SIEF2017 13th Congress: Göttingen, Germany
26-30 March 2017

The politics of memorialisation: proliferating imaginations and conflicting objectives
Location KWZ 1.701
Date and Start Time 29 March, 2017 at 08:30
Sessions 2


  • Thorsten Wettich (University Göttingen) email
  • Peter Jan Margry (University of Amsterdam / Meertens Institute, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) email

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Short Abstract

This panel addresses the issue of how commemorations of major historical events and personalities are (inter-)nationally planned, locally realized and appropriated in everyday practice. It analyses the framing of memorials by political actors, non-governmental institutions and individual players.

Long Abstract

This panel addresses the issue of how jubilees and commemorations of major historical events and personalities are (inter-)nationally planned, but locally realized and appropriated in everyday practice.

For city authorities a jubilee is often an economic factor to build upon a (mental) memory scape, allowing for memorial-related tourism to happen, creating jobs and putting itself on the (inter-) national map. Hosting an important memorial-site lifts also the prestige of a municipality and brings ways of regional, national and international ties of collaboration and endorsement, of which UNESCO heritage recognition is valued as the highest.

The framing and execution of memorialization often bring up differentiation and contradiction in ideas and approaches by the involved political actors, non-governmental institutions and individual players. For example, the German memorial sites of Martin Luther function to paint the picture of a national hero of modernity, but bring also alternative local discourses, while the joint commemoration of Waterloo in 2015 resulted again in new border crossing hostilities.

In the social fabric, memorialization is about the conflicting goals aspired by different types of actors in both local and transnational settings. While sites of major historical incidents might serve as mines for identity-formation on a national scale, the same places could serve as shelters of personal and communal belonging in contradiction to certain wider political ideas. The panel therefore encourages papers that address the political struggle in the field of the negotiation of memory and space.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Remembrance and memory policy of the Roma genocide in Latvia

Author: Ieva Garda-Rozenberga (Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art of the University of Latvia)  email

Short Abstract

Romanies’ memories of genocide during WWII is marginal theme in the memory policy in Latvia. The idea of a remembrance day of the Romanies’ genocide and a place of commemoration has still not been realized due to both little activity on the part of Roma society and the lack of a political lobby.

Long Abstract

More than 70 years have passed since the Roma genocide during the WWII, but only in 2014, did Latvian Roma leaders participate in a march through the city to the banks of the Daugava River, where a symbolic release of flowers took place. With this act, the Roma leaders wished to turn society's attention to the extermination of Roma during the WWII as well as point out that there is still no memorial site in Latvia where about 2000 victims which was about half of the Roma living in Latvia at that time could be commemorated.

The paper will explain how the Roma themselves speak about the genocide and how these stories are included within the broader communicative memory of the Roma as a community. As the Roma life stories show, memories of the genocide are quite fragile, which is consistent with the fairly inexpressive Roma memory policy in Latvia in general. Keeping and handing down memory should be based on the initiative of the community itself, but in the case of the Romanies this desire conflicts with the inability of their societies to come to an agreement or with the hope that the State would be capable to deal with this issue for them. The Latvian political elite could support the recognition of a Roma genocide commemoration day and the creation of a memorial. That would encourage the mutual integration of Roma into Latvian society, as well as allow both peoples to find their lost heroes, the Roma rescuers.

Memory, heritage and the memorialisation of the Holocaust in Northern Transylvania (Romania)

Author: Sonia Catrina (CSIER-Centre for the Study of the Jewish History in Romania & CEREFREA-Centre Régional francophone de recherches avancées en sciences sociales)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the relationship between top-down and bottom-up processes of public memory building and remembrance of difficult pasts through the lens of heritage-work.

Long Abstract

Our socio-historical analysis regarding engagements towards the (re)enactment of the Jewish history in the present and its internalization into the Romanian consciousness draws on concrete top-down and bottom-up actions of memorializing and commemorating the Jewish history during the Second World War in Northern Transylvania. This is a Romanian territory where Jews and Roma people were ghettoized, and then sent directly to extermination camps (mainly to Auschwitz); therefore, a genocide was carried out under the authority of both Horthy's Hungary and Nazi Germany.

