Anniversaries remind us of the major caesuras in human history. Regarding the 20th century the recent anniversaries are: 100 years after the outbreak of WWI; 75 years after the outbreak of WWII; 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
As turning points and a foundation of European unification and agreements, these commemorative events are little disputed. Nevertheless, there are several different evaluations, interpretations, and narratives concerning these historical landmarks. Outside of expert circles, these different interpretations are often barely known. However, an elaboration of these different and sometimes dividing narratives is crucial to understand current policies and conflicts, e.g., in Eastern Europe. A multi-perspective and critical engagement with the history has a big potential to prevent and defuse conflicts.
Not only historians, also states, governments, publics, societies, communities, individuals commemorate. Commemoration is an active practice. It is a practice of the present, shaping perceptions, experiences, and interpretations. While bringing together leading scholars, education experts, consultants, and professionals from a broad range of fields, from civil society activism to museum management we reflect the importance and influence of various narratives about WWI, WWII and colonial pasts.
What could be European about this commemoration? A concept of space? A definition of Europe by ethical standards of how to deal with past? Or more a performative understanding: As there will always be different ways of commemorating the world wars, a common European discourse could be perhaps a keenness to get to know the other perspectives, an eagerness to learn about the dreams and traumas history has left to our neighbours. The ability to engage in free and controversial conversations, tolerating diversity, allowing oneself to be inspired by diversity could serve as a shared European vision.
With its many debates and encounters in Europe, these anniversaries extended already knowledge about each other, in terms of both place and time. However, this process must be continued, above all with regard to Eastern Europe. Last not least also looking beyond Europe is becoming increasingly important. We should never be sure about potential blind spots.