Conflicted histories and competing memories in Europe after 1945
Until recently the European Project was held for a success story when after the Fall of the Wall and the 1990s Yugoslav Wars the 2004/2007 European Eastwards enlargements seemed to have banned the possibility of war and conflict forever from the continent. As the terrible monuments of the dark 20th century, the Camps were re-appropriated at the same time as a shared European heritage of a conflicted past, and changed after decades of “forgetting” into prominent transnational sites of memory, if not tourist sites. Yet many of these “terrorscapes” reappeared at the same time as “traumascapes”, fostering new conflicts after the ending of the Cold War in the form of memory wars. Thus the camps could be regarded both as monuments of the past and as contemporary sites of competing memories.
As for me, I am interested in the first place in the way conflicted pasts are nowadays represented at these European “campscapes” – who owns the past and which stories are being told and excluded? This may confront us with hegemonic Holocaust stories and the phenomena of forgotten or silenced “holocausts” of non-Jewish prisoners with a less prominent role in present-day memory culture. Yet, it might also address the conflicted relation between Holocaust memory and Gulag memory, between the complicated issue of forced labour camps in relation to Jewish destruction camps, and the competing “Western” Holocaust and “Eastern-European” Occupation paradigms. Whereas, thirdly, I would like to stress the future of the camps in European memory culture in the context of the open wound of Srebrenica and the ongoing ethno-nationalist revival.
In short, the “Era of the Camps” (Zygmunt Bauman) might soon lose its symbolic meaning for new generations grown up in a Europe defending its self-proclaimed Order against the assumed threat of the Other by the use of new camps and barbed wire during the present refugee crisis.
Rob van der Laarse is founding director of the Amsterdam School for Heritage and Memory Studies (AHM) at the University of Amsterdam and Westerbork professor at VU University Amsterdam.