Thomas Paulsen, member of the Körber Foundation’s executive board, opened the two-day Körber History Forum by explaining that “Unfortunately, history has mutated into a political weapon in an increasing number of countries.” The Forum brought international academics, journalists, politicians, intellectuals, as well as writers and lecturers from the field of history to Berlin for the first time. The aim was to discuss the instrumentalisation of history, and its influence on the political present. Paulsen continued by stating: “We want to disarm history by talking openly about our different interpretations of the past.” In addition, he pointed out that the Körber Foundation intended to use the Forum, which is to be an annual event, to close the gap between academic conferences such as the Convention of German Historians, the Munich Security Conference, with its strong focus on topical issues, and the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum.
The debate between the Bulgarian political scientist and author, Ivan Krastev, and Natalia Burlinova, the Russian political scientist, particularly illustrated the current divergent nature of political positions in Europe. During the debate, which focused on the issue of whether the end of the Soviet Union was in need of reappraisal, Krastev called for “more historical research into the 1990s in order to understand what happened.” He argued that it was essential to study this period of European history – a period during which diverse experiences were made – in order to understand the present. Finally, Krastev pointed out that during the 1990s people had been concerned that the dissolution of the USSR might be followed by a break-up of the Russian Federation.
Burlinova accused the old Soviet leadership of having destroyed the Soviet Union, and suggested that they could have implemented reforms or modernized the country instead. She underlined that, “The USSR didn’t collapse because its population was striving for democracy, but because of the irresponsible behavior of its ‘democratic’ elites and their hunger for power.” Europe, she stressed, was certainly not to blame. During the ensuing debate, former GDR civil rights activist Marianne Birthler asked Burlinova about the period after 1989, which Birthler viewed as having provided a particularly formative experience of liberation. Burlinova answered by emphasizing that the dramatic changes that Russia had undergone during the 1990s meant that the country’s general population had had no real understanding of freedom. Rather, intellectuals were the only people interested in gaining a political voice during this period. Consequently, when it came to Russia, Burlinova recommended developing a new form of politics instead of devoting ourselves to the past. She also acknowledged that her country was now a regional power, not a superpower, but described Putin as “a realist, and not as someone out for revenge.”
Referring to the opening speech entitled “(Re)mapping Europe” (PDF) by Eastern European historian Karl Schlögel, the following debates regularly returned to Russia’s complex role in Europe. Judy Dempsey, the British journalist and an expert on the region, stressed that “Putin’s actions in Ukraine and Crimea are damaging modernization in Russia.” She argued that whereas a vibrant civil society was developing in Ukraine, Russia was still not focused enough on its role in a globalized world; instead, it merely opted for military action. The Russian historian, Alexey I. Miller, in contrast, warned against imagery of Ukraine that portrayed the country in the manner in which we would like to see it develop. Rather, Miller described Ukraine as divided with its western and eastern regions characterized by distinct identities. “During the last 25 years,” Miller argued, “Ukraine has never had a government that represented both parts of the country.” The Ukrainian historian Yaroslav Hrytsak disagreed, rejecting the portrayal of his country as divided: “The future of Ukraine will be decided in Kharkiv, Odessa, and Dnepropetrovsk, not in Kiev.” Hrytsak continued by criticizing his Russian colleagues, who he viewed as interpreting history too sharply through the lens of the history of states. “In Ukraine,” he made clear, “we view history as the history of society.” Be this as it may, Polish philosopher and political scientist, Marek A. Cichocki, closed by reminding that the crisis in Ukraine meant that Europe faced enormous challenges, and asked: “How can anyone find their own past in a Europe that is increasingly struggling with crises?”
Ulrich Herbert, the historian from Freiburg, described the German government’s acceptance of mass immigration and the welcome it provided to refugees in summer 2015 as unique in history. However, he added, “it was a very brave decision, but I was sure it wouldn’t work.” Moreover, the optimistic tenor that had characterized Germany at that time had already dissipated. “The real challenge now lies in the way in which German society reacts to immigration and to the growth of right-wing extremism.” Herbert was convinced that the situation would become worse in the near future. Given the political successes of the French National Front and the Austrian FPÖ, he feared that people would soon begin calling for intervention by the military to prevent further immigration, and for the construction of fences: “I’d be very concerned about any such demands.”
