Summaries of the BUDAPEST JUNE Conference

From June 14th to June 16th, 2023, EUCAnet’s European Memory Politics (EuMePo) Jean Monnet Network organized its final conference in collaboration with the ELTE Research Center for Computational Social Science, Budapest, Hungary. The Hungarian organizer committee was led by Ildikó Barna, Professor of sociology at the ELTE University Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Research Methodology. The panel participants were a selection of top and young scholars, analysts and practitioners from across Europe and Canada who specialize in memory studies.

The EuMePo Budapest Conference’s themes ranged from memory politics in a regional perspective to remembrance and memorialization in education; from european memory in local context to intergenerational trauma after violence, from remembrance, amnesia and silence in memorialization  to examples of collective memory in action. Over the course of three days, the aim was to address these complex topics through different methods and theoretical approaches, drawing on instances from different contexts. Each panel discussion was followed by a Q&A session. The conference was also part of the Study Tour in European Memory Politics and included three field trips to venues and monuments of historical importance in Budapest.

Day One opened with welcoming remarks from Ildikó Barna and Oliver Schmidtke, director of the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria, lead of the Jean Monnet Network “European Memory Politics” and co-director of EUCAnet. The first panel was put together and co-organized with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Canada (video link). It was moderated by Beata Halikca, professor of history at the Adam Mickiewicz University (AMU) in Poland. Panelists addressed the topic of whether Europe is headed towards a new East-West divide. In her presentation, Kate Korycki, professor at the Western University in Canada, used the political classes of post-communist Poland to articulate both causes and constitutive features of the present-day right-wing populism. She considered the implication of nostalgic, memory-oriented narratives in the current anti-liberal turn, as well as treating Eastern Europe as an incubator and modeller of nostalgic politics, adapted and modified in North American contexts, as illustrated by recent events in Canada. By comparison, Piotr Oleksy, professor at the AMU, started his talk by discussing how the issue of memory began to play a significant role in the 2000s in Poland, becoming one of the main determinants of the attitudes towards the country’s Eastern and Western neighbours. The internal dispute over the nature of the national community (and the notions of its place in history) was compounded by the need to merge it with a supranational memory culture. As explained by Piotr Oleksy, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has complicated the picture, changing the geopolitical reality of the continent and leading it beyond a ‘simple East-West division’. In contrast, Oliver Schmidtke (University of Victoria) compared the cases of Germany and Poland to investigate the connection between collective memory, national identities, and democratic cultures. Using an interpretive analysis of elite discourses between 2015-22, Oliver Schmidtke explained how political elites mobilize memory politics. In Germany the memory of fascism and the Holocaust has established a stronger rights-based approach to democracy in the liberal tradition. Forming and contesting collective memory in civil society has been a critical component in the creation of a democratic culture. By contrast, in Poland, using collective history under nationalistic auspices for domestic and international purposes has resulted in emotional identity-driven disputes. The promise of freedom and democracy is primarily narrated as the liberation from foreign rule. The desire for national independence is built around a notion of popular sovereignty in which dissenting views of the heroic national past are discredited and largely banned from public debate.

