Clash of Memories: 75 years after the end of WWII in Europe


The film “Clash of Memories: 75 years after the end of WWII in Europe” follows the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum’s exhibition project “Different Wars: National School Textbooks on WWII”. In the last four years the exhibition toured in 22 cities in the EU and Russia, it shows how the Second World War is described in modern secondary school textbooks of Russia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Lithuania.

WWII remains one of the most painful and conflicting episodes of the European nations’ memories. Present time conflicts are embedded in history and in the use of history as a political tool. In order to understand the roots of present conflicts, to overcome prejudices and stereotypes, we need to deal with history. Especially, in present times of enormous changes and global transitions people in general do not like complexity, but simple and superficially clear images of history. A recent sad example of this is the case of the removing the Marshal Konev’s statue in Prague in April 2020 that triggered the clash of memories between Prague and Moscow.

This keeping in mind, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum produced a film “Clash in Memories: 75 years after the end of WWII in Europe” (9 minutes) that will have its premiere on 7 May and on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. We filmed in three countries and commemoration spaces of WWII: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Westerplatte peninsula in Gdańsk and the Victory Museum in Moscow.   

The German way of dealing with the National Socialist dictatorship is regarded as exemplary all over the world. However, in the last five years, the culture of remembrance in Germany has been facing challenges from the right-wing political spectrum. In 2017, the AfD (“Alternative for Germany”) politician Björn Höcke described the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as a "memorial of shame". Apart from this, there are many people in the (post-)migrant society that do not connect directly to this part of the German history. It is a clash of memories between those who are open for memory, commemoration and the others who are fighting against commemoration.  

It is worrying and shocking that all this ‘standard’ dealing with the Nazi past seems not safe anymore. At the same time, these discussions still keep alive the interest in history and there is still a need for a new discussion about the past that happened 75 years ago.  The anniversary year gives us this opportunity to focus on this discussion again about the ‘old’ topics like ending of the Nazi dictatorship or the Holocaust.

In Russia, WWII history is used as its most powerful vehicle in the whole political discourse of the last decade and longer. There is a perception in Russia that the contribution of the Soviet Union to defeat the enemy is diminished by the West.

The memory of the war in Russia is often connected to the memory of the victory, because it is the loudest voice that is sponsored by the state and promoted by a large number of actors. This is a very complex and very divided memory. On the one hand, Russia is a huge country, an enormous number of people participated in the war each having their own memory. On the other hand, there is another level of understanding that is dealt in the public space: museums, cinemas, television and statements. This official memory is prevailing, therefore, people who in general think differently will be offered that language of how to remember "the great victory of Russia". This, of course, does not undermine the significance of this victory. War is much more complicated.

The editor-in-chief of the “Przegląd Polityczny” Journal from Poland states that WWII memory is definitely diminishing. It is most evident when we look how the EU is perceived nowadays. The founders of the EU didn’t think about it in exclusively economic and social terms. They primarily thought about the reconstruction of democracy and the rejection of war as means for a conflict resolution on the European continent. And this idea of establishing peace and the creation of an area of economic, social and political freedom was the main inspiration for those founders. Today the memory of Europe before 1945 as the main playground of the great power rivalry, has vanished.

The dispute between Poland and Russia over the beginning of WWII is still omnipresent. The refusal to invite the Russian President to the commemoration of the liberation of the Auschwitz Camp is one example only.

WWII has not ended yet - it continues through the struggle of competing and mutually exclusive memory policies and cultures of remembrance. The development of a truly European memory culture demands us to go away from a predominantly national point of view while dealing with history: firstly, we can seek to acknowledge and respect that there are many different perspectives and memories; secondly, we could use the pluralism of perspectives for a rich and meaningful discussion of our common European past. 

We may not create a unified history, but it is important to talk about it. This will help us build bridges and not tranches and walls between us.

The film is produced by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum within its “Remembering the Past: History without Borders” Programme and directed by Stefano di Pietro. Forum’s work has been currently supported by the European Union, the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the OAK Foundation. The Heinrich Böll Foundation in Russia previously supported the opening of the exhibition "Different Wars" in several cities of Russia.

We invite you to the 9th European History Forum on 18 May, which will take the form of an interactive online conference on the theme "Hidden Remembrance? Women in World War II in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Role models, experience of violence, taboos". Information & Registration