Debating 20th century history

Negotiating history and memory in the public sphere

How historical 'facts' are understood is a matter of negotiation and is sometimes subject to intense debate amongst not just professional historians but also the public at large. In this section, we present public debates and controversies that emerge at different points in time and in a variety of local, national and trans-national contexts. The debates usually arise where dominant narratives are being contested or contrasting historical interpretations clash in the public sphere - during commemorative events, in academic publications or due to policy shifts. Through a critical assessment and contextualization of local debates and arguments the contributions in this sections reveal insights into important national (sometimes regional) conversations that oftentimes touch upon core issues of identity and social relations in these societies.

 


The articles therefore not only demonstrate how the 'long' twentieth century is being talked about and fought over today, in the new millennium, but also how these struggles inform present-day developments and attitudes in the countries of East Central and Southeastern Europe and beyond. Readers will gain insight into controversial historical events and learn about the various actors and agents in the debates who influence the course these quarrels take. Written exclusively for the Cultures of History Forum, the articles make the historical cultures of the region accessible to readers outside their respective national contexts.  

One step forward, two steps back: the never ending debates about a House of History Austria

Andrea Brait · 16. Aug 2017

It has been more than 20 years now, in 1996, that the then director of the Jewish Welcome Service in Austria, Leon Zelman, suggested in an APA-interview the establishment of "a venue fo...


Debating Vabamu: Changing names and narratives at Estonia’s Museum of Occupations

Lorraine Weekes · 25. Apr 2017

The early 2016 announcement that Tallinn's Museum of Occupations would be re-imagined and re-launched under a new name, "The Museum of Freedoms", brought swift and vitriolic critique fr...


"1944" vs. 9 May – An Attempt at Reconciliation Instead of Vigorous Glorification: Estonia Commemorating WWII in 2015

Heiko Pääbo · 25. Oct 2015

World War II was the most traumatic event of the 20th century that altered the path of development for many Estonians. It is a watershed in the Estonian master-narrative that is divided...


On ‘Polish History’: Disputes over the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk

Daniel Logemann · 21. Mar 2017

On 23 January 2017, the new permanent exhibition of the Museum of the Second World War was presented in Gdańsk for the first time to a select audience. Although invited, the Minister of...


The Past as a Source of Evil: The Controversy Over History and Historical Policy in Poland, 2016

Adam Leszczyński · 24. May 2016

History plays a huge role in Polish public debates, politics, and the ideology of the ruling PiS party. "Historical policy" is now officially on the agenda of the government and its age...


The Polish Debate on the Core Exhibition of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Piotr Osęka · 09. Nov 2015

The Museum of the History of Polish Jews stirred up journalistic emotions long before its doors opened to visitors. This institution, located in a modern and, as some of them stressed, ...


Polish Public Debates on Historical Controversies

Piotr Osęka · 13. Apr 2015

When the Institute of National Remembrance published the book "The Security Service and Lech Wałęsa: a Biographical Addendum" in June 2008, queues formed outside bookshops from the earl...


After the Conflict is before the Conflict? On the Debate over the Three-Part Miniseries Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter Shown on ZDF German Television

Daniel Logemann · 02. Sep 2013

The three-part miniseries Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter (Generation War) gave rise to heated German-Polish debate that focused on the depiction of members of the Polish Home Army (Armia K...


Reflections on the Meaning of the Joint Message to the Polish and Russian Nations of 17 August 2012 from the Catholic Church in Poland and the Russian Orthodox Church

Sławomir Dębski · 01. Oct 2013

The Joint Message of the Catholic Church in Poland and the Russian Orthodox Church, calling on both nations to look at each other in the spirit of Christian love and to overcome the bar...


The Noble and the Base: Poland and the Holocaust

John Connelly · 24. Nov 2012

In 2012, while conferring a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom on the Polish hero Jan Karski, Barack Obama inadvertently touched off the greatest crisis in US-Polish relations in ...


