European histories: Concord and conflict

Introduction

28 February 2011
Only in en
In recent years, the possibility of a "grand narrative" that includes both East and West in a common European story has been discussed intensely. In a new Focal Point, Eurozine seeks to broaden the question beyond the East-West historical divide. How are contested interpretations of historical and recent events made active in the present, both uniting and dividing European societies?

Given Europe’s multiple histories, can there be a common European history? For the last two decades, the question has had appended to it, albeit implicitly: “…between East and West?” Rightly so: while post-communist Europe grew together politically and economically, radical differences between the two halves of Europe remained at the mnemonic level, threatening to undermine cultural solidarity.

Since first being explicitly formulated in 2005 by Timothy Snyder, in his article “Balancing the books”, the question has been discussed intensely, much of that discussion taking place in Eurozine. Now, however, Eurozine is seeking to broaden the question beyond the East-West historical “divide”, looking, in particular, at a number of significant dates and events that influence current discourses and perceptions, both uniting and dividing European societies.

Notwithstanding that identity is constructed, it would not only be futile but also dangerous to try to prescribe to the Europeans a certain potentially hegemonic narrative that should fit all contexts and account for what is in fact a multitude of social, political and historical experiences. However, much would have already been gained if the existing plurality of narratives could be put up for discussion in a communal space transcending national boundaries, a space where different narratives can be negotiated, and where historical, social and cultural accounts that are falsely presumed to be fixed and universal can be questioned and altered.

What further significant European lieux de mémoires, what European myths and what neglected histories, what geographical and historical assumptions can help understand current social, cultural and political frictions? The purpose of this Focal Point is not – at least not mainly – to write or re-write history but to make clear how contested interpretations of historical and recent events are made active in the present and thus influence the way societies take on challenges of the future.

This Focal Point, launched in cooperation with the European Cultural Foundation in Amsterdam, provide the basis for a revived and ongoing discussion.

Published 28 February 2011

Original in English
First published in

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