Politics of History

Laws, policies and government programs shape historical narratives

The ways in which history and the past are used in the present are manifold. History is not only debated publicly or displayed and showcased in museums and temporary exhibitions, but historical narratives and experiences are also an integral part of political decision-making processes and of policy. Referring to the past or invoking historical images in order to strengthen political arguments, discredit political opponents or push for certain policies is a common tool in any political discourse. Especially in times of rapid change, but also in stable democracies, state representatives seek to establish a relationship to the past, whether by way of breaking with perceived wrongs or by suggesting a continuation of what is seen as morally right. Either way, politicians seek to create narratives of what happened, and to reinforce them through official speeches, laws and public policy as well as through institutional channels.

In democratic and pluralist societies, this is done in an open competition and placed under continuous scrutiny by both political opponents and a critical public. 

In this section, we collect articles that critically discuss specific policies, laws and institutions, but also speeches and statements by political leaders and state programs that offer new interpretations of the past or aim at regulating public representations of history.

Twice Before the Court: The Judicial Rehabilitation of General Dragoljub Mihailović

Srđan Milošević · 30. Oct 2017

In May 2015, the Supreme Court in Belgrade announced that General Dragoljub “Draža” Mihailović, a controversial wartime minister and commander of the anti-communist Chetniks (četnici), ...

“An Itinerary of the Creative Imagination”: Bunk’Art and the Politics of Art and Tourism in Remembering Albania’s Socialist Past

Raino Isto · 16. May 2017

On 22 November 2014 a multi-level underground bunker on the outskirts of Tirana, the Albanian capital city, was opened to the public for the first time. The bunker had originally been c...

1956 Reloaded: The Sixtieth Anniversary Celebrations of the Hungarian Revolution

Nora Borodziej · 16. Feb 2017

The Hungarian revolution of 1956 was one of the key events in recent Hungarian history. The celebrations surrounding its sixtieth anniversary took a new, yet expected turn when Viktor O...

The Politics of National History: Russia and the Centenary of Revolutions

James Ryan · 20. Jan 2017

The focus of this article is the Russian state’s attempts to prepare for the challenges of commemorating the centenary of the 1917 revolutions, at precisely a time when the state has be...

The Bolek Affair: Or, Kiszczak’s Cupboard and the Meaning of History

Piotr Osęka · 24. May 2016

This news dominated Polish newspaper headlines for several weeks: on 16 March 2016, the media reported that attorneys from the Institute of National Remembrance (INR) had entered the fl...