Our second panel was chaired by Ildikó Barna and focused on remembrance and memorialization in education: Katarzyna Kulinska (POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews) talked about context and challenges in Holocaust education in Poland. Kulinska explained how the Polish historical narrative dominated by an ethno-nationalistic perspective has become the official interpretation of the history. Kulinska explained that the lack of critical reflection on the complexity of the Holocaust phenomenon not only marginalizes the experiences of non-Polish groups but it makes it very difficult to conduct research about Polish-Jewish relations during the war and strongly limits the school’s autonomy. However, in spite of an overloaded curriculum, growing scrutiny by central authorities and fear of acting against official historical narratives, there are networks of teachers, cultural institutions, research centres, museums, NGOs and universities that create a diversification of resources and help to keep the knowledge about the diverse heritage of Poland and difficult aspects of the country’s history. By contrast, Elke Rajal (University of Passau) followed up by offering a cross-national comparison (United Kingdom and Austria) on the effectiveness of Holocaust education in preventing antisemitism. Explaining that Holocaust education often omits antisemitism and remains ineffective in reducing it. Rajal concluded her talk by discussing the various reasons behind the failure of Holocaust education, urging for an understanding of the problem’s structural causes. Beate Schmidtke (University of Victoria, co-lead of EUCAnet) conveyed the experiences of working with a group of students on the educational booklet Using the Past to Define the Present: An Introduction to Memory Politics in Canada & Europe, as part of the activities of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Ottawa project. Beate Schmidtke talked about the challenges of conveying knowledge about commemorative practices in different national contexts to younger generations, stressing the need for new educational tools and approaches. Explaining how knowledge and language presented in an overly scholastic fashion can be intimidating for youngsters, she highlighted the importance of learning through new media and resources as well as experiential learning, also by including them in the production of learning materials. Finally, a “network spirit”, and adopting a “comparative perspective”, by looking into the experiences’ of other countries is also a fundamental component of this learning process. In this sense, Kastle Van Der Meer, as one of the participants of the Study Tour in European Memory Politics, followed up Beate Schmidtke’s talk, conveying her impressions on the study tour, which can be summarized as “connecting to life what you learn” and on “being part of the current discussions on memory politics”. Following up, Francesca Tortorella (Université Catholique de Lille) shared her considerations on how to transmit the memory of Holocaust across Europe and to younger generations in particular. Commenting on an experiential learning workshop she conducted earlier this year, Tortorella stressed the importance of memory-making, while avoiding rhetorical discourse. Tortorella stressed that commemorating the Holocaust leads to questions about the values and political principles associated with this memory, namely the memory of anti-fascism and the Resistance. In this sense, she stressed that memory can be an inspiring force for acting on the present and thinking about the future. The final presenter of the second panel, Janine Wulz (University of Victoria), gave a talk on the role of memory politics in influencing policies and practices of Holocaust education in initial teacher education programs in three cases with differing histories (Austria, Canada and Israel). Wulz suggested that Holocaust education is embedded in global, regional and national contexts, interwoven with myths and identity building and it is about deconstructing myths, critical-historical consciousness. In this sense, increasing historical knowledge and the ethical development of students must be a first goal; a second goal would be to embed in teacher education curricula competences to teach about traumatic pasts, linking content and method. The first day of the conference concluded with a visit to the Holocaust Shoes Memorial on the Danube and the self-guided IWalk tour, a program meant to trace local history and memory. The visit was then followed by the Youth Panel with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Both activities were facilitated by the Zachor Foundation for Social Remembrance.

Day two involved two panel discussions and Q&A sessions preceded by a “Methodological Sightseeing Tour in the World of Automated Text Analytics with ELTE Research Center for Computational Social Science”. The “Methodological Sightseeing Tour” started with a presentation by Ildikó Barna, who explained how to use Hungary’s increasingly polarized public sphere to describe the framing and the interpretation of distinctive political sides’ memorialization, as well as their similarities and differences. In particular, Barna and colleagues studied the discursive framing of the Trianon Treaty – as one of the most divisive topics in Hungary –  in the country’s online media from the different sides of the political spectrum. The analysis of the thematic structure as well as the vocabulary and the interpretation of these subjects was conducted through two methodological directions that were combined: an LDA topical model from the Natural Language Processing (NLP) toolbox; and the NarrCat content analysis tool to identify psychologically relevant markers based on narrative psychology. Barna concluded the talk noting how the combination of the two methodologies leads to a deeper understanding of the framing in different types of media. By comparison,  Renáta Németh (ELTE Research Center for Computational Social Science) conveyed the results of another co-authored study that combined again two methods – namely, traditional qualitative coding and machine learning (ML) –  to assess the responsiveness of Hungarian local governments to requests for information by Roma and non-Roma clients sent by email. While the study clearly shows that Roma clients are treated differently – it also proves that it is possible to detect discrimination in textual data in an automated way without human coding – explained Németh, stressing that this study is also the first attempt to assess discrimination using ML techniques. Finally, Zsófia Rakovics (ELTE Research Center for Computational Social Science) illustrated a study based on the analysis of a massive body of parliamentary speeches of Mps taken place at the Hungarian National Assembly from 1998 to 2020, with the goal of understanding “the fault lines in society on the issue of memory politics”. The study uses structural topic models (STMs) to investigate the emergence and dynamics of different memory politics related themes. Rakovics explained how the memory politics of the political parties such as Fidezs and Jobbik is indeed different, with some actively using it, while others (i.e. MSZP) mostly follow existing topical discourses. There is also a “language change” that could be observed in time.

Our third panel, moderated by Laura Kromják (ELTE Faculty of Social Sciences) and Oliver Schmidtke, was dedicated to the exploration of ways of remembering, narrating and coping with intergenerational trauma after violence, with a focus on vulnerable populations. Karolina Lendák-Kabók (ELTE Faculty of Social Sciences) contributed to the panel with a paper on Hungarian millennials brough up in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, considered as “a neglected but deeply affected group of ethnic minority”.  Lendák-Kabók explained how the war in Yugislavia is an experience felt both at the micro- and the macro-levels by millennials. It is also an experience that cannot be recovered from, and which remains embedded in their identity. Following up, Lidia Zessin-Jurek (Masaryk Institute and Archives, CAS, Prague, ERC-Project “Unlikely refuge?), addressed the case of Jewish Refugee Survivors in Postwar Poland, highlighting the link between memory and choice. Zessin-Jurek focused in particular on Polish Jewish children and youths who fled Nazi persecution in 1939, lived under Soviet rule until 1945 (in Siberia and Central Asia) and chose to remain in Poland after the war. She explained that memory is not a passive repository and that the survivors chose the framework into which to inscribe their traumatic experiences. This process indicates  memory pluralism, the mnemonic agency of refugees, and the issue of choice – noted the scholar.

