European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018

Memory landscapes of Europeans. Is it possible to give a European meaning to national realms of memory?

Publication: 3 April 2023

NO. 33 2018

The practice of research on memory shows that even the most magnificent buildings, events, symbols, etc., important for humanity, do not by themselves become part of heritage or culture of memory. And they don’t have to tell us anything. It is “us” – historians, politicians, artists, writers, citizens – who must first give meaning to them.


The hypocrite fears his own shadow,

When his inner conviction deafens him.

While true virtue, assured of its innocence,

Is not afraid of criticism.


It is not without a reason that for the motto of our essay we chose a fragment of “Antymonachomachia” [Against War of the Monks] by Ignacy Krasicki (1735–1801), one of the most eminent writers of Polish Enlightenment, the “Prince of Poets”, a satirist, a Catholic bishop and at the same time a friend of the Protestant king of Prussia, Frederick II. It goes to the heart of our perverse attitude to the European Heritage Label, one of the flagship projects of the European Commission. We like the European Heritage Label initiative so much that we appeal for its thorough criticism. Without it, this project can only become a catchword, which will drown in the rivalry of national memory cultures and historical policies. In order for this not to happen, it is necessary to create a solid methodological framework for the project and a system for its social implantation and dissemination. In short, the more we are in favour of the European Heritage Label, the more we want to subject it to thorough criticism!

The foundation and the impulse for our reflection is the theory of research on collective memory and the practices and mechanisms of commemoration. We will refer mainly to the Polish-German cultures of memory project and to the didactics of history in a broad European comparative context. Three questions/problems provide a specific context for reflection. First, what sets the methodological traps in the current formula of the European Heritage Label project? Second, why do we need an identity-forming debate about Europe in the first place? And finally, what are the possibilities (the potential) of endowing the project with a theoretical framework in order for it to become a desirable and living phenomenon in the European social debate?



On the website of the project we read: “European Heritage sites bring to life the European narrative and the history behind it. They are about much more than just aesthetics.”[1] In our opinion, this very formulation of the European Heritage Label manifesto contains the crux of the matter. The practice of research on memory shows that even the most magnificent buildings, events, symbols, etc., important for humanity, do not by themselves become part of heritage or culture of memory. And they don’t have to tell us anything. It is “us” – historians, politicians, artists, writers, citizens – who must first give meaning to them. We must build a narrative and a communication strategy around this meaning, so that it is remembered and interesting to a wide range of people. To this end, it is necessary to stimulate emotions in order for people to identify themselves with these places, to get to know them, to build their own emotional relations and their own stories around them. Only then, potentially, the memory sites of the European Heritage Label have a chance to move from stored memory – that is, somehow enforced in the process of acquiring obligatory knowledge – to the status of functional memory, i.e. a living memory which is of real interest to Europeans. This is what the process we expect – not only the European Commission, but above all we, the citizens of Europe.

The problem is that the sites of memory (as the organisers formally call them) proposed for the European Heritage Label are a rather loose and vague collection which in itself does not create any coherent narrative about the history of Europe. Instead, there is a potential for a dangerous development that we would call European rivalry for national memories.

It is enough to look at the list of realms of memory that have already been awarded the status of the European Heritage Label to get an impression that we are entering a beautiful garden of events and artefacts from the past. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a plan and cohesion there – a narrative that would unite them into a convincing message for several hundred million Europeans. It is also necessary to answer the question whether all the realms of memory on the list have the potential to create collective identities at the universal European level. The list includes, for example, important prehistoric archaeological excavations, monuments of religious and secular architecture, as well as complexes of urban planning, museum and library collections, and important educational institutions. It also includes documents of state acts important for the history of individual countries and nations (e.g. the Polish Constitution of 3 May or the Lublin Union Act), as well as documents of more universal significance, recognised at first glance by an average citizen of Europe as par excellence “European”, for example the original of the Treaty of Maastricht. Although each of them is important in national narratives, it does not mean much for the memory or narrative about Europe.

Our reflections were prompted by the expression “sites of memory” which the creators of the European Heritage Label used in English, a reference to the famous work of the French historian Pierre Nora “Les lieux de Mémoire.”[2] Meanwhile, all professional translations rightly use the term realms of memory, which corresponds more to the metaphorical (narrative) potential of the French le lieu or its Latin prototype locus (loci in the plural). In this respect, the Polish “miejsce” (place) is universal and multi-interpretative in its nature, although in the local linguistic tradition it is dominated by the martyrological context and is almost automatically associated with places of “struggle and suffering” of the Polish nation.

