The employment of history towards political ends is a very real problem in all of the post-socialist countries of Europe, where the fall of communism has been followed by efforts to build new identities. Wherever it occurs, such abuse of history is equally untoward: when used to whip up anti-Russian nationalism, as is sometimes the case in Central and Eastern Europe, and when used to stymie discussion of the tragedies of the communist past, as is occurring in Russia. By “defending” the official version of Soviet history against “falsification” and turning a blind eye to the crimes of the communist regime, Russia’s political leadership is restoring, if only in part, the legacy of Soviet totalitarianism, thus giving rise to still new obstacles to the formation of a new Russian nation.
Russia: Power and History
Following its neighbors into the politics of history, Russia only reinforces the atmosphere of intransigence. But this symmetrical response, in which each “yes” from the other side must inevitably provoke a corresponding “no”, is not necessarily an effective weapon against the historical policies of other states. A reasonable and dignified tactic would be to respond not in kind, but by developing a dialogue with the opponents of the politics of history – including historians and public figures – in all of the countries involved. There are such people in Russia, and they will continue their work.
Ukraine: Holodomor and Nation Building
Historical policy in independent Ukraine developed along the standard lines for post-communist societies. Throughout the post-communist space, history is used as an argument in political debates and as a tool for sorting out relations with neighboring countries, particular with Russia as the successor to the USSR. Such policies are always led by the state and claim as their goal the creation of national unity and civic consciousness; the results, however, are ubiquitous domestic and international conflict.
Polish Debates About History in the 21st Century
Whenever attempts are made to construct a discourse of memory in which “one’s own country” is seen to dominate “others”, there is a danger that memory may be captured. On the other hand, in a “Europe without borders” it is unreasonable to expect that democratic entities, united by identity, will function in hermetic spaces, all the more so as collective memory is constantly amended and reconsidered within internal structures.
China: The Return of the Will of Heaven
Olga Borokh and Alexander Lomanov
Members of the liberal intelligentsia are attempting to re-think the dominant interpretation of history, in order to open Chinese minds to influence from abroad. Their nationalist opponents respond with harsh criticism of the West and call on the Chinese to consolidate around “great goals”. The Communist Party rises above the fray as the purveyor of a centrist discourse, combining patriotism and openness to the outside world; memory of the “century of national shame” and slogans about global harmony; positive memories of the revolution and a strong commitment to reform.
Germany and France: Processing the Past
The differences between German and French historical policy can be explained in large degree by the peculiarities of 20th century history and the differing political cultures in the two countries. However, when comparing the deep preferences of both societies to one or another policy, a question arises: perhaps the French historian Marc Bloch (executed by the Nazis in 1944) was correct when he asserted that the Germans “relive their collective memories more intensely than the French, who have long been more inclined to be guided by common sense”?
Estonia: A Political Struggle for a Place in History
The political outcome of “the historians’ dispute” on Estonian soil has been a temporary moratorium on the potentially fractious debate about the meaning of the two totalitarian regimes of the past. In practical terms, this moratorium is justified by the imperative of European stability, which in turn is indelibly linked to transatlantic consensus and Western support for Russian reforms. In the early 21st century, both of these foreign policy pillars have been somewhat weakened, and Estonian domestic politics has been thrown into crisis.
The Problem of Forced Federalism
Irina Busygina and Mikhail Filippov
In Russia, the alternative to empire is not classic federalism in the American model or even the more cooperative German or Austrian varieties, but asymmetric ethnic federalism, in which significant subsidies to minorities remains necessary. However, in a functioning ethnic federation the support of territorial integrity imposes much fewer costs on the majority than in an empire. In such an arrangement, the direct “purchase” of the loyalty of ethnic elites is partially displaced by the redistribution of rights and prerogatives.
Rule of Law Temptations
In this decade, the continued growth of international attention to the rule of law in some countries involves greater reductionism rather than inclusion. The growing attention is thus as much about the fraying of an international consensus on political values as it is about a growing political convergence. Western policy actors, often eager to find signs of positive change or at least positive intent from those governments, salute their rule-of-law promises, overlooking the damage that the reductionism may cause to the health of the broader rule-of-law agenda.