Our fourth panel, preceded by a visit to the controversial Museum of Terror, was moderated by Christina Griessler (netPOL / Andrássy Universität Budapest). The panel continued to address the theme of intergenerational trauma after violence from the lenses of remembrance, reconciliation and resilience. The first panelists, Laura Kromják (ELTE Faculty of Social Sciences) and Ajlina Karamehic-Muratovic (Zayed University & St Louis University) based their presentation on recent co-edited works bringing together case studies from scholars and researchers from interdisciplinary fields around the globe. The two scholars have highlighted the commonalities between the books’ chapters, which aim to respond  to the need for a more inclusive, multivocal and culturally contextualized approach to forgiveness and reconciliation in post-genocide milieus. The case of the Bosnian diaspora  resettled in St. Louise, US, was used to explain how the trauma of genocide is transmitted intergenerationally among survivors and post-genocide generations. To close the fourth panel, Rana Dajani (Harvard University & Hashemite University) introduced a new angle of exploration in trauma research and refugee studies, talking about the role of epigenetics. Dajani explained that trauma – conceived as happening in a continuum – creates biological and sociological mechanisms that have helped individuals to endure and develop psychological resilience.

Day 3 involved the fifth panel discussion on “Remembrance and Amnesia, Silences in Memorialization”, chaired by Birte Wassenberg (Sciences Po University of Strasbourg). Professor Andrea Pető (Central European University) began with a discussion on elements of change in Holocaust memorialization in illiberal states and most prominently exhibited  in Hungary. In her talk, Pető explained that more public discussion is not necessarily always good, since illiberal forces are hijacking discourses to discredit and delegitimize memorialization. This process does not imply oiginal ideas, but a new modus operandi. What is involved is not distortion or revisionism, rather a paradigm change, based on the concepts of the “illiberal polypore state” with mnemonic security and the production of a new truth for “unashamed citizens”. Following up, Matt James (University of Victoria) made his talk on “two kinds of mnemonic distortion in contemporary debates about rights”, which can be seen across the political spectrum. By focusing on the invocations of past injustices in Canadian and US civil liberties debates, James explained that there are two moves in the mnemonics of rights, namely “saming” and “maxing”, which are not instances of amnesia but have become key tools for destroying the “Age of Apology” memory cultures and “never again” constitutionalism. To close the panel, Tímea Jablonczay (Milton Friedman University) talked about counter-memories, multidirectional memory, and anti-memory of the Holocaust during the 1960s in Hungary. Jablonczay showed how individual, local, or institutional practices shaped the relationship between memory and amnesia in this period, arguing that the representations of the Holocaust did not entail any public, institutional commemoration of the traumatic past of Hungarian Jewry. Jablonczay also referred to the effect of the Eichmann trial in Hungary – which offered space for survivors’ stories to come out – and exemplified the discourse of counter-memory with the case of the survivor Erzsi Szenes (1902-1981). Jablonczay concluded her talk by providing examples of  the interaction between the present and the past, of multidirectional memory.

In the sixth and final panel, chaired by Lisa Chalykoff (University of Victoria), each presenter addressed the topic of “museums and memorialization” focusing on specific case studies. Borbála Klacsmann (University College Dublin) compared the permanent exhibitions of three Holocaust museums of Slovakia and Hungary, highlighting how the nationalist political forces’ attempts to whitewash the past to preserve a positive picture of the nation jeopardize coming to terms with the past, influencing the museums’ exhibition narratives and activities. Domonkos Sik (ELTE Faculty of Social Sciences) examined the processes of institutional memory transmission and political formation in post-socialist Hungary. Sik showed how the failure of memory transmission has direct impact on political culture. The memory vacuum characterizing Hungary, undermines political consensus, thus fostering affective polarization. The cultivation of the traumatic past is a key factor in the development of a democratic culture. Katarzyna Taczyńska (University College Dublin) concluded the panel with a talk addressing the cases of  two recently established museums in the city of  Łódź, in Poland: the Radegast Station, founded in 2009, and the Museum of Polish Children, established in 2021. By analyzing the mechanisms that led to the creation of these historical museums and exploring their specific functions, Taczyńska demonstrated how nationalist discourses impact the commemoration of the Łódź/Litzmannstadt Ghetto and influence the remembrance of World War II.

Fazıla Mat is a Communications & Media Officer at the Europe-Canada Network. She is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Victoria in the faculty of  Social Sciences.