Organisations from different corners of the EU and Russia participate in the project: Antikomplex (Prague), German-Russian Exchange (Berlin), KARTA (Warsaw), Memorial Italy (Milan), Society of German-Russian Relationship (Münster/Münsterland), Kostroma Civic Initiative Support (Kostroma), International Memorial (Moscow), and Youth Memorial (Perm). Moreover, the group members also strive to include further organisations from Ukraine, the Balkan countries, France and Spain in the project in order to have a wider and more complete European perspective on historical memory, which may be conflicting or uncomfortable to deal with.
The kick-off workshop was primarily devoted to the interpretations of World War II found in school textbooks in Russia, Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Lithuania and Italy as well as presentations of national examples of conflicting memories. “Currently in Russia the war of historic memories is ongoing. The official ideology of today tends to present only one memory of World War II or, for instance, one memory of victims. This memory is heavily polarised into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘white’ and ‘black’, ‘heroic’ and ‘cowardly’” explained the History Group’s member Nikita Lomakin from International Memorial (Moscow), talking about conflicting memories and rhetoric in Russia.
The interpretation and perception of World War II by different countries and nations will be depicted in a travelling exhibition to be organised in 2015, which will serve as the CSF History Group’s contribution to the 70th anniversary of the end of Wold War II. The exhibition is planned to be opened in Moscow at the premises of International Memorial and will tour to Kostroma, Berlin as well as to other Russian and European cities.
During the meeting, the Working Group developed a standard questionnaire for all the textbooks as well as the methodology for selecting and working with the sources. Moreover, they discussed methods and tools to replenish the section of the CSF website devoted to conflicting memories in history and covering the work of the History Group in general. The website will present the analysis, among other things, of textbook chapters on World War II from different countries and will offer exemplary texts and illustrations on themes such as “victims” providing description from the national textbooks of project participants.
Networking was also extensively addressed during the discussion, thus the History Group will aim to include other organisations from Ukraine, the Balkan countries, France and Spain in order to offer a more complete European perspective on historical memory and to further stress the topic of Dialogic Memory. Wider networking will allow exchange of experience, knowledge and ideas as well as the development of a common project concerning historical education. This will also enhance the group’s intention to develop further projects on the theme of European identity.
Furthermore, the group’s engagement in solidarity and political activities will remain an intrinsic part of its work. “We have to show solidarity with the NGOs who have to work under conditions of repression and indeed any kind of restrictions at all. This will also include advocacy work – meeting politicians and decision-makers – allowing us to help local NGOs on a political level as well as increase possibilities to receive financial support,” commented Kristina Smolijaninovaitė, project coordinator at the Secretariat of the CSF based in Berlin and one of the initiators of the History Group.
The advocacy work took place during the series of meetings in Prague. At the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), in the Parliament and during the press conference organised with the support of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, the History Group presented their work, but also discussed the constraints of collaboration with Russian organisations like Perm-36 and the Russian Historical, Educational, Charity and Human Rights Society Memorial.
MFA was represented by Jan Bondy (Department of Public Diplomacy), Radek Pech (Department of Northern and Eastern Europe) and Barbora Jungová (Human Rights Department). During the meeting the Ministry proposed the idea of hosting a conference in Prague by 2015 on the theme of conflicting memories, obstacles for NGOs to work internationally as well as political discourse in Russia and the EU.
Another meeting, this time in the Parliament, with Karl Schwarzenberg (Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Affairs) led into the proposal of an official delegation visiting the museums in Perm and meeting the governor of Perm Region and other authorities to discuss the situation regarding Perm-36. The Czech members of Parliament and the Senate will be asked to join the delegation.
Press conference at the Institute for Studies of Totalitarian regimes was attended by the Czech Television, ČTK (Czech Press Agency), the on-line newspapers Echo.cz and Radio Liberty.
The kick-off meeting of the History Group in Prague was intensive and fruitful, the group is optimistic that it will go on to produce good results in 2015. As Alicja Wancerz-Gluza from Karta (Warsaw) summed up: “The meeting in Prague was not only very successful, but it was also an extraordinary experience for me – and very promising for the future. We did more than I expected!” Despite the political challenges and financial constraints that some organisations and civil society groups undergo as well as additional tensions that the topic conflicting memories in history may bring, the History Group hopes for further work together on long-lasting projects bringing together organisations and experts from Russia, the EU and further European countries. “For instance, one future project with young Europeans might deal with European identity. This will also intensify our networking and create a platform for a dialogue through memories,” concluded Gudrun Wolff from the Society of German-Russian Relationship in Münster/Münsterland.