The symbolic re-enactment of Jewish history in the public sphere through heritage-making helps remodel perceptions, attitudes, and behaviours in a multi-ethnic society by promoting moral values regarding other human beings such as tolerance and mutual respect. Therefore, by examining private initiatives of heritage-making carried out with the purpose of contributing to the preservation of the memory of Jews killed during WWII and comparing them with the official ones we intend to disclose aspects of the 'social distance' and intercultural communication in Northern Transylvania.

The Monument of the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin as an example of differentiated imaginations, symbolism and conflicts of memorialization

Author: Karine Michel (IDEMEC, MMSH, Aix-en-Provence)  email

Short Abstract

The memorial of the murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin is revealing political conflicts and differentiated symbolic. By studying the memorial and debates around its creation, this communication intends to return to the symbolic and divisive scope of memorialization.

Long Abstract

As Annette Wieviorka explains, there are some places which: 'permits to apprehend the original significations people want to give' to memory (Wieviorka 1997). Indeed, monuments are often used as memorial codes for important events, which should raise a common reality. In fact, the realization of a monument results from assignments and social conflicts, revealing political constructions.

In this communication, through a focus on the monument to the murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, the aim is to uncover the various symbolisms and imaginary awarded by various actors: Jewish communities, German politicians, tourists. This memorial is the culmination of an old project of 17, finally opened in 2005. The land chosen, next to the Brandenburg Gate, is the local Nazi authorities in the Third Reich. Among the many debates that have shaken the government and the German people, the choice of location was a significant disagreement stone (Grynberg, 2004/2005). Today, the memorial consists of 2,700 stelae variable heights of concrete over an area of 19,000 m²; this specific aesthetic seeks to impose in each weight murder perpetrated by the Nazis. Paradoxically, it is paced by many visitors as a playground, because of its appearance labyrinthine conducive to fun. For the German government, the choice of this specific space in Berlin comes to mean official recognition of German historical responsibility. Within the debate also raises the question of the need for such monument in a memorial landscape already abundant. Today, the monument is, even though these questions have not found unanimous answer.

Commemoration days in Latvia: legislative aspects and practice

Author: Ilze Boldāne-Zeļenkova (Institute of Latvian History, University of Latvia)  email

Short Abstract

Due to existence of two commemoration groups there are some differences among official commemoration days (connected with WWII) and real practices in Latvia. Analysis of factors that have been influenced the content of the official calendar and groups’ chosen commemoration days will be held.

Long Abstract

The ideology and politics of two occupation powers in Latvia (Soviet (1940-1941; 1944/45-1991) and Nazi (1941-1944/45)), connected with WWII, have left a notable impact not only to the state's further development and ethnical composition but also to the nowadays climate of interethnic relationships and memory policy in the state. In the beginning of the 1990-s the Latvian political elite tried to institutionalize criteria and practices of the past, thus forming the national policy of memories (calendar of commemoration days, textbooks in history, expositions in national museums, etc.) with an aim not only to recapture the past, but also offer Latvians a common identity what due to fact of existence of two commemoration groups was almost mission impossible. Both commemoration groups are divided by interpretation of the Latvian history events included into the collective narrative, therefore, commemoration rituals and memorial places, as well as communication language and collective memory "power supply" units (two information spaces) differ.

Factors what have been influenced political actors for inclusion or removal dates from the calendar of commemoration days (pressure from international organizations, neighbouring states, etc.) and celebration practices for both commemoration groups and mutual attitude towards each other activities will be analysed.

