Politics of memory


Politics of memory is the organisation of collective memory by political agents; the political means by which events are remembered and recorded, or discarded. Eventually, politics of memory may determine the way history is written and passed on, hence the terms history politics or politics of history. The politics of history is the effects of political influence on the representation or study of historical topics, commonly associated with the totalitarian state which use propaganda and other means to impose a specific version of history with the goal of eliminating competing perspectives about the past.[1] Nevertheless, the term is contested and there is no common agreement on its meaning which is often a matter of contextual use.[2][3]

Memories are also influenced by cultural forces, e.g. popular culture, as well as social norms. It has also been connected with the construction of identity.[4]

By countryEdit



The two sides in the conflict in Cyprus maintain widely divergent and contrasting memories of the events that split the island. The term selective memory is applied by psychologists to people suffering from head injuries who retain some memories, but have amnesia about others. Societal trauma, such as war, seems to have a similar effect. Recollections that are shaped out of a phenomenon common to many countries traumatized by war and repression, may be remembered in radically different ways by people who experienced similar events.

The selectivity may also serve a political purpose, for example to justify the claims of one group over a competing group. Cyprus is a poignant case for this phenomenon. The longstanding conflict on the island reflects deep roots in the "motherlands" of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot peoples.[5]


In Germany, the term "politics of history"/"history politics" (Geschichtspolitik) was propounded by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in late 1980s during the Historikerstreit discussion on how to memorialise the Nazi Germany and World War II.[6]

Speeches by politicians often deal with issues of how to memorialize the past. Richard von Weizsäcker as Bundespräsident identified two modes of memorializing the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945 in his famous 1985 speech: this date can be seen as defeat or liberation. Weizsäcker backed the latter Interpretation. In this regard, such moments as the first official "Day of Commemoration for Victims of National Socialism", on January 20, 1996, led to Bundespräsident Roman Herzog remarking in his address to the German Parliament that "Remembrance gives us strength, since it helps to keep us from going astray."[7] In similar, but somewhat opposing measure, Gerhard Schröder sought to move beyond this in saying the generation that committed such deeds has passed, and a new generation does not have the same fault because they simply weren't there to be responsible.[citation needed]

Good examples for politics of memory could be seen in national monuments and the discourses surrounding their construction. The construction of a holocaust memorial in memory of the murdered Jews of Europe at a central location in Berlin was met with protests but also with strong support. Likewise the National Memorial to the Victims of War and Tyranny was deemed inappropriate by some onlookers and a discussion revolved around the question whether the lack of a differentiation between victims and perpetrators is adequate or not.[8]

The question if and how to memorise Germans expelled from Poland in the aftermath of World War II has been constantly debated in both West Germany and Poland. Such questions are so difficult because it requires a moral judgement of these events. These judgements differ remarkably. For instance, the Federation of German Expellees called on Poland to pay compensation for lost property to Germans from what after 1945 became Polish territory, a claim that is consistently declined by Poland.[9]

Similarly there have been debates in Germany whether the legacy of World War II implies that Germany's military should be confined to purely defensive measure like peacekeeping or, contrary to this, this legacy can be a justification of an active enforcement of human rights which also might involve preemptive strikes.[10]


In Poland, the issue of history politics have risen to the state level when in 2015 it was announced that the works had started on the "Strategy of Polish Political Policy" ("Strategia Polskiej Polityki Historycznej"). President Andrzej Duda announced that "carrying out the historical policy is one of the most important activities of the president".[11]


The history in Russia has been highly politicized since the times of the Soviet Union. in the 2000s Vladimir Putin's regime undertook a new revision of history under the pretext of the defense of the national past against the alleged slanderers. As a first step of this defense was the establishment of the commission to handle "the attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia’s interests" in May 2009.[6]

The central topic of the new "history politics" has become World War II.[6]

The 2018 book of Mariëlle Wijermars Memory Politics in Contemporary Russia Television, Cinema and the State analyses the effects of various actors, such as the government, the Russian Orthodox Church, cultural figures, and radical thinkers, such as Aleksandr Dugin, on Russian memory politics, and its usage in legitimizing the government and discrediting the opposition.[12]