The idea is, therefore, to transform the sites of memory listed by the European Heritage Label and stored in national memory cultures – or even devoid of such national reach – into transnational, living places or realms of memory. In this context, we would like to use the definition developed in the transnational 2007–2016 project “Polish-German Realms of Memory,” in which 117 authors from six European countries took part and which resulted in the publication of four volumes in Polish and five in German.[3] They contain essays devoted to 99 selected realms of memory – Erinnerungsorte.


In our opinion realms of memory can be both real and imagined historical phenomena: events, topographic places (real and fictional), characters, artefacts, symbols that participate in shaping societies’ identities and in the way neighbours regard one another. The realms-of-memory researcher is interested in the essence of the processes by which identity is constructed and stabilised, in the phenomenon of the past in the present, since in the case of realms of memory the object of analysis is the complex history of memory, and not just the culture of memory existing in the here-and-now. It is therefore necessary to historicise memory, and, moreover, to historicise the process of collective remembering (and forgetting). A description of realms of memory alone is not enough. The recognition of their meaning for identity requires constant research if they are to fulfil their functions. [4]

In the public space, the attitude towards realms of memory, to which monuments may also belong, is subject to separate mechanisms. The remark of the Austrian writer and theatre critic Robert Musil is worth recalling here. Thinking about the purposefulness of founding various monuments and about the essence of their peculiar life, Musil claimed that, contrary to the intentions of their creators, they quickly become dead spots in the landscape. They are created in order to celebrate heroic deeds, to recall eminent figures and glorious events, in a way similar to the social function of the European Heritage Label. And most often this initiatory role ends at the moment of their ceremonial unveiling. Then we are possibly reminded of their existence and importance on the occasion of anniversaries, until they finally become dead points in the topography, while the celebrations turn into increasingly boring events, in which fewer and fewer people take part. Finally, these objects serve only as a kind of signpost: “Beyond this monument, turn left (or right)”. To transform the sites into living realms of memory, you need not only a label but also a strategy for their public life. It requires not so much a ritualised celebration as creative and persistent activities that would inspire people from different generations and of different political or social leanings to discuss, celebrate, and thus to remember.

The discussion on how to transform national experiences into universal, European stories has been going on for years. The last vividly discussed example of how difficult it is to come up with a model for such a universal European narrative is the exhibition at the House of European History in Brussels, focused on European history since 1789. We do not want to delve into the multilayered discussion raging both before and after the opening of the permanent exhibition in May 2017.[5] We just want to point out that one of the important themes of this discussion in various countries was the lack of “our history”, i.e. insufficient presence of some national perspective. Perhaps frameworks for the universalisation of narratives, similar to dialogic remembrance (dialogisches Erinnern), proposed by the German researcher Aleida Assmann,[6] or to polyphonic remembrance, around which Robert Traba develops his research,[7] are today, in the era of the greatest renationalisation of memory after 1945, only a utopian idée fixe, which only the next generations will find it possible to implement?

The claim about the domination of the national (“our”) factor over the European one is confirmed by the celebrations of one of the (theoretically) most important anniversaries in the history of Europe – the anniversary of the end of the Second World War on 8/9 May. Looking at national commemorations of this day in Europe both in 2015, i.e. on the 70th anniversary of the event, and in the following years, leads to rather sceptical conclusions. Contrary to the slogan of “common European memory” and the consensus on the date, most European countries built their own narrative about victory and mainly – which is very important – about their own victims.[8]



Do we not risk falling into a similar trap of national rivalry when selecting further realms of memory for the European Heritage Label list? Are there mechanisms in place to prevent such a development? Will it be possible to create a mechanism for searching for the factor of Europeanness “not at home”, but in a “foreign”, even distant country? Why do we need an identity-forming debate about Europeanness in the first place?

As for the last question, we would like to start with the claim of the British historian and “the Guardian” columnist Timothy Garton Ash, who a few years ago defined Europe’s current situation as an existential crisis.[9] Its most visible manifestations are the intensifying processes of renationalisation and the growth of the so-called anti-system movements, whose ideological core is the return to populist national causes from the beginning of the 20th century. They feed and flourish on a wave of interpreting ideologically the unprecedented influx of refugees and immigrants from areas of war and famine in the Middle East and Africa, and migration within the European Union. If there is a crisis, we need to redefine the dominant old narratives in order to create a new continental identity and salvage what has been achieved so far in the domain of integration and civic education.

