“Don’t Mention the War”: Reconciling WW2 Narratives to Ensure Safer European Future
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“Don’t Mention the War”: Reconciling WW2 Narratives to Ensure Safer European Future
4th May 2020 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
As Europe is to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of WW2, national narratives of those historic events hugely differ across Europe. Identity and historical memory are often hijacked by populist and nationalist agendas and history suddenly enters the political mainstream. In Britain, the tabloid media has often fallen back on spurious references of getting rid of “German” control. In Putin’s Russia, the “Great Patriotic War” – despite its very real sacrifices during the conflict – has been made a centrepiece of contemporary Russian identity, justifying aggression against its neighbours as a crusade against “Ukrainian fascists.” Many countries remain confined to their respective WW2 narratives, often downplaying collaboration and overplaying their nation’s heroism. On the other hand, many people in the West are oblivious to the extent of bloodshed experienced by Eastern European countries of today (namely Poland, Ukraine, Belarus) in the fight against Nazism. The lack of a shared vision of lessons from WW2 hampers understanding of the Holocaust and the industrial scale that it took in the lands squeezed between Hitler and Stalin.
The discussion will be preceded by a short presentation of a bespoke research project about key historical narratives of the 20th century across leading media of 6 European countries (Poland, Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany, UK) over 2018-2019. The research was organized and funded by the Ukrainian Institute (Kyiv) and One Philosophy Group of Companies. The research uncovered divergence or omittance in interpreting key events of that century, relating to WW2 (such as perceptions of Russia’s contribution to the defeat of Nazism and interpretations of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). The research findings will be unveiled by Nataliia Popovych (founder, One Philosophy; co-founder, Ukraine Crisis Media Centre).
The Ukrainian Institute London and The Henry Jackson Society are proud to present an outstanding panel of speakers to discuss these issues, supported by the Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter Foundation.
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Krzystof Czyżewski is a practitioner of ideas, writer, philosopher, culture animator, theatre director, editor. Co-founder and president of the Borderland Foundation (1990) and director of the Centre “Borderland of Arts, Cultures and Nations” in Sejny. Together with his team, in Krasnogruda on the Polish-Lithuanian border he revitalized a manor house once belonged to Czesław Miłosz family, and initiated there an International Center for Dialog (2011). Among his books are: The Path of the Borderland (2001), Line of Return (2008), Trust & Identity: A Handbook of Dialog (2011), Miłosz – Dialog – Borderland (2013), Miłosz. A Connective Tissue (2014), The Krasnogruda Bridge. A Bridge-Builder’s Toolkit (2016), A Small Center of the World. Notes of the Practitioner of Ides (2017, Tischner Award for the best essayist book of the year), Żegaryszki (2018, haiku poems), and Towar Xenopolis (2019). Teacher and lecturer, a visiting professor of Rutgers University and University of Bologna. He received a title of the Ambassador of European Year of Intercultural Dialog (Brussels). He is a laureate of Dan David Prize 2014 and Irena Sendlerowa Prize 2015. Together with the Borderland team he is the 2018 Princess Margriet European Award for Culture (Amsterdam) laureate.
Serhii Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University. A leading authority on Eastern Europe, who has published extensively in English, Ukrainian and Russian, he has lived and taught in Ukraine, Canada and the United States. His recent books include The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (2015), The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union (2015), The Cossack Myth: History and Nationhood in the Age of Empires (2012) and Yalta: The Price of Peace Viking/Penguin (2010; 2011).
Nataliia Popovych is an entrepreneur, international communications expert and civic activist. She is the Co-Founder of Ukraine Crisis Media Center (UCMC), Head of the International Programming Board, Centre Anne de Kyiv and Founder of One Philosophy – a multidisciplinary group of companies. Nataliia specializes in consulting organizations on reputation strategy, brand development, executive coaching, crisis management and strategic communications. After the Revolution of Dignity, Nataliya has been at the forefront of Ukraine’s efforts to counter Russian hybrid warfare and together with a number of communications and international relations professionals she has cofounded the Ukraine Crisis Media Center. In 2014-2016 Nataliia served in the capacity of an advisor on information policy to the Chief of the President’s Administration of. In 2017-2018, Nataliia helped launch two new units of UCMC – the Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group (HWAG) and UChoose.info. With HWAG Natalia counsels Ukraine’s international partners across the globe on the threats and disinformation campaigns stemming from the Russian Federation against the EU, NATO, Western democratic governments and societies. Via supporting UChoose.info Nataliia ensure the civil society’s contribution to fighting populism and advocating for the critical thinking, ethical agenda and public education. She is a member of the senate of the Ukrainian Catholic University and one of the co-founders of the Ukrainian Academies of Leadership.