Three memories of the same past: Bosnia-Herzegovina

Authors: Tonka Maric (University of Granada)  email

Short Abstract

This research article puts forward the importance of memory in the process of transforming post-conflict space, by analyzing hegemonic practices employed in creation and restoration of cultural heritage in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Long Abstract

This research article puts forward the importance of memory in the process of transforming post-conflict space, by analyzing hegemonic practices employed in creation and restoration of cultural heritage in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where all three main ethno-national groups (Croats, Serbs and Bosnian Muslims) consider to hold the exclusivity of the space and use elements such as language, history and memory not only to create subjective borders, but also to demarcate the territory with visual symbols such as monuments.

Thus, institutions which hold power use cultural heritage as a fundamental instrument in nation-building processes of construction and reconstruction of ethnic identities, with the main goal - to educate new generations about the so considered truth.

As a consequence, this causes further conflict and resentment among three main ethno-national groups, due to forceful imposing of one-sided interpretations of past events, which consequently leads to dissonant place and heritage management.

Tomas Bata: Czech shoemaker, entrepreneur, villain, capitalist,... and myth

Author: Barbora Vacková (Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper focuses on the history of commemoration of Tomas Bata in Zlin, the industrial city build by his factory. It will discuss the meanings of the memorials connected to him and also the techniques used to rewrite the meanings during the period of communist regime and after the 1989 again.

Long Abstract

Tomas Bata was the Czech entrepreneur and the main founder of the Bata shoe company. The story about him represents an important part of the Czech modern "mythology ": He was able to build in two decades (1918-1939) not only a worldwide company, but also a functionalist industrial city of new Zlin for more than thirty thousand workers. One of the core places of the new city became after his sudden death during air crash (1932) the "Tomas Bata Memorial", a functionalist building made of glass, giving the impression of a showcase with the falling airplane just before the impact. After the WWII the company was nationalized and the communist coup d'état made the whole story inside out. The Bata myth was waked up and reconstructed after 1989 again as one of the examples of "national skillfulness" which should be followed by the post-communist Czech Republic. At this time also the figure of Bata joints the cityscape of Zlín again - in a figurative sense but also as a new figural monument.

The paper will be focused on the history of commemoration of Bata in the urban space of the city. It will analyzed (1) the meaning of Memorial and its place in the urbanism of functionalist Zlin, (2) the technics of re-writing the meanings during the communist government and (3) the way Bata is commemorate today. The paper presents a partial conclusions of the broader research of the social-cultural transformations of the industrial city of Zlin during the 20th century.

"Luther was here": German Luther-heritage in the face of 500 years of reformation

Authors: Thorsten Wettich (University Göttingen)  email
Peter Jan Margry (University of Amsterdam / Meertens Institute, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

Martin Luther in his protest against church doctrine could not see that his 95 thesis would be commemorated as a major historical event 500 years later. The question of the paper is how ecclesiastical, federal and local authorities link their narratives of church, municipality and modernity to this event.

Long Abstract

The celebration of the 500th birthday of the drafting of Martin Luther´s 95 theses is taken in Germany as an 'event' scheduled for over a decade of years, ultimately resulting in an apotheosis in 2017. During this timeframe a memorial Luther canon or paradigm gradually came into being both in top-down and bottom-up creativity. Initially, the commemoration started as a governmental and ecclesiastical view on how Luther's thinking and Lutheranism is to be perceived, heritagized and commemorated as an expression of protestant self-understanding, the nation-state and modernity in general. During the years, the central objective, the idea of an overarching and unifying understanding of the reformation as an event of "world-significance" that started on German ground, was variously received at the local level.

A certain cluster of Luther sites situated in the former East-German federal-state of Saxony-Anhalt had to deal with the discrepancies between the living and dwelling circumstances of the local communities and the demands of (inter-) national tourism and commemoration, one of the results of the former GDR government being that only 14 % of the local population nowadays are members of a protestant denomination. Based on fieldwork in the run up year to 2017 this paper analyses the processes around memorialization, place and space in cities with the closest links to Luther´s biography: His birthplace (Eisleben) and childhood dwelling (Mansfeld) as well as his intellectual home (Wittenberg).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.