Controversial Debate about Józef Beck

Izabela Mrzygłód · 06. Feb 2013

Seventy years after the outbreak of the World War II, Józef Beck, the Polish Foreign Minister between 1932-1939, briefly became the focus of public attention due to sensational reports ...


Comments on the Reception of Jan T. Gross' Latest Book in Poland

Błażej Brzostek · 07. Sep 2011

Jan Tomasz Gross, sociology professor at Princeton, wanted to shock opinion makers in Poland. Admittedly, this shock was not going to be the first one and the tectonic structures it rev...


Remaking Polish National History: Reenactment over Reflection

Florian Peters · 03. Oct 2016

After bringing the constitutional court to a standstill and cleansing public television to make it conform to party-political criteria, the conservative nationalist Polish government of...


Croatia's Ambivalence over the Past: Intertwining Memories of Communism and Fascism

Maciej Czerwiński · 07. Nov 2016

There is a band from Split named TBF, with a song called "The End of the World" (Smak svita) in which there is the following verse: "And in the Parliament thi...


A Storm of Memory in Post-War Croatia

Tamara Banjeglav · 12. Apr 2015

The article analyzes the official, state-sponsored celebration of 'Operation Storm', a military action that took place in Croatia in August 1995, and shows how the celebration has been ...


The Acquittal of the Croatian Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač

Ljiljana Radonić · 20. Aug 2013

In late 2012, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač were acquitted by the Appeals Chamber of the Hague tribunal (ICTY), overturning the lengthy jail sentences that had originally been imposed...


Between History and Memory: The Jashari Family Memorial in Prekaz (Kosovo)

Vjollca Krasniqi · 25. Jul 2016

This text offers a reading of the ways in which history and historical reasoning are integrated into memorialization practices in Kosovo, with a special focus on the Jashari family. It ...


Division and Denial and Nothing Else? Culture of History and Memory Politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nicolas Moll · 12. Apr 2015

The article gives an overview of the fragmented culture of history in Bosnia and Herzegovina, twenty years after the end of the 1992-1995 war which left the country deeply divided along...


Cultures of Remembrance in Sarajevo, or the Protracted Search for Multiperspectivity and Integration

Ljubinka Petrović-Ziemer · 15. Sep 2015

In history books, travel guides and the international public sphere, Sarajevo is basically linked with three historical events. On 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a member of the nationa...


The Debate on the Communist Past and the Memory of Lyudmila Zhivkova in Bulgaria

Ana Luleva · 15. May 2014

This paper addresses the media response to a conference that took place in October 2012 at Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the birth of Lyud...


Shifting Attitudes Toward the Second World War Commemorations in the Czech Republic

Darina Volf · 01. Mar 2016

After the end of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, a process of pluralisation began to emerge: memories, commemorative forms, and local attitudes toward the commemoration of the e...


From the Politics of History to Memory as Political Language

Michal Kopeček · 02. Dec 2013

Dealing with the communist past was one of the constitutive elements of the new or reborn democracies in East Central Europe after 1989. 'Coming to terms with the communist past' was es...


The Debate about Michal Pullmann’s Book The End of the Experiment

Jakub Vrba · 30. Oct 2013

The publication of Michal Pullmann's book The End of the Experiment, which distanced itself from earlier approaches to the last period of state socialism from a methodological and theor...


Integrating Victims, Externalizing Guilt? Commemorating the Holocaust in Hungary in 2014

Ferenc Laczó · 21. Jan 2016

From the point of view of the Fidesz regime, the pragmatic challenge related to the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary in 2014 consisted of how to continue framing the recent ...


German Occupation or Hungarian Responsibility? A Hungarian Debate on 19 March 1944

Ferenc Laczó · 15. Apr 2014

The ongoing 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary has re-launched the public debate on this most catastrophic event in the modern history of the country and focused much attentio...


The Hungarian Debate on 1989

Árpád von Klimó · 14. Jan 2014

The debate on the significance of the events of 1989, usually referred to in Hungary as "regime change" (rendszerváltás), has taken place up to now largely within the realm of politics....


