The Convolutions of Historical Politics

The Convolutions of Historical Politics

The Convolutions of Historical Politics

The Convolutions of Historical Politics

Synopsis

Thirteen essays by scholars from seven countries discuss the political use and abuse of history in the recent decades with particular focus on Central and Eastern Europe (Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia as case studies), but also includes articles on Germany, Japan and Turkey, which provide a much needed comparative dimension. The main focus is on new conditions of political utilization of history in post-communist context, which is characterized by lack of censorship and political pluralism. The phenomenon of history politics became extremely visible in Central and Eastern Europe in the past decade, and remains central for political agenda in many countries of the regions. Each essay is a case study contributing to the knowledge about collective memory and political use of history, offering a new theoretical twist. The studies look at actors (from political parties to individual historians), institutions (museums, Institutes of National remembrance, special political commissions), methods, political rationale and motivations behind this phenomenon.

Excerpt

In the early 1980s, the new West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who had a doctorate degree in history, made the revisiting of some key interpretations of the recent past a crucial element of his “moral and political pivot” policy. This policy line, effectuated under the motto of consolidating German patriotism, was aimed at fortifying his victory over the Social Democrats in official historical discourse. As the polemics stepped up, which grew into the famous Historikerstreit, or the “battle of historians,” shortly after that, opponents labeled the policy as Geschichtspolitik. (See Berger’s article in this volume.)

In 2004, a group of Polish historians politically close to the Kaczyński brothers’ Prawo I Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice) party proclaimed that polityka historyczna (historical policy) was important for Poland. They made a conscientious choice as they translated the notion of Geschichtspolitik literally, although it had a derogatory label in Germany, while Kohl’s supporters never used it for self-identification. It was then that the broad use of history for political purposes, so typical of Eastern European countries in the early 2000s, got its name. Soon afterwards, the notion of historical policy spread across Polish borders to neighboring countries.

The term “Eastern Europe” is used here just to refer briefly to all post-Communist countries, except the former Yugoslavia, where political use and abuse of history has important specificity, linked to the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the subsequent wars in the region. We do not engage here with protracted discussion about the terms “Eastern Europe,” “Central Europe,” “East-Central Europe.”

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