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The Politics of Memory in European Migration Societies. Consequences for Citizenship Education | NECE - Networking European Citizenship Education |

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The Politics of Memory in European Migration Societies. Consequences for Citizenship Education International Workshop in Berlin, 11-13 October, 2006

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35 academics and experts from a wide range of disciplines came together in Berlin from the 11th-13th of October, 2006 to conduct a comparative analysis of Europe´s changing cultures of remembrance.

The History of Violence in Europe and the "Dialectic of the Modern"

Is there a hidden correlation, or even a clear genealogical relationship, between the extreme European historical phenomena of colonialism, Holocaust and communism? To what extent is colonialist, racist and genocidal thought an "intrinsic aspect of modern European history"? In particular, the contributions from Brumlik, Melber and Oostindie implicitly and explicitly examined questions on the "Dialectics of Enlightenment", employing methods put forward in Horkheimer and Adorno´s well-known work of the same name. Henning Melber explicitly expressed the thesis that we must first deconstruct the "colonial mindset" that was influenced by Enlightenment thought and action to detect the continuity and parallels that exist between the practices of domination exercised by the colonial powers and the National Socialist policies of conquest and domination in Eastern Europe. The traces – so the radical extension of this thesis - were still detectable today: Eurocentrism, racism and minority discrimination are the current expression of "post-colonial legacies" in a post-colonial Europe. In the debate that ensued, conference participants were in agreement that all three of the phenomena mentioned above can be very loosely attributed to a European history of violence and progress; a history which is burdened with crimes such as large-scale murder based on race and class. The debate could be seen in the context of fresh attempts to bring various, in some cases "hidden" histories of violence into a cohesive image of European history. The catchwords and phrases are: national and social "waves of homogenisation" – especially after World War I – and "collective regression" as a social phenomenon.

However, many of the suggested connections and assumptions put forward in the course of the Workshop as participants attempted to place Europe´s history of violence into perspective could not be agreed. For example, one controversial question was whether colonialism was essentially just as "exterministic" as National Socialism, or whether it was primarily driven by economic expansionist interests that may not have actively prevented genocidal crimes, but did not inevitably lead to them. Contributions from Henning Melber and Gert Oostindie presented different positions on the subject.

A further strand of discussions focused on theories of post-modernism and post-colonialism, which demand a fundamental self-criticism on the part of the "West". This should include, in particular, the tradition of the Enlightenment. Some participants, including Micha Brumlik, countered with a view of the Enlightenment that can be traced back to Kant, saying it had made possible instruments and political discourse – including human rights and civil liberties -- that are key to allowing us to now critically approach and address modern Europe´s history of violence. Another objection stated that colonialist, genocidal and violent forms of domination were also aspects of pre-modern, non-European societies.

Eastern and Western Europe

The contribution from Stefan Troebst (Trier) revealed how memory and history continue to be experienced in very different ways in Eastern and Western Europe, in spite of growing interdependence and tendencies toward Europeanisation at both political and economic levels. In particular, national contexts have retained their importance in Eastern and Central Europe. Reacting to a dispute on whether Stalinist campaigns of destruction were equivalent to the "eliminatory antisemitism" of the Nazis (the Kalniete-Korn debate), Troebst postulated that all attempts to construct a hierarchy of victim history are doomed to failure. Instead of seeking to meld the diversity of European histories into a single formula of remembrance, it was more realistic, he said, to hope for a "peaceful co-existence" of different cultures of remembrance.

The address given by Jacek Zakowski (Warsaw) also made it clear that the culture of remembrance in Eastern and Central Europe continues to be shaped by political-historical interests and domestic dynamics.

One consequence for civic education should be to make the controversies -- that we have only been able to touch on here -- more transparent and to lay bare the political-normative vanishing points and justifications of the discourse surrounding the politics of remembrance in Eastern and Western Europe. The exchange of experiences and knowledge between Eastern and Western Europe has only just begun.

