Review of the conference ” “Sharing and Learning Remembrance- European memory culture(s) in the 21st century“

Posted: May 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Charalampos Minasidis

I have the honor to submit the following report on the international open conference “Sharing and Learning Remembrance. European memory culture(s) in the 21st century” held by non-governmental organization Mostar Friedensprojekt e.V. in Potsdam, Germany from the 6th to 10th of May.

I.                   Summary

The conference focused mostly on the victims of National Socialism and Fascism during the Second World War and especially the holocaust of the Jews. Memorial places, museums, conflicting memory and historical research played a great role as well. The participants covered almost the whole of Europe and a great diversity of experiences and opinions was gained as an outcome.

II.                Conference

The opening speeches about remembrance, during the first day, were followed by a forum where the participants had to exchange information about themselves, their work and about remembrance and fascism at their country. The nature of these discussions succeeded to introduce the participants to each other and to the organizers.

The second day, found the participants working at their working groups. Ιn my case the subject was the “Undiscovered places of remembrance in province”. An explanation about the terminology was needed and the discussion continued by each participant re-introducing him/herself. Afterwards he/she presented his/her work and started explaining the history of the country he/she represented and how the latter deals with remembrance. The great diversity of experiences and opinions as well as the discussion that followed had a tremendous impact to the whole group.

Working groups continued their sessions the next day. The discussion orientated to contemporary problems, such as: immigration and discriminatory practices by some EU member-states. As Mr. Nesheim from the Grini KZ Camp, Norway, put it “we have to find ways to prevent it from happening again”. A proposal was made by me to add remembrance of colonialism, as a way to have a deeper understanding on remembrance as a whole.

Later on, organizers asked us to come up with some ideas about future projects and to discuss and plan future cooperation among ourselves. I choose the project about “The Italian War Crimes”, proposed by Marzia Gigli from the Scuola di Pace di Monte Sole, in Italy. We had a discussion about the need of organizing a conference on Italian war crimes from the late 19th century and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, to the Italian Fascist war crimes during the Second World War. We concluded that we would cooperate for the realisation of such a conference and we would apply for EU funding. Finally, the organisers presented the working groups results and evaluated the conference.

III.             Conclusion

The conference itself was really beneficial, as people from different areas, backgrounds and ages came together and discussed about a question that more or less has to do with the whole of Europe.  They exchanged their experiences and their opinions on the matter, they gained deeper knowledge and put the foundations for future cooperation. Personally, I had the chance to meet a lot of people that work on remembrance, to familiarize myself with the topic and to notice how far behind Greece lies.

By Peny Kouloglou

While travelling to Potsdam I was very anxious to meet the rest of participants and to exchange knowledge and information for such a crucial topic for peace and good neighborliness. Each one of us brought memories and perceptions from a different country with different culture and habits but our common element was not to forget what happened in the past, focusing on the World War II, in order to protect our common future. What really impressed me was the zest with which all participants wanted to share their own experience on the field of commemoration and remembrance.

At the beginning of the conference, a speech was given by two well known experts on the field. The first one was Matthias Heyl, who talked about “Sharing Conflict memories-Coping with the past”. These are issues which require delicate handlings especially when the participants come from various backgrounds. The second speaker was Ljiljana Radonic, who gave a speech about “Europe between shared Memory Standards and divided Memory”. Both of them tried to bridge any existing gap regarding knowledge on commemorating practices, conflicting memories, ways of reconciliation-memoralization, canalized memory even though most of the participants where working on relevant fields such as museums about the Holocaust or concentration camps and research institutions promoting peace through history.

At the second phase of the conference, we were separated into three different groups. My group was about “Generation 21: curricular & extracurricular education and youth work”. In my group most of the participants have a working experience with youngsters and children. The main question which arose during the group discussion was how the youth workers should instill the knowledge and bad memories of the past. Therefore, they should find ways to raise students’ awareness and sensitize them not only towards the massacres of World War II but also about prevalent situations such as discrimination and exclusion of vulnerable parts of society in their everyday life.

The youth workers are responsible of preventing the new generation of becoming onlookers of the history since education can raise persons who can become autonomous learners and are capable of self-reflexion. It was a common belief that youth projects should try to involve young people by standing closer to their needs in order to be motivated to participate. The aforementioned can become reality by the so-called “experiential learning” where the young learners are exposured to the reality through a safe and controlled environment, for instance through role playing, using theater, drama or creative writing.

The third working group concluded by indicating the importance of education for educators in relation to their working groups. Also, it is vital to teach mechanisms of how to confront or better avoid similar situations not only the history itself. What is more, a simultaneous and cooperative work should be done in the field of history from the researchers and the youth workers in order the transmission of knowledge to be updated.

In a nutshell, reaching the end of the conference the participants gathered again, exchanged their new ideas and experiences, organized future cooperation but most important gave a promise not to stop fighting towards remembrance and awareness. Thus, such conference like the nongovernmental organization Mostar Friedensprojekt prepared should be well welcomed as well as to await for more relevant initiatives. This was our common Past do not let it to be again our common Future.

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