The ideal situation would be a scenario in which immigrants, settling in European countries for a longer or shorter period of time, would retain part of their heritage, but at the same time, through successful integration, absorb some part of the heritage of the host country. To achieve such a successful integration, it may be useful to invoke the continental (i.e. European) universal cultural heritage recognised as common heritage. It would therefore be a matter of settling in a foreign space not through a rivalry between one’s own heritage and the foreign one, but rather through getting to know otherness and accepting diversity, that is to say, the multiplicity of “houses”, i.e. places where I find myself in the richness of the diverse cultural space surrounding me. In such a space, I would not feel alienated and I would not even feel the need to alienate in order to preserve the identity which I had before arriving in the country that is becoming my new home.

Meanwhile, the opposite situation is now emerging. As far as migrants (not refugees) are concerned, it is well illustrated by Benedict Anderson’s claim about so-called diaspora nationalism or long-distance nationalism.[10] Immigrants not only find it difficult to get to know and accept the cultural otherness of their host country, but they also strengthen their identifying with their own people.


“These people [immigrants] often try to compensate for the lack of acceptance with pride in their country of origin. This has been made much simpler by mass communication. […] This produces an image of the homeland which turns out to be more emotionally interesting for the diaspora members than the country in which they currently live.”[11]


The legacy of the abandoned homeland is often treated as the most important part of someone’s personality: it protects his or her identity from the domination of the majority culture, but at the same time it strengthens the attitude of assertive nationalism, much more intense than at the time when they were leaving their home country.

This is a conflict generating process for which it is difficult to find a remedy today. We certainly need new integration strategies at the socio-political level. In the area of culture, action to promote the shared inheritance of Europe’s cultural heritage could play an important role. Invoking the common European heritage can, on the one hand, build a modern identification of Europeans with Europe by teaching them to understand the diversity of their own national cultures of memory and, on the other hand, be a kind of catalyst to relieve conflict-generating tensions between individual European nations and incoming migrants. Both representatives of the various European nations and immigrants can find common ground for dialogue, while respecting the transnational (properly recognised and internalised) heritage of the continent. Consequently, the European Heritage Label project, as the quintessence of such a process, has the potential to become one of the important instruments for the Europeanisation of European nations and their new inhabitants in the spirit of invention of tradition, to cite Eric Hobsbawm’s and Terence Ranger’s term. Using it in order to create a common European tradition would perhaps be paradoxical, since this concept was applied to the 19th- and 20th-century process of nation-state building and related phenomena such as nationalism.[12] However, we would like to create a tradition which would not serve to create a national identity and unity of individual nations, but a transnational identity, composed of a polyphony of legacies of different European nations, entering into a dialogue with each other. This process, of which Europe’s cultural heritage is part, is called polyphony of memory (see above).

The Oldenburg historian Hans Henning Hahn, looking for a model for a cross-border policy of memory in Europe, noticed that although the uniting Europe needs a common memory, this process is accompanied by a desire for an authoritative interpretation not only of the history of Europe, but also of the history of the regions or individual countries of Europe. Building hegemonic memory discourses by using the advantage of the potential of “one’s own country over another” is still being practised, which creates the danger of a one-sided memory appropriation. At the same time, it is difficult to expect that democratic identity communities, in a “Europe without borders”, will function in an enclosed space, all the more so because in internal structures collective memory is also subject to a constant process of change and social renegotiation. It is therefore necessary to work out new, safe rules of political play, which can be defined as a code of conduct in the area of memory policy. Its fundamental point would be the autonomy of individual communities of memory, which should be respected in relation to their memories / experiences and to the memories / experiences of “others”. It is not yet a dialogue, but a step in its direction. Only such a polyphony of different European memories can gradually lead to a dialogue on an equal footing. For this to happen, however, it is first necessary to bring the knowledge about each other to an equal level and to overcome the deeply rooted colonial interpretative habits in the relations between the West and East of Europe. It is a long, incremental process, and a good example is the practice of joint inheritance and cultural succession. Through such practices and dissemination of the polyphony of memory, dialogic remembrance will perhaps also become attainable in the future.[13]



The above formula does not have to be just an intellectual construction if we try to translate it into the language of cultural practices. So how to tell the story of Europe, how to invent its new tradition, starting from the limitations – but also from the advantages – of national narratives?

