Lamberto Zannier, HCNM: “Conflicts often have to do with the interpretation of history”

Motivated by a natural curiosity and well trained instincts, Lamberto Zannier, High Commissioner for National Minorities at the OSCE, attended the meeting organized around the project Contested Histories in Public Spaces in Oxford, which reviewed several cases of controversial monuments and statues around the world. In this meeting, Mr. Zannier explained the applicability of these cases as a reference point for developing conflict prevention tools and guidelines, where “education is key”, he stressed.

The charming streets of Oxford have some controversial corners. In the historical center of the city, right in front of the prestigious All Souls college, a statue of Cecil Rhodes stands undaunted, in spite of the campaign run by students asking to remove it and not further celebrate his legacy, polemically linked to Britain’s imperialism. Therefore, this city stands as a paradigmatic example of the global phenomenon studied by the Contested Histories in Public Spaces project, which Task Force meeting was held at the same All Souls college thus welcoming more than 20 scholars into a debate about the past and its day to day repercussions.

This project, led by the institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR), in partnership with EUROCLIO and other organizations sharing similar missions, envisions a simple but rather ambitious goal: drawing useful guidelines and recommendations from the global phenomenon of contested statues, monuments and streets names, which are being challenged for their historical legacy, usually related to colonialism, slavery, human rights violations or fascism, among many others. From the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa to the Captain Cook in Australia, from Holocaust memorials in Berlin to statues the Paraguayan dictator in Asunción, many are the cases found around the world -91 and summing up.

Even though this project is still on a development phase, it has attracted interest amongst relevant actors, such as university authorities, parliamentarians, as well as members of the international community. For instance, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and its High Commissioner for National Minorities, Lamberto Zannier, who flew from The Hague to the UK to join the discussion.

“The issue of memory politics is an issue that I keep finding as I travel through the area covered by my mandate. There are monuments, there are names of streets and symbols that I constantly find, where the interpretation by different groups differs and the difference of interpretation results in tension”

Lamberto Zannier, OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities.

But how comes that an organization dealing with security issues is interested in the public memory making through statues and monuments? Mr. Lamberto Zannier, in conversation with EUROCLIO, explained that his interest in this topic is tightly related to his mandate, which is primarily focused on conflict-prevention. “My mandate is to avoid or try to prevent tensions within society. Sometimes, I feel I need to dig a little bit more in-depth, and try to find out what is the source of these tensions. Very often this has to do with the interpretation of history”, he said. Awareness of this phenomenon, according to Mr. Zannier, did not come out of the blue. While traveling throughout the OSCE participating states -57 from Europe, Central Asia and North America- the High Commissioner has became aware of how salient this situation is for national communities. “The issue of memory politics is an issue that I keep finding as I travel through the area covered by my mandante. There are monuments, there are names of streets and symbols that I constantly find, where the interpretation by different groups differs and the difference of interpretation results in tension”, Mr. Zannier said, stressing that these dissimilar interpretations,combined with a lack of acknowledgment of the story of the Other, “affect the relationship between groups in society”.

That is how the High Commissioner for National Minorities of the OSCE became interested in looking how issues of this kind have been addressed in different contexts, and what are the lessons that can be retrieved from other cases around the world. In this regard, the mandate of the High Commissioner is matching with the project of Contested Histories in Public Spaces, which aim is to identify and research the decision-making process behind sometimes violent controversies over statues, monuments, and street names. What can a major of a city do when a statue is painted in red? What can a dean of a university do when the name of a hall is covered with pamphlets and banners? What can an activist ask for when a street name is considered offensive? Through practical guidance, the Contested Histories in Public Spaces project is aiming at addressing these questions in order to help future decision-makers and grassroots organizations.

“My job is to advise governments, and put forward an advice that is not only my own personal opinion, but that is based on things that worked before or against processes that resulted in failure. Look! Somebody else has tried this, and it was a disaster, so think twice before you do it, because you might apparently solve the problem tomorrow but then, the day after, you start finding out that you have a larger problem within your society”, said Mr. Zannier, explaining why he has decided to join the working group of this project. “I am exploring, and I do realize that this is a very sensitive issue”.

The role of education

Since its foundation in 1992, EUROCLIO has been raising awareness about the uses (and misuses) of history education for paving the way to a peaceful future. Even though the study of history is usually confined to academia, the role that it plays in the issues our societies are wrestling with today is rather prominent, especially for the emancipation of minority groups and social cohesion.

This situation is also clear for Mr. Zannier, who believes that younger generations are the key for conflict prevention. “If you want to have an integrated society you need to work on the young generations to make sure that people grow inside the society, and the diversity becomes well embedded in the society”, he said. Mr. Zannier also underlined the benefits of a well achieved integration, by which diversity can be at the service of society instead of being a problem. “You can free the government of the problem of dealing with diversity if you put this diversity at the service of the country. Then you really make the society more resilient to potential instabilities”.

Together with his interest to explore issues around history education, the attention paid by Lamberto Zannier to the role of history and memory in conflicts, represents a milestone for the international community. EUROCLIO and the IHJR welcome and appreciate his willingness to address such as sensitive but important topic, and believe that his path should be followed by other key decision makers.

Call for Practices on Remembrance Education

Jaco Stoop Opportunities, Project Updates

Do you have a remembrance practice or strategy that really works for your students or participants? Increase it’s impact, by making it available across Europe! Share your practice with our team of experts. Selected practices will be piloted by these experts with their own students, and used for the production of a handbook on remembrance education.

About RETHINK

RETHINK is a 36-month project, designed to shed light on the educational programmes that have been developed in the field of remembrance education. This project will make non-formal practices more widely available through the development of an online platform, which will also serve as the starting point for the creation of a new network for memorial institutions. This network will facilitate transnational collaboration between like-minded institutions and enable the development of new programs focused on linking past and present challenges while enhancing critical thinking skills among learners. For more information about the project, check out rethink-education.eu and our project page.

What are we currently working on?

We aim to bridge the gap between formal and non-formal education, by looking at practices developed by remembrance education. A group of experts is trying these practices in different educational contexts, transferring them from formal to non-formal education, and from one geographical context or target group to another. This process we call upscaling. For example, we take practices from memorial sites and try (parts of) them in a formal classroom setting. Or we take a school project or teaching strategy and apply it in a non-formal context or in another country.

What are we looking for?

We are looking for practices that are easy to replicate by others. This means that ideally the practices take little time and effort, are free or not too costly, and do not rely on others to be implemented. Specifically, we are looking for practices that are:

  • Focusing on remembrance education: specific focus in this project is on Holocaust/Shoah and other mass atrocities.
  • Transferable: not overly specific to certain contexts but (partly) applicable in a variety of schools and classroom settings.
  • Critical thinking: should encourage students to think critically
  • Engaging: engaging for students

The submitted practice must give enough detail about its execution, such that an educator could read through it and implement it themselves, so it should outline any resources needed and the expected time it will take. Please indicate any specific things educators should be aware of, things they should consider before using the practice (or parts of it) in their own classroom.

Feel free to include pictures and diagrams as well as text – anything that demonstrates how to execute the practice.

For more information, please read the entire text of the call here. To submit your practice, please use our online form. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Antonia Gough (antonia@euroclio.eu). The deadline for submitting your practice is 6 January 2019.