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Conference “Contested Memories of the Difficult Past”, Kiev, Ukraine


Under the slogan “Demokratie stärken. Zivilgesellschaft fördern” (Strenghten Democracy. Promote Civil Society), the German Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb) organised the international conference “Contested Memories of the Difficult Past. Eastern Europe and Its History of the 20th Century”. A staggering number of participants (somewhere between 100 and 200) hailing from the fields of history, sociology, anthropology, politics, media, and more, met in Kyiv, Ukraine in the President Hotel. Tim was among them!


The conference began on the 30. September, which is by no means an arbitrary date. It is evocative of the fateful days of the 29 and 30 September 1941, when the terrible massacre of 33,771 Jews from Kyiv by units of the SS and SD and their local sympathising militia took place on the periphery of the city. The slaughter of human beings occurred in a ravine, the name of which now holds an ineradicable connotation of horror: Babyn Jar.

Today Babyn Yar ranks among the most important places of remembrance of the Holocaust in general and in Eastern Europe especially and therefore also represented a main focus of discussion during the conference. However, the scope and ambition of the event was far broader than the analysis of a single incident or place.

img-20160930-wa0001Experts from various countries discussed diverse aspects of remembrance, historic narratives and their national politicisations. Opening not with a whimper but with a bang, the first thematic presentation “A Garden of Forgetfulness: European Memory Policies Today” was given by the acclaimed Timothy Snyder. His daring, controversial but thought-provoking observations on the topic resulted in an animated Q & A session.

Other speakers included the founding member of the German Green Party and civil rights activist Wolfgang Templin, film makers, writers, academics, curators and many others. In fact the amount of offered panels exceeded the limited available time. Therefore several panels had to take place simultaneously and the audience had to decide which ones to attend. A detailed programme and description of the event series “Mapping Memories” can be found here.

With all this vast amount of input, the huge number of speakers and the even huger number of participants and topics it is astonishing that Romania had been completely ignored. The briefest cursory remark during one or two talks was the only attention that had been granted to this country that can look back on two very dramatic dictatorships, an extensive participation in the Holocaust, and without question would have been an enlightening specimen regarding the handling of memory and narratives in Eastern Europe. This is a regrettable fact but emphasise the importance of a project like Echoes of Silence.

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