Stephen Holmes and Ivan Krastev argue that illiberal politics in central and eastern Europe should be understood primarily as a reaction to the ‘imperative to imitate’ the West after 1989. But to downplay the ideological substance of the new authoritarianism is reckless in the current situation, responds Aleida Assmann. Recalling the contribution of eastern European dissidents to Europe’s culture of human rights offers a corrective to the damaging myth of the ‘victorious West’.
(b.1947) studied English Literature and Egyptology at the Universities of Heidelberg and Tübingen. Between 1993 and 2014 she held the chair of English Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Konstanz, Germany. She has taught as a guest professor at various universities, including Princeton, Yale, Chicago and Vienna. In 2014 she received the Heineken Prize for History and in 2017 the Balzan Prize, together with her husband Jan Assmann. Her recent publications in English include Cultural Memory and Western Civilization: Functions, Media, Archives (2012) and Shadows of Trauma. Memory and the Politics of Postwar Identity (2016).
The ’68 movement in Germany originated in shifts of culture and lifestyle before turning political, and even violent. The historical contribution of ’68ers is not limited to what happened in the 1960s and 70s, argues Aleida Assmann; in the 1980s it was formative in the emergence of a new Europe.
A year of commemoration
Memories of World War I are being recycled, restaged and transformed for the future. And a common historical frame allowing European nations to remember their stories collectively is within reach: an opportunity we cannot afford to squander, writes Aleida Assmann.