The Faculty of Arts at the Charles University of Prague and namely the Institute for the Study of Strategic Regions (ISSR) in cooperation with French Center in Humanities and Social Sciences (CEFRES) and Central European Network for Teaching and Research in Academic Liaison (CENTRAL) hosted an international conference on “World War II: History and Memory” on 28-30th of March 2019. This event engaging scholars from various disciplines from history to social sciences, art and gender studies and representing different universities and institutions in Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden and Ukraine, was organized in the framework of “Beyond Hegemonic Narratives and Myths-BOHEMs (PRIMUS) Research Project”.
On Thursday evening opening remarks were delivered by Professor of European History at the University College Dublin, Mr. Robert Gerwarth conceptualizing the interwar period and looking at historical continuities and history wars at that time as well as the cultural mobilization of masses across the continent. This introductory speech set a tone and defined the entire framework of the conference rich in micro level case studies covering Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Balkans, raising original questions and examining historical actors, events and discourses. Besides, the speakers analyzed how the legacies of the troubled past are handled today in western and eastern Europe: focusing on the development of post-holocaust Erinnerungskultur in Germany, post 1989 patriotization of Gulag memory in post-communist Europe (with major accents on Polish, Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian and Russian cases) and the patriotization (or call it a nationalization) of holocaust memory in the Balkans.
Of particular interest to me was the speech given by a scholar from Ukraine Andrii Rukkas analyzing the Second World War and Ukraine’s Current policy of National Remembrance and the keynote lecture on Remembering the Soviet Gulag at war by Dean Healey, professor of Modern Russian History from Oxford School of Global and Area Studies. During the informal talks we exchanged our contacts and I was also promised to get a syllabus of Mr. Healey’s course soon. Representative of Holocaust Memorial Museum, Natalya Lazar gave me some useful contacts of Holodomor researchers based in Toronto.
I found Professor Barbara Toernquist-Plewa’s lecture on the Europeanization of the memories of the World War II (mostly based on the secondary sources) very instructive as well. It was a comprehensive overview of the field and its development since the immediate aftermath of WWII up until today. Professor Plewa introduced me to some important authors in the field I was yet unaware of.
Specific panels were dedicated to students of Charles University presenting their research projects. Rose Joy Smith’s presentation on the representation of Soviets vis-à-vis Nazis in the Museum of Communism gave me lots of fresh ideas on how to read texts and images the contemporary history museums put on display.
Generally, topics presented at the conference gave room for interesting comparisons, chronological as well as spatial: from the contested memory and historical consciousness of post- Tito Yogoslavia, and the Artistic Memory of the Holocaust in Commemorative Practices in Central and South East Europe, to Polly Jones’ insightful study on the readers’ letters about the satire novel on WWII (Vladimir Voinovich’s “Chonkin”) in the context of Glasnost and the representation of World War II in Ukrainian Literature during the Khruschev Period by Radko Mokryk.
At the very end of the conference, when the audience was invited to give its feedback, one of the conference attendees mentioned how important it is to embrace diverse perspectives across the globe as well and brought Japan as an interesting example of a democratic state yet having a very poor performance in coming to terms with its difficult past. I suggested broadening the regional scope and including case studies from and about Caucasus, the Baltic region and Central Asia in the future programs, as post-communist mnemonic landscape is very heterogenic and there is still a considerable knowledge gap to fill.
Ana Lolua (participant of the Carl Friedrich Lehmann-Haupt International Doctoral Program)