The French environmental expert, Francois Gemenne, pointed out that refugee numbers were set to rise in the future due to climate change and the increasing likelihood of natural disasters. Consequently, migration could neither be controlled nor stopped, and it would be wrong of the EU to leave Germany alone with the problem.
The US historian Norman Naimark was more optimistic, pointing out that Germany had coped well with previous waves of mass immigration. “Germany can do it,” he reiterated, but accepted that the US should have taken on more refugees. Naimark reminded that history demonstrated that we should not exaggerate our current problems. In addition, he emphasized that all states equally faced the challenges of globalization, and, importantly, that “History teaches us that we’ll survive.”
The debate “Europe at the end of the secular age” focused on the historical development of the relationship between the state and religion. In some countries, such as Germany and Israel, these processes were said to have taken very different paths. As a further example, the Israeli historian and author Fania Oz-Salzberger pointed to the Israeli experience of peaceful coexistence and considered that France, with its policy of prohibition, was moving in the wrong direction. On the beach in Tel Aviv, she explained, you were just as likely to see women wearing bikinis as women who were fully clothed. Lamya Kaddor from the Liberal Islamic Association added that the letter ‘C’ for Christianity was far too common in Germany especially since most people did not even understand what it really meant. In contrast, a former judge at the Federal Constitutional Court, Udo Di Fabio, warned that migrants might otherwise experience Germany as soulless and that this would complicate integration: “If you view society as cold, you begin searching for familiar sources of warmth.”
Rebecca Nana Ayebia Clarke, a publisher originally from Ghana, viewed the burkini ban as a colonial method of dealing with non-Europeans. She explained that she had consciously chosen to wear an African dress at the conference to set an example and to provide visual expression to her African identity. Pankaj Mishra, the Indian author, expressed concern about the way in which history is taught in the UK. The historian and African studies researcher, Jürgen Zimmerer, called for Europe to focus much more strongly on its colonial history when dealing with the past. This also applied to Germany, which, Zimmerer argued, would clearly have to compensate Namibia for the genocide it committed against the Herero in 1904. “If analyses of history are to constitute more than just empty gestures, you have to provide compensation.” Zimmerer closed by calling for the acceptance of greater moral responsibility for this era of European history, and for when dealing with today’s refugees.
By Gemma Pörzgen
Photos: Körber Foundation/David Ausserhofer
Opening speech by Karl Schlögel: “(Re)mapping Europe” (PDF)
9 to 11 September, 2016
Humboldt Carré Berlin
Download Agenda (PDF)
Friday, 9 September
Thomas Paulsen, Executive Board, Körber Foundation, Hamburg
The (Re-)Mapping of Europe
Borders and Spaces in Transition
The sea change in 1989 and 1991 transformed Europe politically, geographically and mentally. Following the shifting of borders and the associated resettlements, forced displacements and ethnic cleansing of the two world wars, the map of Europe was once again redrawn as the 20th century drew to a close. Hermetically sealed areas opened up, borders became transit and transformation zones, the Eastern European countries returned to the centre of Europe. Where does the continent stand today, 25 years later, with regard to its borders and its self-conception? What does the new order of the 21st century look like?
Karl Schlögel, Fellow, Carl Friedrich von Siemens Foundation, Munich
Saturday, 10 September
09:30: Coffee and Exchange
Moderator throughout the day
Gabriele Woidelko, Körber Foundation, Hamburg
10:00 to 11:00: Panel discussion
Power and Powerlessness of the Empire
A Continent Between the Nation State, Supranationality and Globalisation
25 years after the end of the Soviet Union, the last European empire, Europe is again in a phase of transition: The number of people in Europe who want to see the nation state strengthened, including the associated borders and an own national identity vis-à-vis supranational state entities and ideas, is growing. Which current developments and which historical foundations define this process?
