week 5

Poland vs. History

Perhaps the greatest surprise in the Polish government’s decision is the implicit alliance with current Russian memory policy. The move to limit the Polish history of World War II to the week-long engagement with Germany at Westerplatte in 1939 follows a Russian script that is entirely on the record. In a speech at Westerplatte in 2009, Vladimir Putin accepted that Poland, and not the USSR, was the first victim of German aggression. But there was an important proviso, which he has amplified several times since. The German attack on Poland, Putin asserts, was a consequence of Poland’s own dealings with Nazi Germany before the war, rather than a result of the Soviet-German alliance of 1939.
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Russia’s Never-Ending War against “Fascism”. Memory Politics in the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict

Seventy years after the end of World War II, writes Tatiana Zhurzhenko, the fight for hegemony in Europe continues – disguised as a conflict of historical master narratives. The beginning of the current round of memory wars in the post-Soviet space can be dated back to 2005, when the sixtieth anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany turned into a loyalty test for the politicians of neighbouring countries.
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Putin’s New Nostalgia

As Russian military convoys continue the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has chosen to rehabilitate the alliance between Hitler and Stalin that began World War II. Speaking before an audience of Russian historians at the Museum of Modern Russian History, Putin said: “The Soviet Union signed a non-aggression agreement with Germany. They say, ‘Oh, how bad.’ But what is so bad about it, if the Soviet Union did not want to fight? What is so bad?”
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Balancing the Books

West German foreign policy after 1945 was reconciliatory but conducted over the heads of the eastern European populations who had suffered most during the war. Now, Germany can be said to have atoned for its wartime misdemeanours; yet, in the European political climate post-May 2004, eastern European experiences of subjugation are often glossed over. France’s criticism of Poland’s involvement in the occupation of Iraq as knee-jerk pro-Americanism overlooked alliances formed during the Cold War. Meanwhile, Poland’s objection to a museum in Germany commemorating Germans expelled from Poland was interpreted as anger at the violation of a national taboo; the real reason was the Polish belief that Germany istelf had not made corresponding concessions. Timothy Snyder argues that such rifts could be avoided by a version of European history that included both western and eastern experiences. Then, solidarity rather than national prejudice would motivate public opinion on matters of European politics.
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The Burden of History and the Trap of Memory

Erzwungene Wege [“Forced journeys”] is the title of the newly opened exhibition at the German Historical Museum in Berlin on the history of forced migration in Europe. It has been organized by the German League of Expellees, which represents Germans forced to migrate after WWII, and is a step towards the League’s goal to set up a permanent exhibition in the German capital. The exhibition has been the source of ongoing diplomatic conflict between Germany and its eastern neighbours – above all Poland – since the League called on Poland to pay compensation to former German owners of Polish property and even opposed Poland’s accession to the EU. Philipp Ther outlines the background of the historical conflict between Germany and Poland, the reasons behind the paradigm shift from culprit to victim in the German view of its history, and the enduring and very different memory in Poland of the German occupation.
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Equally Criminal? Totalitarian Experience and European Memory

Instead of dwelling upon the catastrophes of the twentieth century, many Europeans ask if we should not thoughtfully “forget” them. However, the endurance of historical memory in the united Europe is demonstrated by contemporary political differences between European member states, which can be dealt with only if a European memory is developed. The difficulty here lies in paying due respect to the memory of the crimes both of National Socialism and of Soviet totalitarianism while avoiding a hierarchy of competing victim groups.
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Europäische Erinnerungspolitik Revisited

Thomas Manns Albtraum (oder zumindest einer seiner politischen Albträume) war bekanntlich, dass es dereinst ein deutsches Europa anstatt eines europäischen Deutschland geben würde. Aus Sicht manch wacher Beobachter scheint diese Schreckensvision zu Beginn des einundzwanzigsten Jahrhunderts wahr zu werden – nur unter ganz anderen Vorzeichen als bei Mann: Heute fürchtet man nicht ein aggressiv-nationalistisches Deutschland, …
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Hot Memory … Cold Memory. On the Political Half-Life of Fascist and Communist Memory.

In his reflections on twentieth-century history, Memoirs of a Ravaged Century, Robert Conquest admits that for all his scathing condemnation of Soviet atrocities, “I feel” the Holocaust was “worse” than Stalinist crimes.[1] The comparative intensity of feelings makes a difficult subject for historical explanation, but these feelings are important – they happen to be my feelings too, and those of many in Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere who reflect on history.
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