Brendan Simms is Professor in the History of International Relations at the University of Cambridge, Director of the Forum on Geopolitics at the University of Cambridge, and President of the Henry Jackson Society. He is the author of ‘Europe. The Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present’ (London, 2013), ‘Britain’s Europe. A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation’ (London, 2016), and ‘Hitler. Only the World Was Enough‘ (London, 2019).
Adrian Karatnycky is a member of the Board of Directors of the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter Initiative. He is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council in the United States and director of its Ukraine-North America Dialogue. From 1993 until 2003, he was President of Freedom House, during which time he developed programs of assistance to democratic and human rights movements in Belarus, Serbia, Russia, and Ukraine and devised a range of long-term comparative analytic surveys of democracy and political reform. For twelve years he directed the benchmark survey Freedom in the World and was co-editor of the annualNations in Transit study of reform in the post-Communist world. He is a frequent contributor to Foreign Affairs, Newsweek, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, theFinancial Times, theInternational Herald Tribune, and many other periodicals. He is the co-author of three books on Soviet and post-Soviet themes.
In “Don’t Mention the War”: Does Europe need a Shared Historical Narrative of WW2?, Adrian Karatnycky of the Ukraine in Europe Program chaired a panel consisting of Krzystof Czyżewski from the Borderland Foundation, Nataliia Popovych from One Philosophy group, historian Serhii Plokhy, and historian and President of the Henry Jackson Society, Brendan Simms. The panel discussed the concept of a shared narrative and the need for Europe to come together and integrate individual national narratives into a comprehensive discourse. Nataliia Popovych began the discussion by presenting her research on media coverage and historical narratives of WWII on behalf of One Philosophy group and the Ukrainian Institute. Popovych’s research analysed media coverage from 2018 and 2019 of WWII in the UK, France, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia. There was a significant disparity in media coverage with over 290 Ukrainian samples from these years compared to, for example, five French pieces. Popovych offered that this may speak to a lack of media attention to rethinking the lessons of WWII and also that this is indicative of a new understanding emerging within Ukrainian media of WWII as a tragic event. From her sample of over 500 media publications, some major trends emerged. British media emphasised the role of Churchill and the aftermath for the British Empire; French media focused on re-evaluating the events of 1939-45; German media drew parallels into the present; Polish media placed an emphasis on victimization from two aggressive regimes simultaneously; Ukrainian media referred to the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact and drew parallels to the present; Russian media portrayed a narrative of heroism as per the conceptualisation of the “Great Patriotic War”. The other panellists research and insights aligned with Popovych’s findings. For example, Professor Simms offered that Germany has confronted the past and within the UK there is a positive story around actively taking on the Nazis. Similarly, Czyżewski confirmed Popovych’s findings on Polish narratives of victimization and urged that Poland must move beyond this narrative and open itself up to the narratives of its neighbours.
Along the lines of Popovych’s research, the panel discussed the difficulties of constructing a shared narrative. Czyżewski offered from his experiences, the challenge to a shared narrative comes from internal divisions in a country, rather than conflicting narratives from neighbour states. This aligned with the observations from Karatnycky, Popovych, and Professor Plokhy who see Ukraine as currently being deeply divided over the national narrative – a political battleground. This is in large part due to the Russian tactic of weaponizing history and creating false narratives to achieve political ends. The current narrative in Ukraine is characterised as one of contrasting heroes and villains. Karatnycky and Plokhy offered that there needs to be a rebalancing of the Ukrainian narratives to, unlike Czyżewski’s prescription for Poland, emphasis the tragedy of the events. This aligned with Popovych’s insight of a new Ukrainian consensus emerging, as evidenced by the significant media coverage.
Fundamentally, the panellists all agreed that there is a utility in a shared narrative. A shared narrative brings together the diversity in experiences and incorporates difference rather than minimising the inconvenient histories. The panellists agreed that a major step to achieving this incorporate the Western and Eastern perspective into one collective memory. As Simms discussed, it is not so much that the West lacks a conceptualisation of the Eastern front, but rather that conceptualisation is dominated by the Soviet experience, when in actuality, there were many other actors with their own histories at play. Fundamental to achieving this, Czyżewski offered, is a sense of a European identity along with, as Plokhy put forth, and an exchange of Western and Eastern historians within the discourses. The panellists offered that there is strength in a shared narrative, because when the narrative is shared, there is space to express one’s own national experiences and trauma.
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