Historical Memory Nowadays: The New Language of Totalitarian Movements in Europe


Not too much time to choose direction.

Three years ago when we started our project, Lessons for present, lessons for future, none of us could predict how topical this part of the entire project would be. Historical memory today and the new language of totalitarian movements in Europe is definitely not an issue of the past but more and more present in everybody’s reality.

To discuss values is fashionable today. Of course, it is a good thing to verbalise one’s opinions but increasing populist attitudes add irresponsibility to the conversation. History should not be re-evaluated repeatedly. Long-term cycles should be recognised and distinguished from the short-term ideas. It is essential to define the big picture, which is how true understanding can be formed.

Firstly, current industrial development defines our relations to the others. Whether we like it or not, our societies are dependent on one another. How social power is balanced, varies over time. The shame of our time may not be slavery but indifference.

Secondly, in the era of social media spreading populistic attitudes has shown most efficient triumph. It is too easy to accept any fragment of an idea if it supports one’s own beliefs or worldview. The truth does not matter so much anymore when competing for attention has become the goal. This can be seen as a continuum from Adolf Hitler’s times; he used the media of his time —radio, cinema, newspapers and posters for his populist purposes skilfully.

Thirdly, growing migration itself is a trend. There are simply too many of us —who are we to define who is an immigrant and who is just a migrant? Yes, the wars create national borders and the borders create refugees. Better living is another reason to leave. If somebody moves to a country —he certainly is motivated to participate in building the country if given a chance. Closing borders is not a solution but an impoverishing act. If all wars would stop at this very moment, global migration still would not.

A constant flow of worrying news, quick societal changes, hectic everyday lives’ bursting to fragments cause confusion. An illusion of history’s unnecessity creates misinterpretations of history —especially historical myths can cause damage if not evaluated critically. For example patriotism itself is not a bad phenomenon but if it is based on segregation of ethnic backgrounds, religions, languages or cultures, objectivity suffers.

These lesson plans aim to widen the conversation on values.

Tolerance and respect towards cultural diversity carry various aspects when balancing between the aim of experiencing freedom and feeling safe. It is essential to seek to influence students’ ability to form their views on political diversity to ensure democracy.

If one’s own national culture is something worth protecting, an anti-liberal view of world only suffocates it, prohibits its natural development and thus destroys its conditions of existence.

Anti-parliamentary stems from wrong channelling of disappointment over societal conditions. The need for a strong leader often stems from the expression of an indifferent worldview.

Today there is much prejudice related to asylum seekers, but the discussion has a lot of common with the “Jewish question” only eighty years ago. Rising anti-Semitism and negative attitudes towards today’s refugee crisis are good examples of collective lack of empathy —even when the refugee crisis is a global crisis. Anti-Semitism is a roughly distorted misinterpretation of history, stemming from myths. A dream of a solid nation without foreign elements is also a distorted picture of history, wrong kind of learning from history.

Support for far right politics has been growing fast recently not only in Europe but also globally. We already face problems so severe —sufficiency of food, water and health care just to mention a few— that they cannot be solved by waging wars. Defences of peace should be strengthened on both personal and societal levels: social activism is needed.

They say there is not too much time to save the globe. We just must choose which way to take.

Silja Kärjä

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