Croatian researcher Snježana Koren analyzed the history politics in Yugoslavia by analyzing teaching of history at school during 1945-1960, an immediate aftermath of World War II. The traced both internal and external influences on the state's politics of history, in particular how it was affected by the affiliation with the Soviet Union and the subsequent Soviet-Yugoslav split. She also analyzed the differences in the narratives in different Yugoslav republics.[13]


Monuments keep alive the memories of conflicts. Their removals may be controversial: in Estonia the removal of a Soviet era statue from the capital evoked strong reaction from Russia.[14]

Efficacy and moral relativityEdit

W. G. Sebald underlines German amnesia surrounding the Allied carpet bombings of 131 German cities and towns which turned many German cities into vast necropolises, and resulted in an estimated 600,000 primarily civilian deaths, with millions of internal refugees.

In literatureEdit

Milan Kundera's opening story in the Book of Laughter and Forgetting is about a Slovak official posing with other officials for a photograph in winter. The man gives his fur hat to cover his superior's bald head and the photo is taken. Later, when he falls out of favour and is denounced and removed from official records and documents, he is even air-brushed out of photographs; all that remains of him is his fur hat.[15]

Winston Churchill is purported to have said that "history is written by the victors." The accuracy and significance of this statement is still debated.[16]

Raul Hilberg's autobiography is titled The politics of memory.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Rafał Stobiecki (2008). "Historians Facing Politics of History: The Case of Poland". In Michael Kopeček (ed.). Past in the Making: Historical Revisionism in Central Europe After 1989. Central European University Press. pp. 179–192. commonly associated with the totalitarian state, where the authorities use mass propaganda and various forms of repression and pressure to try to impose their own version of history on society, with the aim of eliminating any competitive discourse about the past
  2. ^ Michael Goebel (2011). "Introduction". Argentina's Partisan Past Nationalism and the Politics of History. Liverpool University Press. p. 1.
  3. ^ Erkki Tuomioja (2017-07-25). "History and conflict: How can historians contribute to conflict resolution and conflict prevention". historianswithoutborders.fi. Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  4. ^ Nasrallah, Laura (Autumn 2005). "The Politics of Memory". Harvard Divinity Bulletin. 33 (2). Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2008-11-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ a b c "THE ARMORED TRAIN OF MEMORY": THE POLITICS OF HISTORY IN POST-SOVIET RUSSIA, by Nikolay Koposov, Jan 1, 2011, Perspectives on History
  7. ^ "Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys. - The Nation | HighBeam Research". highbeam.com. Archived from the original on 2012-10-22. Retrieved 2015-02-26.
  8. ^ "Berlin Memorial Bibliography". utexas.edu. Retrieved 2015-02-26.
  9. ^ "Eurozine - The burden of history and the trap of memory - Philipp Ther". eurozine.com. Archived from the original on 2015-02-27. Retrieved 2015-02-26.
  10. ^ Huyssen, A. (2003). Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. Stanford University Press. p. 73. ISBN 9780804745611. Retrieved 2015-02-26.
  11. ^ "Polityka historyczna służy budowaniu potencjału państwa", November 17, 2015
  12. ^ Mariëlle Wijermars Memory Politics in Contemporary Russia Television, Cinema and the State , 2018, ISBN 1351007181
  13. ^ A review of the book by Snježana Koren, Politika povijesti u Jugoslaviji (1945–1960) (Politics of History in Yugoslavia (1945–1960)), Southeastern Europe, Volume 38: Issue 2-3, -pp. 289-303, doi:10.1163/18763332-03802008
  14. ^ Myers, Steven Lee (2007-04-27). "Russia Rebukes Estonia for Moving Soviet Statue". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  15. ^ Milan Kundera: A man who cannot forget By MICHIKO KAKUTANI Published: January 18, 1982 https://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE5D91138F93BA25752C0A964948260&scp=2&sq=book%20of%20laughter%20and%20forgetting%20politics%20of%20history&st=cse
  16. ^ Finding a roadmap to teach kids about Mideast Study examines history textbooks for Israelis, Palestinians By Jill Wagner NBC News Fri., May. 6, 2005 http://www.nbcnews.com/id/7759863

Further readingEdit