How can we manage to create a “European space of memory” ?

Frank Morawietz works as an intercultural trainer and project manager. He has coordinated the implementation and development of the South East European Initiative of the French-German Youth Office (Deutsch Französisches Jugendwerk / Office franco-allemand pour la Jeunesse) since 2000. In this interview we discussed his expectations for this year’s conference and the importance of a multi-perspective approach to history in the Franco-German dialogue.

When was your first encounter with the conference’s topic of “European Commemoration“?

I have already participated in German-French exchange programs on the issue of remembrance and commemoration in our two countries back in the 1980ies. At that time it was mainly about the memory of the Holocaust and about a common dialogue on a painful and still very close history (I belong to the first Post-World-War-generation). On this subject there were also many personal and family related connections in the Franco-German dialogue. I experienced how enriching and helpful it was to take on different perspectives of memory along with the French: This was a cross-cultural learning experience.

From your point of view: Did the year 2014 witness a significant change in the perception of European commemoration?

In 2014 we commemorate several events: The outbreak of World War I 100 years ago, the memory of the outbreak of World War II 75 years ago, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the peaceful changes triggered in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the eastern enlargement of the EU 15 years ago. All this demonstrates how important it is to understand historical events and developments in Europe in a larger context. Especially in Germany the necessary remembrance of World War II and the Holocaust often obscures the view of history dating further back whilst in France for example the commemoration of World War I is of central importance.

Portrait Frank Morawietz
Frank Morawietz

I have also got the impression that the 100th commemoration of the outbreak of World War I was discussed at large in Southeastern Europe. In Sarajevo, the German-French Youth Office in corporation with the German Embassy and the Association KULT carried out the project “1914-2014: lessons learned“ together with 100 young people from all over Europe. On this occasion the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Harlem Désir, together with his German colleague the Minister of State for European Affairs, Michael Roth, discussed intensively on the importance of history with the young people involved in the project. It became clear with how much curiosity, imagination and commitment young Europeans talk about different images of history. But this is no surprise because: Diversity is attractive!

I personally would have liked to see a meeting of all the EU Heads of State and Government in Sarajevo this 2014 to commemorate the outbreak of World War I together. This would have again demonstrated the historical responsibility and mutual relationship – unfortunately, this opportunity has been missed.

What are the most pressing issues to be discussed at the conference “Europäische Erinnerungskulturen // European Commemoration“?

For me, the key question is how we manage to create a “European space of memory“ and a multi-perspective view of history to escape the still competing national perspectives in history books (especially in schools). Germany and France have managed to develop a Franco-German history book. Poland and Germany have realized some intensive work in this field, too. If we want to strengthen the European identity especially in the young generation, we need to strengthen the knowledge and respect for different views of history in Europe and create spaces and opportunities for collaborative intercultural learning.

What topics and speakers are you especially looking forward to?

I am especially interested in the question how we can teach history without the voices of actual witnesses and what opportunities and risks are associated with this development. We urgently need a deeper exchange of experiences and methods to teach history in Europe and at the same time a common European way of learning about new approaches to develop constructive approaches to difficult history and difficult places.

What are your overall expectations for the conference?

The most important moments in conferences to me are the opportunities to exchange experiences and to discuss the different interpretations, points of view and the multiple perspectives.

What will be your own role/topic/position at the conference?

I have the chance and the pleasure to share and discuss with the audience the experiences of the South Eastern Europe Initiative of the Franco-German-Youth office. Since the year 2000, our institution develops different exchange programs for young adults from France, Germany, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia in cooperation with the civil society. In the Western Balkans history plays a central role: Often history is “arrested“ to prove your own position in an interethnic dispute or to justify the war and the different positions in the conflict.
The question how to treat history is of essential importance for any reconciliation process. In the SEE-Initiative of the French-German-Youth Office, the topic of European commemoration has a central position.

How can the South Eastern Europe initiative of the Franco-German Youth Office contribute to enhance the perception of European Commemoration (esp. in the sense of a shared remembrance) beyond 2014?

In the context of this conference the German-French Youth Office can share and discuss its experience with the central question of the importance of remembrance and commemoration. We have collected a variety of very practical experiences in dealing with this issue in the bilateral Franco-German relations; the question how to deal with history was an essential and controversial challenge to the Franco-German reconciliation.  This process between Germany and France was and is neither simple nor to be taken for granted, it remains a challenge still today!

In the last 15 years the German-French Youth Office with its partner organizations from France, Germany and South Eastern Europe under the South Eastern Europe Initiative and in different projects has been able to collect broad experience with methods of a multi-perspective approach to history, dealing with difficult places and difficult memories in Europe or even with taboo subjects in post-conflict societies.

But besides these specific examples of the South Eastern Europe Initiative of the FGYO, the topic of history and commemoration is also a central issue in the bilateral work of the Franco-German Youth Office: How can we strengthen a culture of memory in the private and public sectors that knows, respects, and involves the points of view of others? This is of central importance for the perception of the present and especially for a common European future.

In the FGYO SEE Initiative as in its bilateral exchange projects with young people from France and Germany, the question of commemoration and remembrance will continue to take an important role in the future contributing to a European commemoration.

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