Marek A. Cichocki, Natolin European Centre, Warsaw
Judy Dempsey, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Berlin
Jaroslav Hrytsak, Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv
Alexey I. Miller, European University, St. Petersburg
Cathrin Kahlweit (Moderator), Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich
11:30 to 12:30: Oxford-style debate
Does the End of the Soviet Union Need to be Reappraised?
The events of the 1990s are assessed very differently in Russia and most of its neighbouring European countries. While the breakup of the Soviet Union is considered to have been the “biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” according to the official version in Russia, the predominant view among Russia’s neighbours in Europe is that the end of the USSR was a sea change, an awakening and a new beginning at the same time. How do these different perspectives affect the current tensions between Russia and the rest of Europe? How important is the interpretation of the recent past for the national self-image of Russia and for the dialogue with the rest of Europe?
Natalia Burlinova, Public Initiative “Creative Diplomacy”, Moscow
Ivan Krastev, Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia
Katja Gloger (Moderator), Stern Magazine, Hamburg
12:30 to 14:00: Lunch
14:00 to 15:00: Panel discussion
Migration and Identity
Ethnicity and Loyalty Conflicts in the 20th and 21st Centuries
Immigration, expulsion, flight and asylum are not recent phenomena on the continent, but reach far back historically. What can Europe learn from its own past for the integration of refugees today?
François Gemenne, Paris School of International Affairs, Paris
Ulrich Herbert, Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg
Norman Naimark, Stanford University, Stanford
Juan Moreno (Moderator), Der SPIEGEL, Berlin
15:00 to 15:30: Break
15:30 to 16:30: Panel discussion
Religion. Power. Politics
Europe at the End of the Secular Era?
Closer global networking, the growing multi-ethnicity and multi-religiosity of European societies and the politicization of Islam by religious fundamentalists and terrorists are forcing Europe and the Europeans to re-examine the meaning of religion for individual and collective identities. To what extent has Europe now arrived in a post-secular age?
Udo Di Fabio, University of Bonn
Lamya Kaddor, Liberal-Islamischer Bund, Cologne
Fania Oz-Salzberger, University of Haifa
Sonja Zekri (Moderator), Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich
16:30 to 17:30: Panel discussion
The Colonial Legacy
Variants and Long-term Consequences of European Expansion
What would be – beyond the economic impact of colonialism – an adequate legal, historical, political and psychological reappraisal of colonial crimes? And what moral responsibility does Europe have towards the former colonies?
Rebecca Nana Ayebia Clarke, Ayebia Clarke Publishing, Banbury (Oxfordshire)
Pankaj Mishra, Author, London and India
Jürgen Zimmerer, University of Hamburg
Tina Mendelsohn (Moderator), 3sat Kulturzeit, Mainz
Sunday, 11 September
9:30: Coffee and exchange
10:00: Short Expert Interviews
The Culture of Remembrance and History Education in 21st Century Europe
Basil Kerski, The European Solidarity Centre, Gdańsk
Thomas Krüger, Federal Agency for Civic Education, Bonn
Thomas Lutz, Topography of Terror Foundation, Berlin
Stefan Troebst, Leipzig University, Leipzig
Sven Tetzlaff und Gabriele Woidelko (Moderators), Körber Foundation, Hamburg
10:30 to 12:30: Parallel Round Table Talks
History Education Newsroom
At four round tables, each chaired by a host, international experts will discuss innovative practical approaches to history teaching in various European countries.
1. In the Shadow of the Perpetrators?
Dealing with the perpetrator perspective when examining experiences of violence in the 20th century
The Europe of the 20th and the beginning 21st century is distinguished by numerous experiences of war and dictatorship. The commemoration of those responsible for crime during war and dictatorship is in many European countries still a controversial and sensitive topic. Can the debate about perpetrators within the field of history promote a self-critical attitude towards public and civic action today?