Singularity Thesis vs. Comparative Genocide Research

Another unresolved issue was the thesis of the singularity of the Holocaust, although participants generally agreed that there is a need for comparative genocide research. In an attempt to solve the dilemma posed by a 'hierarchy of suffering', Micha Brumlik (Frankfurt) proposed a debate on the thesis that the singularity of the victims and suffering was not the decisive factor, but the singularity of the deed itself – in other words, the barbarity that was carried out starting in 1933 in a country strongly influenced by middle-class ideals. Unfortunately, there was insufficient time to exhaustively examine this complex aspect in the discussion.

In any case, there are specific approaches as far as the debate in Germany is concerned. The foundation of a state institution for civic education would have been unimaginable without official recognition of the crime of the Holocaust, the Federal Republic of Germany's acknowledgement of guilt for the crimes committed from 1933 to 1945, and the political will in Germany to combat totalitarian doctrine and sentiment --intellectually and politically -- at all levels. It is no coincidence that there are no other institutions in Europe comparable with the German Federal Agency for Civic Education.

Nowadays, there is talk of a Europeanisation or even a globalisation of the memory of the Holocaust There is a realisation that the Second World War and the genocide of European Jews has become the negative founding myth of the European Union. Holocaust commemoration has become "transnationalised" and "Europeanised", as the memorials and museums in many locations outside Germany demonstrate. However, we must take heed of critical views, warning of a "decontextualisation" of the Holocaust or a suppression of the specifically German share in its crimes.

Consequences for Historical - Civic Education in Europe

Any attempt to summarise the explorative and experimental debate in Berlin must itself be provisional and experimental. However, a number of theories and lines of thought have been formulated which can help us to evaluate previous and future practical projects.

On the "Dialectics of Enlightenment"

Enlightenment and modern societies can develop rational discourses and techniques with genocidal consequences, but this is not an inevitable occurrence. The important thing is to implement appropriate institutional measures and political discourse to make sure that modern societies do not abuse human rights or practise genocide. Europe has repeatedly responded to this ambivalence with liberal democracy and the concepts of civil liberties and human rights, but the ambivalence will remain.

Topicality of Historical and Civic Education

The challenge of historical education, therefore, is to avoid consigning the Holocaust, genocides, colonial history and other violent events to historical compartments that are sealed off from the present They should rather be treated as conceivable excesses of modern societies. It is this topicality, or relevance to the present, that legimitises a continuing historic-political education –including a debate of how to implement or expand institutional precautions against such developments.

Civic Education and Human Rights Education

Against this background, it is important to read different historical accounts of experiences of violence and genocide in relation to the development of concepts of democracy and human rights: the Holocaust, the experience of two World Wars, the experiences of communist dictatorships, of colonial policies and wars, the experiences of the Balkan wars in the 1990s, etc. On the one hand, these experiences were each due to unique constellations, but at the same time, they have similarities with their predecessors. It is interesting to follow comparative analyses and trace such similarities. For civic education, however, a different line of questioning seems appropriate: what concrete stimuli did each of these events provide for the development of concepts of liberal democracy, human rights and international law?

Therefore, one of the central aims of historical and civic education must be to pass on the lessons drawn from political and institutional efforts to analyse and overcome European experiences of violence and genocide. The numerous controversies that mark the current debates – like the one on the legacy of colonialism in England and France – must be made accessible to civic education and the general public in a transparent way and freed from ideology as much as possible.

The concept of universal human rights represents the normative focus in the debate over the great totalitarian movements of the twentieth century: the decisive and sustained lesson which Europe and the (westliche) "World" learned from the Second World War. Civic education in a broad sense also comprises the aim of providing orientation in an increasingly complex world of national and international politics with all its divisions, contradictions and paradoxes. This includes the disclosure and interpretation of social controversies surrounding the future of our globalised and interdependent world, as well as the critical discussion of "essentialistic" concepts of identity and culture.

