Oliver Schmidtke (University of Victoria): Memory Politics, Identity, and Democracy in Germany and Poland

The article considers the growing rift between Western and Eastern Europe regarding the commemoration of Europe’s recent past and related historical narratives of nationhood that shape contemporary political preferences. More specifically, it investigates the connection between collective memory, national identities, and democratic cultures as it manifests itself in Germany and Poland. With the help of an interpretative analysis focused on the political elite discourse in both countries, competing ways of interpreting 20th Century history and providing it with meaning for contemporary audiences are identified. The national case studies of Germany and Poland present a contrasting logic in this respect: The promise of freedom and democracy in Poland is primarily narrated as the liberation from foreign rule and the desire for national independence. It is built around a notion of popular sovereignty in which dissenting views of the heroic national past are discredited and largely banned from public debate. In contrast, in Germany the memory of fascism and the Holocaust has established a stronger rights-based approach to democracy in the liberal tradition and an openness for contesting historical narratives in the public domain.