“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. As we prepare to mark the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings, is Europe’s collective memory getting a little rusty? Few alive today can now personally remember the horrors of the Second World War. Are we in danger of forgetting the lessons of the 20th century and, as the philosopher George Santayana warned, making the same mistakes all over again?
On the one hand, far-right political parties failed to stage a breakthrough in the recent European Parliament elections. On the other hand, however, perhaps the “breakthrough” has already happened; so-called “national populists” are already in government in several EU countries (including Italy and, until recently, Austria). In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party topped the polls. In Spain, the far-right Vox party came from nowhere to claim more than 10% of the vote during the EU elections.
It’s not just the far-right; across Europe, the political centre is crumbling. The many perceived failings of the liberal world order after the 2008 financial crisis have legitimatised failed old ideologies on both the left and right. Furthermore, in a world where truth is relative to our political beliefs, how can shared memory exist?
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in by Nate arguing that, in some parts of Europe, people still have nostalgia (or ‘Ostalgie’) for the ‘good old days’ under Communism. If that’s true then have Europeans, on both the left and the right, really come to terms with their past?
To get a reaction, we put Nate’s comment to Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at the University of Oxford. How would he respond?
Nate, I’m sure Europeans are struggling to come to terms with their past. There are two problems: one is forgetting how bad it was, and the other is misinterpreting what happened. And we have both problems with the Communist past and the fascist past. So, actually, facing up to our own past (and also the colonial past) is, I think, a really important part of making a better Europe for tomorrow.
To get another perspective, we put the same comment to Susi Dennison, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and director of ECFR’s European Power programme. How would she respond?
Has Europe failed to come to terms with its history? Have we forgotten how bad it was? Do we sometimes misrepresent what actually happened? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!