Knowledge and orientation in the sense described above must be prepared by practitioners of civic education in widely different contexts and for specific target groups, including, therefore, "migrants". Didactic and methodical creativity, the courage to experiment, adaptation to youth-cultural formats and needs, and last but not least, "internationality" must become the future trademark of historical and civic education.

Historical and Civic Education in Societies with Mass Immigration

The ongoing political paradigm shift in European societies regarding migration and integration has a decisive effect on the development of the concepts of historical and civic education. In general, the concept of citizenship has taken on greater significance, both in terms of the immigration debate and the implementation of state policies. The aim now is to integrate "migrants" as citizens (permanently). The debate has departed from the concepts of a superficially understood "multiculturalism" . Greater value is now being placed on citizenship and the duties and rights of citizens. This development makes new demands on immigrants, in terms of their treatment of, participation in and ultimately, identification with their new "homeland". At the same time, the state and society have new obligations to shape their institutions, debates and social resources in such a way as to be able to deal competently with this new diversity. This applies also to historical and civic education. We have to communicate the political lessons learned from European catastrophes to the new target group of "migrants". Without a basic knowledge of history the normative and institutional foundations of many European countries cannot be understood

At the same time (and closely related, perhaps even a precondition for the educational work described above) historical and civic education must take more care to include "migrants" and their histories in the respective curricula. On the one hand, this includes the experiences of the often non-European traditions and family histories of, for example, ethnic Arab or Turkish youths. Given that nationalistic and essentialist narratives and interpretations of history are still quite common among them it is of paramount importance to teach history as a dynamic and changeable process, which invites and even demands political action and participation. At the same time, it is important to include and acknowledge our history as immigration societies: Historical and civic education must include the "Turks in Berlin" as much as the "Turks before Vienna". In this context, the acknowledgement of discrimination, persecution and genocide must be part of the democratic self-image of a immigration society. Civic education must also pay attention to the (international) trend towards self-assertion of identities, and victim rivalries (including anti-Semitic doctrines and Holocaust denials). A discriminatory and identity-orientated view of history is often an integral part of these discourses. The challenge here will be to show how experiences are shared between different societies. New approaches such as the idea of 'shared histories' should find their way into the profession of civic education.

European Citizenship education for 'migrants' ultimately has to aim at "translating" European historical experiences - including basic values associated with the enlightenment and self-criticism, the experience of dealing with historical catastrophes and the resulting culture of debate and argument on history and remembrance. The workshop in Berlin raised important new questions and significant new ideas on how to achieve this goal.

(The summary is based on papers compiled by Viola Georgi (Free University Berlin), who conceived and organised the Workshop on behalf of the Federal Agency for Civic Education, and Ralf Possekel from the Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility, and the Future.)

Text: Christoph Müller-Hofstede, M.A.
Federal Agency for Civic Education, Bonn
25 February 2007
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  1. For more see Götz Aly, Logik des Grauens, DIE ZEIT, issue from 06/01/06

  2. Because of the scope of the Workshop, it was impossible to address questions and problems relating to the power of interpretation in policies of remembrance, or to take into account demands made for example by countries such as India or China. Jürgen Zimmerer´s Tony Blairs letzter Coup. Das Empire wird zur Erblast: Eine Zeitenwende der globalen Erinnerungspolitik, in the FAZ from 11/30/06.

  3. Daniel Levy Natan Sznaider: Erinnerung im globalen Zeitalter: Der Holocaust, Frankfurt am Main, 2001. Or see: Jürgen Kocka, Sozialgeschichte im Zeitalter der Globalisierung, Merkur Nr. 684, April 2006, P. 305 – 316.

  4. Christian Joppke/Ewa Morawska, Toward Assimilation and Citizenship: Immigrants in Liberal Nation States, New York 2003

  5. Michael Lackner/Michael Werner, Der cultural turn in den Humanwissenschaften, Issue Nr. 2 of the series Suchprozesse für innovative Fragestellungen in der Wissenschaft , Werner Reimers-Foundation, Bad Homburg, 1999.