“Excessive remembrance is a modern phenomenon”

Introductory remarks by Prof Dr Edgar Wolfrum, University of Heidelberg, Scientific Consultant:

“Excessive remembrance is a modern phenomenon. Of course remembrance also existed in the early modern period, but ‘Lethe’ and the art of forgetting were much more dominant at that time. Every peace treaty drawn up at the end of a conflict included ‘forgive and forget’ clauses to help forge peace. But after the wars and genocides of the 20th century everything changed – it became scandalous to forget and a duty to remember. Public discourse on history and debates on the right ways of remembering are an expression of a society’s political culture and political self-image and communicate affiliations. The choice of what is remembered, how this is done and the way past events are commemorated (and, on the other side of the coin, what is forgotten), explains and legitimises the social order of today. There are an endless number of variations, and – whether we are thinking back to Hermann, the Cherusci chieftain of 2000 years ago, the Fischer Controversy, the Holocaust or the 1989 revolution – one thing remains:  historical remembrance is always a political act.”

 

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