Such a task is hindered, among other things, by the danger of old national narratives being remythologised. In order to show the problem in real terms, we will refer to the experience of one of the largest European research projects on realms of memory in a transnational perspective, i.e. “Polish-German Realms of Memory”. We hope that it avoided the pitfalls of the French prototype for studying lieux de mémoire. The price for the success of the lieux de mémoire idea as conceived by Nora (let us recall that it refers exclusively to France) was that his model started to be reproduced too mechanically by subsequent projects that presented different realms of memory of individual nation states from a purely national perspective. This often led to the remythologisation of national realms of memory created mainly in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The bilateral Polish-German context allowed us to avoid this trap. First, because the central two national perspectives, Polish and German, forced us to distance ourselves from exclusive national interpretations. In order not to muddle the story with other examples, let us use the already outlined problem of one of the most recognisable realms of memory in the world: “8/9 May 1945”, the date of the official end of the Second World War in Europe. As we have already said, even now there is no common interpretation of this day among European countries. Against the backdrop of universal history, we had to present two perspectives on this event, i.e. the Polish perspective, that of the “winner”, albeit highly questionable in the light of Poland’s dependence on the USSR after 1945, and the German one, i.e. of the “defeated” side and the perpetrator of one of the greatest man-made cataclysms in the history of Europe.[14] Without writing off any national interpretation, we showed an agonistic (Chantal Mouffe) image of memories of Poles and Germans arguing with each other.

Second, in addition to national perspectives, we have created a network of regional, social, religious, and gender references. This in a way led to an automatic deconstruction of the national perspective and the demythologisation of selected realms of memory for the sake of a pluralised story about Poles and Germans in a broad European context.

Another example of a constructive approach to the universalisation of national narratives is the Polish-German project of a common history textbook.[15] It was officially launched in 2008 by the governments of Poland and Germany and the Joint Polish-German Textbook Commission of Historians and Geographers, and since 2012 it has been implemented with the participation of two commercial publishing houses from Poland and Germany. It is the second example in Europe (and, it might be added, in the world, after the Franco-German Histoire-Geschichte[16]) of a transnational textbook for teaching history at school. Two volumes of the Polish-German textbook have already been published under a meaningful title Europe. Our history.[17]

The scope of the textbook goes beyond the history of the founding countries of the European Union, i.e. Western Europe, and restores the balance in the Western-Eastern Europe narrative. An important element of the narrative and didactic framework is the assumption that Europe’s heritage is not based on one, but on several pillars: on the legacy of antiquity, including not only the culture of ancient Greece and Rome, but also part of the legacy the civilisations of the so-called Middle East left; on the heritage of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and early medieval pagan Europe, jointly creating the European civilisation through exchange and cultural transfer in various dimensions; on the heritage of modern secular European culture, “invented” at the end of the 18th century, for which the symbolic watershed is the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789.

The sections “At the same time in Europe”[18] show not only the parallelism of similar events and processes in different parts of the European continent, but also the reciprocal influence of Europe and the non-European world. This is because we assume that it is difficult to define Europe within its strict geographical boundaries. Europe has always been and remains a continent with open borders which it is difficult to define precisely. One could even risk the claim that the openness of our continent to exchange and interaction with other cultural regions defined and still defines the essence of the cultural processes taking place in Europe to a larger extent than its borders, which remain purely “imaginary”.

In the textbook we also take into account issues directly related to the broadly conceived cultural heritage and culture of memory. An example of this is provided by the sections “The past in the present”.[19] Their essence is to show how various manifestations of European (but also non-European) histories and cultures, from architectural monuments to language (borrowings from other languages), affect the everyday life and civilisation of Europe today. The aim is to reflect on the generally not apprehended multilayered nature of Europe’s contemporary culture, which is deeply rooted in the history of various cultural regions of our continent and other parts of the world.

One of the most important principles that we use in creating narratives about the history of Europe are the didactic principles of controversy and multi-perspective approach. They are articulated in the “Points of View” sections, where we present the voices of historians who evaluate the same historical event, person, or issue in a different way.[20] Thanks to this we introduce the students to the fact that the same phenomena from the past can be interpreted in various national historiographies and cultures of memory in completely different ways.

The subchapter “Regions that unite and divide” plays an important role in the narrative about “our Europe”. It appears in every volume of the textbook and is most often devoted to Silesia – a typical borderland region, whose cultural landscape has been shaped by the heritage of Polish, German, and Czech cultures from the Middle Ages to the present day.[21] It seems that cultural heritage conceived as a palimpsest of different influences and exchange processes can best be observed in, so to speak, certain natural laboratories, such as borderland areas inhabited over the centuries by different neighbouring ethnic groups.

