AS PART OF its politics of memory, the European Union has expended considerable effort creating a transnational and unifying narrative of the past. By promoting a shared memory, it hopes to generate a sense of connectedness to ensure a peaceful future. Yet, in spite of numerous resolutions adopted by the European Parliament to unite Europe in its collective remembrance, conflicts, particularly over the memory of the Second World War, continue, and have even intensified. The September 2019 resolution on ‘The importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe’ was enthusiastically greeted by some in Europe as a tribute to all victims of all totalitarian regimes – but fiercely criticised by others as gross ideological propaganda and historical revisionism. While Europe’s multiple pasts and identities cannot be shaped by resolutions or regulations, the development of more pluralistic narratives of the past might be possible and worthwhile.
In our globalised age, is it only within a particular geopolitical space that memories can reconcile – or can Europe’s past be revisited from a distance? Memories are carried beyond states and nations through various channels, often migrating with individuals. Memory that travels detaches itself from its traditional anchors of meaning: location, landscape and bordered territory, from memorial sites and culturally defined contexts of remembering. It may become abstracted and hazy and vanish with time. Or it may become insular, rancorous and dogmatic, mooring migrants and diasporas in isolated and fixed narratives of a past they associate with home. But memory that travels may also be challenged by new localities and contexts, enabling new kinds of identification. While migrants are believed to centre their memory around a homogenising image of national heritage, re-enacting representations of the past away from its point of origin may encourage a more critical engagement with that past.
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