The Körber History Reflection Group brought together 21 high-ranking experts and representatives from 11 European countries for its inaugural meeting in Minsk, Belarus, from 6 to 8 December. The meeting highlighted the seminal importance of the world war era for the formation of Central Eastern Europe’s societies and memory.
The multitude of perspectives and standpoints brought forward during the debates underline that dealing with the past remains an issue of ongoing concern and of political importance on a European level. Round-table sessions put a special emphasis on the scope and constraints of the term “borderlands” in a region whose social and political topography was shaped by national ambitions and devastated by totalitarian powers throughout the 20th century.
The centenary of the end of World War One showed marked differences in the historical experiences of Eastern Europe, where conflicts continued after 1918 that remain largely absent from an overall European historiography to this date. The pivotal significance of the Second World War and its cataclysmic impression on the societies of Central Eastern Europe took central place in the debates, with particular attention paid to the development of state and private commemoration in its wake, after the collapse of communism and under the auspices of recent national reappraisals.
The meeting was organised by the Körber Foundation in cooperation with the Representative Office of the German Association of Adult Education in the Republic of Belarus. The two day programme included round table debates at the Old City Hall of the Belarusian capital as well as excursions to prominent venues of Belarusian national remembrance, such as the Museum of the Great Patriotic War and the memorial complexes in Maly Trostenez and Khatyn.
The discussions of the Körber History Reflection Group made clear how intricately interwoven historical developments in the region are and how important it is to both voice and understand different perspectives on the past, while balancing critical debate with empathy toward those affected by last century’s legacy of violence. Against this background, the group set a focus on debating how historians, politicians, diplomats, as well as members of civil society and the media can involve themselves in a process of deweaponising contested pasts and politicised perceptions of history in the region.
Photos: Pavel Kritchko