Finally, from strictly bilateral and inter-state examples, we will move to the level of local culture and grassroots initiatives, which are the foundation of civil society. We mean the activities of the Cultural Community “Borussia” from Olsztyn. The association was founded in 1990, during the period of the great transition after the fall of communism in Poland. It has created an original programme, the meaning of which can be summed up with the formula “act locally, think universally”.

The essence of the Olsztyn “Borussia” programme is based on several key concepts, briefly explained in the anthology published under the eloquent title “Time of crossing borders”. These concepts build up a modern story about a specific place/region, country (Poland) and Europe. They include “open regionalism”, “reading the cultural landscape”, and “cultural succession”. The concept of “open regionalism” has become an intellectual skeleton of the whole project.[22] It is about reflection and about shaping open civic attitudes, which are to engender a new regional, Polish and European tradition. In practice, these objectives define actions to confront the region’s multicultural past and open up to the history of its past and present inhabitants, as well as cross-border cooperation with Lithuania, Germany, Russia, and Belarus, and exchanges with other European regions with similar problems and multicultural heritage.

The concept of cultural succession is a good summary of the reflection on the transmission of cultural heritage, especially in European countries with turbulent history, frequent migratory movements, and shifts in national borders. By moving (and who in today’s Europe does not have a migration episode in the history of the last three generations?), people participate in the cultural heritage. This means that every place, together with the exchange of people, is constantly being domesticated (in this case we do not use the term “appropriation”, which is dominant in literature and entails violence) by others, who may gradually become successors of a given place and also take care of it. In this way (as a postulate and as a need to understand the past for the purposes of the present and the future) historical continuity can be maintained regardless of the changes in political borders, population movements and the so-called national belonging of a place, a monument, etc. The essence of cultural succession is to protect cultural heritage while preserving the right to endow it with authentic and relevant new meanings. One example of that is the interactive process of building the collective identity of a given place based on a trialogue between the existing tangible heritage, family memory, and the changing notions of successive generations. In this way, without turning “not our” heritage into an exclusive possession of “our” culture, it is possible to positively invent a tradition with which one will be able to identify both in the present and in the future. At the same time, it will be a field of dialogue rather than of confrontation with the former inhabitants, who, extracting their stories from oblivion, will also discover the ideas and identity of contemporary residents, co-owners of heritage.[23]

The essence of cultural succession was presented in a poetic and emotional way by Kazimierz Brakoniecki, who initiated the “Atlantis of the North” project – an exhibition organised in 1993 in Olsztyn. This metaphorical name designated a space between the lower Vistula and the Neman, once called the country of the Prussians, Ducal Prussia, the Bishopric of Warmia (Ermland), German Ostpreußen (East Prussia), and after 1945 Polish Warmia and Masuria. The names themselves reflect a complex past, territorial affiliation, and population mix. The “Atlantis of the North” exhibition presents a rich photographic documentation of various places and landscapes of this multicultural region from the turn of the 20th century, i.e. from the period when these areas were part of the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire. In the catalogue of the exhibition, the poetic creed of Kazimierz Brakoniecki is complemented by the message of Robert Traba on succession:


“I – a representative of the generation born in this land after the Second World War – am another heir to the landscape, culture, and memory, creating a community of living and dead Prussians, Germans, Poles, Warmiaks, Masurians, Russians, Lithuanians, Europeans. […] I am heir to the “Atlantis of the North”, a sensitive and critical pupil of history and landscape.”[24]


Just as the alien Atlantis once became a myth for ancient Greeks, so today the non-Polish legacy of the land between the Lower Vistula and the Neman becomes, along with family memory, the heritage of many Polish inhabitants of Masuria and Warmia, and they become its successors. On the basis of their family memory and a legacy which is not their own, they construct a new identity: local, regional, national (Polish), and European in spite of all the cataclysms and traumas of recent past which have divided the nations of this region and this part of Europe.[25] Almost thirty years have passed since this timeless, still valid goal was aptly articulated in the words of The Borussia Manifesto, which could also become the motto of the European Heritage Label:


“By creating a Polish identity, striving for innovative and effective action and thinking, we discover here the existing Prussian, German and native heritage in order to prove – bearing in mind the 20th century tragedies – that we are moving towards a free and democratic homeland, respecting the welfare of our fellow nations. We treat the monuments of every national past as monuments of humanity. For us, there is no other way of thinking about the world than ethical thinking. On the way to a reconciled and free Europe of homelands, we want to cultivate love for our native land in the context of universal values based on respect for historical, moral and existential truth.”[26]