The "Trianon" - Debate in the Hungarian Left-Liberal Weekly Élet és Irodalom

Ferenc Laczó · 11. Nov 2013

The recent debate about the memory of Trianon between Éva Kovács and Krisztián Ungváry took place in the political context defined, on the one hand, by the launching of the new "nationa...


A Hungarian Version of the Historikerstreit? A Summary of the Romsics-Gerő Debate among Hungarian Historians (2012)

Máté Rigó · 15. Apr 2013

In 2012 a major debate took place among Hungarian academics about how to write the country's 20th-century history in an ethically and professionally adequate way, with a particular focu...


Goodbye Historikerstreit, Hello Budapest City of Angels: The Debate about the Monument to the German Occupation

Sándor Horváth · 12. Apr 2015

The Hungarian government declared 2014 the ‘Year of Holocaust Remembrance’ in response to accusations that it had failed to stem anti-Semitic tendencies in the country. In July 2014, ho...


Hungary: The Search for a Usable Past

Paul Hanebrink · 17. May 2015

In Hungary, the transition from Communism in 1989 took place far more gradually than it did in neighboring countries. The change of system (rendszerváltás) did have its iconic moments. ...


Heroes, Villains and Matters of State: The Partisan and Popular Memory in Lithuania Today

Violeta Davoliūtė · 17. Nov 2017

With Russia's armed aggression in Ukraine in spring 2014 and the ongoing political warfare against the West, frontline states like Lithuania are stepping up their defences. Along with t...


The New Culture Wars in Lithuania: Trouble with Soviet Heritage

Rasa Baločkaitė · 12. Apr 2015

How much Soviet heritage do we need? With opinions ranging from ‘Let’s ban everything produced during the Soviet period’ to ‘Let’s bring Lenin’s statues back into the towns,’ Lithuania ...


We, They and Ours: On the Holocaust Debate in Lithuania

Ekaterina Makhotina · 27. Sep 2016

The topic of complicity in the Holocaust has once again become the subject of heated debate. While the Polish government's move to strip internationally renowned Holocaust researcher Ja...


Romanian Writers and the Securitate. Excerpts from a Debate

Gundel Große · 02. Sep 2013

Especially among German-Romanian writers, the year 2010 saw much debate and emotional discomfiture over the nature and extent of certain writers' collaboration with Ceauşescu's secret p...


Remembrance in Transition: The Sajmište Concentration Camp in the Official Politics of Memory of Yugoslavia and Serbia

Rena Jeremić Rädle · 25. Oct 2015

There is barely a hint nowadays that the buildings across from the most popular shopping mall in downtown Belgrade once housed the biggest fascist concentration camp in Serbia. Only the...


Empty Words on Paper: The Nonexistent Debate on Extending the Lustration Law in Serbia

Daniela Mehler · 17. Apr 2013

A new lustration[1] law needs to be passed in Serbia in 2013 since the one enacted in 2003 on "accountability for human rights violations" is about to expire. This once again raises que...


The Unlucky Seven. Too Many Controversies Around the Celebration of the Seventieth Anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising in August 2014

Adam Hudek · 12. Apr 2015

The anti-fascist Slovak National Uprising in 1944 is generally considered one the most important events in modern Slovak history. This article focuses on the Uprising’s 2004 and 2014 an...


Skopje 2014: Instrumentalizing Heritage for Unexpected Results

Goran Janev · 12. Apr 2015

What does it take to change the identity of a city? It should be enough to erect a few hundred monuments of gargantuan dimensions, cast in bronze or carved in marble. If that does not s...


The 70th Anniversary of the End of WWII in Slovenia

Marko Zajc · 25. Oct 2015

In May 1985, Slovenia – one of the six ‘socialist republics’ of Yugoslavia at the time – celebrated Victory Day and the 40th anniversary of liberation. In May 2015, independent Slovenia...


Strangers at Home: Memorialisation of the Armia Krajowa in Belarus

Iryna Kashtalian · 11. Mar 2015

This article examines modern efforts in Belarus to preserve the memory of the Armia Krajowa (the Polish Home Army), an underground organisation of the Second World War which also operat...