Thomas Lutz, Topography of Terror Foundation, Berlin (Host)
Florin Abraham, National Institute for the Study of Totalitarianism, Bucharest
Suzanne Bardgett, Imperial War Museums, London
Irene Flunser Pimentel, University of Lisbon
Jan Tomasz Gross, Princeton University, Princeton
Georgiy Kasianov, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (NAS), Kiev
Yessica San Roman, Centro Sefarad Israel, Madrid
Stefanie Schüler-Springorum, Berlin Research Centre on Anti-Semitism, Berlin
Heidemarie Uhl, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna
2. The Others in Us
Historical contextualization and teaching of current
European flight history / events During the last year, Europe has experienced a strong rise in the number of arriving refugees. In many European countries the topic of flight from war and violence is now debated regarding the aspect of preventing immigration. Yet Europe itself is shaped historically by migration, flight end expulsion. How can historical and current flight history / events be of use for history education?
Stefan Troebst, Leipzig University, Leipzig (Host)
Merete Ipsen, The Women’s Museum, Aarhus
Léontine Meijer-van Mensch, Museum of European Cultures, Berlin
Rainer Ohliger, Network Migration in Europe, Berlin
Rafał Rogulski, Institute of European Network Remembrance and Solidarity, Warsaw
Adamantios Theodor Skordos, Centre for the History and Culture of East Central Europe, Leipzig
3. How does Revolution Work?
The role of freedom, resistance and civil movements in European transformation processes
Europe has experienced an epochal transition with the European Reunion, the end of the Cold War and of the East-West Confrontation. Coming to terms with this sea change is an ongoing process. How can these historical periods of revolution and transformation become valuable regarding the current civil and political challenges?
Basil Kerski, The European Solidarity Centre, Gdańsk (Host)
Bojan Balkovec, University of Ljubljana
Marianne Birthler, Former Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records, Berlin
Anastasiia Cherednychenko, Ukrainian Center for museum development , Kiev
Jonila Godole, Institute for Democracy, Media and Culture, Tirana
Markus Meckel, German War Graves Commission, Berlin
Denys Pashchenko, European Union Project “Support to Justice Sector Reforms in Ukraine”, Kiev
Vojtěch Ripka, Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Prague
4. Smart History
New ways of teaching history in the digital age
The accelerated digital and media development in all areas of life has an impact on history education, too. How could e-learning, wikis and social networks become an asset for teaching history?
Thomas Krüger, Federal Agency for Civic Education, Bonn (Host)
Marko Demantowsky, University of Basel
Jutta Doberstein, Zero One Film, Berlin
Robert Fuchs, Documentation Center and Museum of Migration in Germany (DOMiD), Cologne
Agnieszka Kudełka, KARTA Center, Warsaw
Ronald Leopold, Anne Frank House, Amsterdam
Ruth Rosenberger, Foundation House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn
Fabian Rühle, Centropa, Berlin
Gesche Schifferdecker, Max Weber Foundation, Bonn
Nela Srstková, Virtual Museum of the Gulag, Prag
12:30 to 12:45: Conclusion
12:45 to 14:00: Buffet and exchange
The Isreali historian and writer Fania Oz-Salzberger is a professor of history at the University of Haifa and the director of Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden. At the upcoming Körber History Forum she will discuss whether Europe has reached the end of its secular era. For the Federal President’s History Competition, we have asked what religion means for her personally.
You are the new Director of Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, and together with your father Amos Oz you recently co-authored “jews and words”, examining the reasons for Jewish perseverance and prominence. Yet, you called yourself an “atheist of the book”. What role does religion play in your life?
Religion fascinates me as a basic form of human expression, feeling, ritual and intellectual effort. As a historian, I cannot possibly overlook it; as a member of civil society, I do not wish to underestimate it. Religiosity is evidently more ancient than history itself, and - outliving some modern theories of progress - it is likely to remain part of humanity's future. However, I am a secular person, a (critical) child of the European Enlightenment. “Secular”, unlike “atheist”, is a cultural stance, not merely a denial of God. It requires knowledge, comparison, conversation and choice.
In the Jewish tradition, secularism also requires a certain sense of humour. I know people around me who are angry with God even if they don't believe in him. The Jewish model has momentous importance for the modern mind: unlike Christianity and Islam, Jewish self-definition was never only religious, and in order to be a Jew you don't have to be religious at all.