In lieu of a conclusion

What opportunities (potential) do we see for developing the European Heritage Label project so that it effectively becomes a desirable and living phenomenon in the social debate on European heritage and identity? We deliberately ended our reflections with an example of grassroots activities. In its present form, the Label has more of a top-down design. The beginning of the project was probably necessary in such a form, but by maintaining such a vector in practical actions, we are dooming – as we believe – this noble idea to failure and getting lost in bureaucratic labyrinths. The success of the European Heritage Label can only be ensured by extending the formula to grassroots, that is bottom-up actions, which will spark citizens’ initiatives and make the project more authentic. This, however, requires reflection on redefining the formula of the European Heritage Label. Our reflection aims at defining a number of crucial principles.

First of all, historical and artistic value or the so-called uniqueness of the realms of memory “in themselves” should not be the exclusive criteria for awarding the label. The essence of the European Heritage Label should be the ability to endow a given place with a European meaning and to make a story about Europe out of it. In this way, even an ostensibly minor event / artefact can tell more about the essence of Europeanness than the “rivalry” between, say, Notre Dame and the Cologne Cathedral or St. Mary’s Basilica in Kraków.

Second, the initiative to propose realms of memory for the European Heritage Label should be more sensitive to the regional or local context, which in practical terms means more attention to these multicultural areas or regions which “unite” and “divide”. Teaching people to read the landscape seems to be the key as it can promote new understanding of Europe. Reading the landscape suggests that our relationship with space should be treated as a comprehensive educational programme of discovering “foreign” or forgotten worlds and places and giving them new, authentic interpretations and meanings.[27] In addition, it should not be a problem if the European Heritage Label will be awarded to a dozen sites in, say, Slovenia with a population of two million, and only five in Poland with a population of almost forty million.

Third, in order to trigger the invention-of-tradition mechanism through the European Heritage Label programme, there is a need for strong financial support from the European Union and a broad-based promotion strategy – also involving the new media, so that the average smartphone owner gets information about the programme just as they get news about political or pop-cultural events.

It is not difficult to notice that while writing the essay we became fascinated by the potential of the European Heritage Label project, falling into a certain trap ourselves. This trap is affirmation. We live in an era when giving a positive interpretation, especially to national histories, displaces what is, in our opinion, the essence of Europeanness, that is to say, dialogue about and criticism of working through one’s own often complicated and ambiguous history. The design of the European Heritage Label must not be devoid of this critical reflection. It should also take into account those realms of memory which bear witness to the “sins” of the Old Continent: wars, nationalisms, dictatorships, and colonialism (its effects are still felt today). The question is how to develop these narratives so that the responsibility for their consequences becomes part of the active memory of those countries and societies which directly participated in them.

Many EU actions seem to be dominated by the teleologisation of the past: it was bad, but everything leads to the ideal finale, which is the European Union. It is undoubtedly the most important and most valuable institution created in post-war Europe, but we should not take this claim for granted. This value can only be created through a genuine dialogue between the various players in the social debate, above all at the civil society level, but with the help of a friendly hand “from above”. Let us remember, however, that authentic dialogue assumes a polyphony of voices (including the polyphony of memory and identity) and acceptance of the principles of the controversy and multi-perspective approach in the narrative about the history of Europe. The European Heritage Label is ideally suited to making such a mechanism of dialogue about Europe, its heritage, and identity more widespread and authentic.


Translated from the Polish by Tomasz Bieroń





[1] programmes/creative-europe/ actions/heritage-label_en (accessed 2 November 2018).

[2] Pierre Nora, ed., Les Lieux de mémoire, vol. 1–3, Paris 1984–1992 (Bibliothèque illustrée des histoires), English edition: Realms of Memory, New York 1996–1998; and idem, Rethinking France. Places of Memory, vol. 1–4, Chicago 1999–2012.

