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.

Seminar on “The Role of NGOs in Remembrance of the Holocaust”

The Council of Europe – within the context of the program “Remembrance of the Holocaust and Prevention of Crimes Against Humanity” –  has organised a seminar along with the Polish Ministry of Education, the Krakow pedagogical University and the Auschwitz-Birkenau International Centre which looks at “the Role of NGOs in the Remembrance of the Holocaust“.

The event will explore the responsibility of the NGO community to ensure public memory of the Holocaust is kept alive in the absence of those who witnessed it directly. It aims to promote educational practices which target the remembrance of the Holocaust and the prevention of crimes against humanity, and will look more generally at the role of NGOs in facilitating the trans-generational transmission of memory.

EUROCLIO Ambassador Ineke Veldhuis-Meester reports: Poland in the Heart of European History Seminar

EUROCLIO Association ,

23 History Teachers and Remembrance Educators participated in an intensive seminar entitled ‘Poland in the Heart of European History’ from 22-31 August 2016, in a fine historical location, the Polish Congress House Jabłonna Palace, by the Vistula River near Warsaw. The Institute of National Remembrance, Instytut Pamięci (IPN), offered its views on Polish 20th Century history and culture through lectures and workshops. Each session was followed by open discussion, all skillfully interpreted by two historians from the Auschwitz Museum. The group also made an educational weekend trip to Lublin, and continued further South along the border of Ukraine. We got to know many aspects of Polish culture and history during this trip. We visited Zamoyski Palace, where we saw Socialist Realist Art, Majdanek concentration camp and Markowa village, where several Polish families hid Jews during World War II, and old fortress town Zamośč. We also drove through the forest to the Polish partisan camp and the Cistercian abbey in Wąchock.

Participants came from Bosnia, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Moldova, Netherlands, Serbia, United Kingdom and Israel. This year three persons from Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, were also invited. They, together with an Israeli guide of Israeli youth trips to the Nazi camps in Poland played an active role during the seminar. In the evenings we continued ample discussions from various perspectives in a group. The diversity of the group could also have allowed for discussions embedded in the programme.

There were significant improvements based on last years’ experiences and the extended evaluations of participants. The new course was more lenient to the audience. Their attention span had been taken into account with more and longer breaks with fresh delicacies. In addition, some more lectures were in English and those that were in Polish were often accompanied by a PPP in English and/or an English summary in the extended course booklet. After tough and quite long lectures the speakers took time to answer questions. Discussions were more nuanced than last year, with polite but more insisting remarks and questions.

Most lecturers reflected the IPN research in the specific fields of study of the History of 20th Century Poland. However, there were also more internationally oriented scholars: Professor Wojciech Roszkowski opened with ‘An overview of Poland and Europe in the 20th Century’, and Professor Tomasz Szarota lectured on ‘The Aftermath of World War II seen by the Poles after 70 years’. There were no dull moments, since in the evenings we were treated a Chopin piano recital in the concert hall of the palace and films suited for the themes of the day.  A warm thank you to the organiser Anna Brojer and her assistant Malgorzata Zuławnik. You can meet them on the Annual Conference in San Sebastian.

Written by: Ineke Veldhuis-Meester, EUROCLIO ambassador

The Hague Hosts Centennial Project Foundation Conference on Armenian Genocide

On the occasion of the Centennial of what is commonly referred to as the Armenian Genocide, academics and professionals from a variety of disciplines and countries came on 5 to 7 March together in The Hague, the Netherlands, to celebrate a conference where discuss the impact of this event in their respective fields. EUROCLIO Founder and Special Advisor Joke van der Leeuw-Roord and Trainee Ivan Markovic attended the event and report: Alexis Demirdjian, a Trial Attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the NIOD the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the University of Southern California – Dornsife Institute of Armenian Studies were co-hosting this conference. The contributions are brought together in a publication questioning the relevance of the Genocide today and its impact on the fields of study of Law, History, Anthropology, Political Science, Sociology, Literature, Education and Media Studies.

The conference opened with a public event showing, Grandma’s Tattoos, a film by Suzanne Khardalian, which features the story of her grandmother and many other untold stories of other Armenian women who were kidnapped, sexually abused, and tattooed during the atrocities. The well-known American/Armenian historian Dr. Ronald Suny introduced public and experts into the main findings of his new publication A history of the Armenian genocide. After his introductory talk a wide range of speakers addressed very topical issues such as Armenia and the G-Word: the law and the politics, compensation for the Armenian Genocide, media coverage of the current discourse relating to the event in Turkey and the demolishing of the monument related to the genocide in 2011 in Kars, Turkey.

An intercultural dialogue was unfortunately absent despite the wish of the organisers to have a critical discussion on the impact of the Genocide. The discourse in the conference was hampered to the fact that too many speakers needed more time than allocated to their presentations. It was therefore impossible for the audience to ask questions let alone to commend.