In our book Jews and Words, my co-author and I explained our idea of Jewish belonging as a textual nationhood, drawing from a common library, sharing an ancient love of intellectual controversy. This may illuminate the Jewish capacity not just to survive but to re-invent the legacy and shift it to new creativities. As secular Jews, “we are not about stones, clans, or chromosomes”, we wrote. “Ours is not a bloodline but a text line”.
What we call today “Judaism” is a modern term, coming from the 19th-century German Judentum, and it is too limited to reflect the great array of meanings inherent in the Jewish legacy. “Jewish” can mean a religion, and/or a nation, and/or a civilisation. As a civilisation it has historical, philosophical, ethical, legal and poetic aspects. Jewish tradition also carries a unique license - shared by some of the ancient Greeks, but unfortunately not by Christianity or Islam - to argue, even against God himself. Hard questions are not only allowed but cherished. Debate in the study room and around the family table has been a core aspect of Jewish survival and renewal.
I am honoured to become the new director of Paideia, the European Institute of Jewish Studies. It is a hub of academic teaching and intellectual activism, which is not only for Jews of course, but reflects the wide cultural scope of Europe's Jewish legacy. The study is very textual - we have a deep, intriguing sea of “primary sources” - but it is not obedient, and thrives on discussion and inventiveness. Paideia is concerned with the future of Europe's Jewish legacy at its best.
History and religion often are subject to interpretation. Both can thus be used as an instrument or even a weapon in political debates, something happening more and more today in Europe. How could we prevent this kind of exploit?
The Enlightenment hoped to disentangle religion from politics. The founding fathers of the United States – and in a different way the French Republic – separated church from state. Note the difference between the statecraft level and the discourse level. Constitutionally and legally, the separation of church and state had some success. Politically, in our own time, religion and its narratives are a powerful voice. Indeed, religious values are as entitled to compete in the free agora of ideas as well as any other system of values - as long as they do not cross legal and ethical red lines. As long as they do not attack the free agora of ideas itself.
My own country has been recruiting religion - and religion-based historical narratives - in the service of political rhetoric ever since its foundation. In this Israel is comparable to the USA, but unlike most Americans, most Israelis are not pious believers. Religion was never the only game in town. There's a strong sense of history, but there is a huge difference between the critical approach and the emotional approach. This is why our public conversation is so interesting sometimes. Crucially, Israel's legal structure is secular and liberal - partly drawing on the German juridical tradition, by the way. Most citizens are either non-believers, or believers who do not want religion to interfere with the public sphere.
I am not playing down the dangers of fanatic faith in our current political landscape. The groups pushing for Halachic (Jewish-law based) legislation are stronger in the Knesset than ever before, and we can see a parallel development among part of Trump's supporters in the USA and among some of Europe's nationalists. Religious extremism has grown among both Israeli Jews and Muslim (though not Christian) Palestinians, and in both cases this extremism wishes to destroy the state as a democracy.
But things are more complex than that. The religious-political interface can yield interesting consequences, some of them unintended. For example, family law in Israel is religion-based, disallowing civic marriage. To solve this issue, the Knesset created strong legal and economic alternatives to the marriage contract, and ironically this has enhanced the rights of homosexual rights, where Israel has become a pioneer. So you see, the religious-political interface is far more ambivalent than is commonly thought.
The Israeli model has special relevance for Europeans today. One of my recent articles deals with the uses of the Hebrew Bible in Israeli political discourse. I found that although the nationalist right obviously uses it to promote the “greater Israel” claim, Mosaic law and the Hebrew prophets can inspire the social-democratic left. In the 2011 wave of social protest, biblical ideas of distributive justice and universal human integrity were quoted with enthusiasm. Thus, religious texts can enter political discussion in opposing ways, supporting nationalism and militancy but also peace, diversity and mutual respect. Let me add that this is not so new: recent scholarship of 17th-century political Hebraism, including some of my own work, shows that the Old Testament was radically republican to some readers, and staunchly monarchist to others.