[3] Hans Henning Hahn, Robert Traba, with Maciej Górny and Kornelia Kończal, eds., Deutsch-Polnische Erinnerungsorte, vol. 1–4, Paderborn 2012–2015; Deutsch-Polnische Erinnerungsorte, vol. 5: Robert Traba and Peter Oliver Loew, eds., Auf Polnisch erinnern, Paderborn 2015; Hans Henning Hahn and Robert Traba, with Maciej Górny and Kornelia Kończal, eds., Polish-German realms of memory, vol. 1–4, Warsaw 2012–2015. In 2017 a one-volume selection from 20 Deutsch-Polnische Erinnerungsorte and Wyobrażenia przeszłości. Polsko-niemieckie miejsca pamięci was published in German and Polish in the public domain: wyobrazenia-przeszlosci-polsko-niemieckie- miejsca-pamieci-maciej- gorny-robert-traba- hans-henning- hahn-kor,e_0pqg.htm (accessed 2 November 2018).

[4] Deutsch-Polnische Erinnerungsorte, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 20; Polsko-niemieckie miejsca pamięci, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 18.

[5] Examples of criticism before the opening of the permanent exhibition on the concept of HEH: “Rewriting History”, 2011/04/07/rewriting-history/ (accessed 2 November 2018); criticism by the Platform of European Memory and Conscience after the opening of the exhibition in such articles as “Platform Prepares Critical Report on the House of European History in Brussels”, 2017/10/23/platform-prepares -critical-report-on-the -house-of-european-history -in-brussels/ (accessed 2 November 2018); “Platform Calls for a Broad Debate and a Change of the Permanent Exhibition of the House of European History”, 2017/11/20/ platform-calls-for-a- broad-debate-and-a- change-of-the- permanent-exhibition- of-the-house-of-european -history/ (accessed 12 October 2018).

[6] Aleida Assmann, “Die Last der Vergangenheit”, Zeithistorische Forschungen / Studies in Contemporary History, vol. 4, book 3 (2007), pp. 375–385; Alexandra Senfft, “Kollidierende Gedächtnisse”, taz [11 October 2013],!5057429/ (accessed 12 October 2018).

[7] Robert Traba, Polifonia pamięci, in: Przeszłość w teraźniejszości. Polskie spory o historię na początku XXI wieku, Poznań 2009, pp. 82–87.

[8] See references to the proposed term “dialogic remembrance” in: Gabriele Woidelko, “Die Narben des Krieges in Osteuropa”, Die Zeit Online [9 May 2017], politik/ausland/ 2017-05/tag-des- sieges-russland- zweiter-weltkrieg -feiertag (accessed October 12, 2018).

[9] Timothy G. Ash, Wolne słowo. Dziesięć zasad dla połączonego świata, trans. Mieczysław Godyń and Filip Godyń, Warsaw 2018 (original British edition: Free Speech. This Principles for a Connected World, London 2016).

[10] Benedict Anderson, Long-Distance Nationalism. World Capitalism and the Rise of Identity Politics, Amsterdam 1992.

[11] Benedict Anderson, “Kocham ojczyznę, bo daleka”, Gazeta Wyborcza [10 August 2009], 1,124059,6907292, Kocham_ojczyzne__ bo_daleka.html (accessed 12 October 2018).

[12] Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions, Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism, Chicago 2005, p. 14.

[13] We refer to such works as Robert Traba, Przeszłość w teraźniejszości. Polskie spory o historię na początku XXI wieku, Poznań 2009; Robert Traba, “Dialogi pamięci. Rozważania wokół recepcji pamięci zbiorowej”, Sensus Historiae, vol. 15, no. 2 (2014), pp. 124–125, cf. online: index.php/czasopismo/ article/viewFile/ 203/199 (accessed 20 October 2018); Traba’s concept of polyphony of memory was summarised by Elżbieta Rybicka,  Geopoetyka. Przestrzeń i miejsce we współczesnych teoriach i praktykach literackich, Kraków 2014.

[14] Jörg Echternkamp, Anna Labentz, Robert Traba, “Der Anfang vom Ende”, in: Deutsch-Polnische Erinnerungsorte, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 415–444; Jörg Echternkamp, Anna Labentz, Robert Traba, “Początek końca”, in: Polsko-niemieckie miejsca pamięci, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 390–415.

[15] For details on the project see Igor Kąkolewski, “Was trennt uns – was verbindet uns? Das deutsch-polnische Projekt eines binationalen Schulbuchs für Geschichte”, Jahrbuch des Wissenschaftlichen Zentrums der Polnischen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, vol. 6: 2015; see also Schulbuch Geschichte. Ein deutsch-polnisches Projekt – Empfehlungen, ed. by the Joint German-Polish Textbook Commission, Göttingen 2012, and the Polish version: Podręcznik do historii. Project polsko-niemiecki. Zalecenia, ed. by the same Commission, Warsaw 2013.

