donbas conflicts are the most prominent and crucial among these. Yet Polish-Ukrainian disagreements on the Volhynia massacres, marred Baltic-Russian relations regarding Soviet occupation, Hungary’s dealing with the ‘Trauma of Trianon’ or the wary relations of self-searching Belarus with its Eastern and Western neighbours illustrate the ubiquity of contested pasts throughout the region. At the same time, countries in Western Europe very often lack an adequate awareness of the conflicting histories and commemorations in Central and Eastern Europe that contribute to overall European divisions.

The Körber History Reflection Group offers international and interdisciplinary debate in a confidential round table setting at venues central to Europe’s contested past, thereby allowing participants to cut to the historical core of current political conflicts and developments. Until 2021, the focus will lie on the legacy of the two World Wars in the former Bloodlands of Europe. The meeting in Lviv will deal specifically with questions related to the experience of multiple occupation, with the treatment and rights of minorities in the region, as well as Ukraine’s current position between Russia and Europe.

The Körber History Reflection Group complements the Körber History Forum, enabling in-depth debate and dialogue over the historical dimensions of political conflict and striving to counteract the weaponisation of the past.

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