Europe today is a relative newcomer to a struggle which many Europeans thought they had resolved long ago. Once again, fanatics shed the blood of those they deem infidels. Once again, counter-fanatics spring up to shed the blood of those they deem fanatics. If liberalism (and the earlier Jewish tradition) legitimised disagreement, we are now facing the tragic reappearance of the anti-disagreement mind, the kill-all-disagreement attitude.
What should European societies do? Perhaps they should first become sharper, more attuned. The public can be far more sophisticated in understanding the uses and the abuses of religion, learning to distinguish between real and imagined dangers, protecting the Enlightenment legacy and the secular state in the best civic spirit, while keeping the agora free and broad. In this playing-field, ideas must compete and interact, because argument keeps cultures alive. Nothing is “holy scripture” in the sense of untouchable truth. If I had to add one commandment to the Ten Commandments, it would be “Thou shalt peacefully debate everything, and sometimes smile”.
On 1 September, the Körber Foundation will start the new round of the German Federal President's History Competition. This time, we ask young students to pursue questions on the history of faith and religion – on site, in their personal environment, within their families or in the region where they live. What would you wish for them to learn during their quest?
I wish them to learn, especially when dealing with religion, the historian's “golden mean”: Be curious and fascinated in your inquiry. Be critical and broadminded in your research. Be honest, balanced and very accurate in your writing.
In the best of worlds, what impact should religion have on people’s lives and the living together?
The renown German Eastern European historian Karl Schlögel opened the Körber History Forum at Humboldt Carré in Berlin on Friday 9.9. with his keynote on “The (Re-)Mapping of Europe. Borders and Spaces in Transition”. He depicted the link between the return of “space and borders” in Europe to the current crises on the continent. Subsequently, he discussed his theses with Thomas Paulsen, Körber Foundation.
25 years after the end of the Soviet Union, the last European empire, Europe is again in a phase of transition: the number of people in Europe who want to see the nation state strengthened, including the associated borders and an own national identity vis-à-vis supranational state entities and ideas, is growing. Debating this topic at the Körber History Forum were Judy Dempsey, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Marek A. Cichocki, Natolin European Centre, Yaroslav Hrytsak, Ukrainian Catholic University, Alexey I. Miller, European University St. Petersburg and moderator Cathrin Kahlweit, Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Where is Russia headed? In the debate on the importance of the interpretation of the recent past for the national self-image of Russia and for the dialogue with the rest of Europe, Ivan Krastev of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, debated with Natalia Burlinova from Public Initiative “Creative Diplomacy”, Moscow. They discussed their different perspectives on the transformation process in Russia since 1991 and their controversial conceptions of political and civil rights in Russia and the rest of Europe. Katja Gloger from Stern magazine hosted the debate.
Immigration, expulsion, flight and asylum are not recent phenomena on the continent, but reach far back historically. To what extent does the outlook on migration history help in dealing with refugees today and how can Europe react to this long-term challenge? This was discussed by Ulrich Herbert, Freiburg University, François Gemenne, Paris School of International Affairs, Norman Naimark, Stanford University, and moderator Juan Moreno, Der SPIEGEL.
Closer global networking, the growing multi-ethnicity and multi-religiosity of European societies and the politicization of Islam by religious fundamentalists and terrorists are forcing Europe and the Europeans to re-examine the meaning of religion for individual and collective identities. To what extent has Europe now arrived in a post-secular age? Lamya Kaddor, Liberal-Islamischer Bund, Fania Oz-Salzberger, University of Haifa, moderator Sonja Zekri, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Udo Di Fabio, University of Bonn, debated the relationship between religion and state, religious extremism and the exploitation of religion in the current political debates.
Jürgen Zimmerer, moderator Tina Mendelsohn, author Pankaj Mishra and publisher Rebecca Nana Ayebia Clarke tackled the question of an adequate legal, historical, political and psychological reappraisal of European colonial crimes. What moral responsibility does Europe have towards the former colonies? At the core of the debate was the question of the sovereignty of interpreting the postcolonial narrative and the role of colonialism in history education. Another aspect of the debate was the importance of African and Caribbean literature in sensitizing the young generation for the colonial past.