[16] German edition: Geschichte – Histoire. Europa und die Welt, Stuttgart – Leipzig 2006–2011.

[17] Europa. Nasza historia / Europa – unsere Geschichte, vol. 1–2, Warsaw – Wiesbaden 2016–2017.

[18] See example in: ibid., vol. 1, p. 229.

[19] See some specific examples among many: two mediaeval synagogues, among the oldest in Europe, that is the synagogues in Worms (Germany) and Toledo (Spain) – the latter transformed into a Christian church, Europa. Nasza historia, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 133; Christian and non-Christian places of worship of various religious groups inhabiting the lands of the multicultural Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 16th–18th century, ibid., vol. 2, p. 76.

[20] See ibid., vol. 1, e.g. p. 59 – two voices of renowned museology authorities from Egypt and Germany on returning ancient cultural treasures from European museums to their countries of origin.

[21] See ibid., vol. 1, p. 234; vol. 2, p. 103.

[22] Cf. Iwona Liżewska, Kazimierz Brakoniecki, Robert Traba, eds., Czas przekraczania granic. Antologia Borussii 1990–2015, Olsztyn 2015.

[23] Robert Traba, Kraina tysiąca granic, Olsztyn 2003, and idem, Kulturowa sukcesja Otwarty regionalism, in: Czas wykraczczania granic, op. cit., pp. 603, 607.

[24] Kazimierz Brakoniecki, Konrad Nawrocki, Atlantyda Północy. Dawne Prusy Wschodnie w fotografii / Die Atlantis des Nordens. Das ehemalige Ostpreußen in der Fotographie, Olsztyn 1993, p. 40 et seq.

[25] Igor Kąkolewski, “Große kleine Geschichte oder über das Bedürfnis der Versöhnung und der langen Erinnerung”, in: Große kleine Geschichte – Regionale Geschichtshefte, ed. Kinga Hartmann-Wóycicka, Görlitz – Wrocław 2015, pp. 27–32.

[26] Borussiański Manifest, [in:] Czas przekraczania granic, op. cit., pp. 13-14.

[27] Robert Traba, “Krajobraz kulturowy. Strategie badawcze i interpretacje”, in: Krajobrazy kulturowe. Sposoby konstruowania i narracji, ed. Robert Traba, Violetta Julkowska, Tadeusz Stryjakiewicz, Warsaw – Berlin 2017, pp. 11–21.

About authors

Igor Kąkolewski

Proffesor, a graduate of the Historical Institute of the University of Warsaw and its research worker in the years 1992-2005. Between 2005-2010 he was a research worker at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw. From 2008 to 2014, he cooperated with the Museum of the History of Polish Jews as a member of the expert group preparing the permanent exhibition. In 2010-2013, the head of the expert group preparing the permanent exhibition at the Museum of Polish History. Since 2011 he has been an associate professor at the University of Warmia and Mazury, and since 2014 he has been working at the Centre for Historical Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Berlin: first as a deputy director and from September 2018 as a director.


Robert Traba

Professor of history, political scientist, theorist of culture, founder of the Olsztyn Stowarzyszenie Wspólnota Kulturowa „Borussia” and editor of the Borussia quarterly. He began his scholarly work at the Research Station of the Polish Historical Society in Olsztyn – professor of history, political scientist, theorist of culture, founder of the Olsztyn Stowarzyszenie Wspólnota Kulturowa „Borussia” and editor of the Borussia quarterly. He began his scholarly work at the Research Station of the Polish Historical Society in Olsztyn. In 1995–2003 he worked in the German Historical Institute in Warsaw. Since 2006 director of the Historical Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Berlin. Co-president of the Polish-German Textbooks Commission. Honorary Professor of the Freie Universität in Berlin. His numerous writings include Kraina tysiąca granic. Szkice o historii i pamięci (A Land of a Thousand Lakes: essays on history and memory, Borussia, Olsztyn 2003), „Wschodniopruskość”. Tożsamość regionalna i narodowa w kulturze politycznej Niemiec (“Eastern-Borussianism”: regional and national identity in the German political culture, first edition PTPN, Poznań 2005, German edition Ostpreußen – die Konstruktion einer deutschen Provinz. Eine Studie zur regionalen und nationalen Identität 1914–1933, Fibre Verlag Osnabrück 2010), Historia – przestrzeń dialogu (History – a Space of Dialogue, Instytut Studiów Politycznych PAN, Warszawa 2006), Przeszłość w teraźniejszości (The Past in the Present, Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, Poznań 2009).  


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