Do you remember?

In the very first keynote of this year's NECE conference, renowned social scientist and professor at the University of Konstanz, Aleida Assmann, chose to address the issue of a common European culture of remembrance. Taking the year 2014 as her starting point, Assmann began by questioning a common criticism, which holds that commemoration is a rather artificial concept, forced upon a society to serve an, often political, purpose of the present. For being an artificial concept, Assmann argued, the resonance has been "pretty impressive".

A rememberance avalanche

But has this year of commemoration changed the self-perception of some of the member states of the EU? What impact has it had on processes of identity building? History, she argued, is a matter to be actively reconstructed and to be understood anew, a process of "looking back on and looking into the future of a memory". By remembering how not only European men and women died in the wars and conflicts of the past century, but also citizens from former colonies and countries such as New Zealand or Australia, gives us the opportunity to see these collective events from a variety of individual points of view, thus deepening our understanding of them and making us realize how intimately European history is connected with global history.


The Not-so-Great War

Having diverse cultures of remembrance, and indeed, diverse memories for that matter, is not a negative thing, Assmann stressed. While the Great War, or the Grande Guerre are still very much present in the minds of the English and the French, the collective memory of the First World War in Germany e.g. has been taunted by the atrocities of the Second and the Holocaust that came with it. In this year of commemoration, Germany happily accepts and welcomes the European additions to its own "non-memory" of the First World War, in order to be able to recollect and understand the events of 1914-18 in a different light.


Common, yes, but not standardized

It is more than doubtful that there will ever be a european master-narrative of the Great War, Assmann believes. But also that should not be the goal, she argued. What is far more important is to come to a common framework, or a frame of reference for remembrance. Learning more about each other's memories might be the European way of arriving at such a framework.

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