Collective Memory in Europe

Par Patricia Gautier | 4 novembre 2017


“Cleopatra's nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed”. This famous quote of French mathematician Blaise Pascal suggests that even small details and events can have powerful repercussions. Did Martin Luther, an obscure priest from the Holy Roman Empire, imagine his coming impact on the Catholic Church, when he nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, 500 years ago? The Reformation he impulsed deeply shaped the religious landscape in Europe in the last centuries.

2017 is not only the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Throughout Europe, we celebrate other events that had a significant impact on the history of Europe: the 100 year anniversary of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, the 60 years of the Treaty of Rome, the 40th anniversary of the Charter 77… Each of these events deeply transformed the path of Europe in religious, cultural or political ways.

We celebrate these events as they are still meaningful for us today. They are part of a so-called “collective memory”, a concept developed by Maurice Halbwachs. For Halbwachs, collective memory is the reconstruction of past events with present social and cultural frames. Going past the individual remembrance, a group reconstruct its past to give it a specific meaning. Other authors have shown the multiple forms of collective memory. Also, collective memories of different groups can be in conflict and may lead to heated disputes. This multiplicity of collective memories and their forms is the issue we try to tackle in this dossier. Building upon solid academic works, we hope to offer diverse and thought-provoking articles.


This dossier is organised as follows.

First, an interview of French sociologist Georges Mink conducted by Francis Masson provides a strong and deep overview of the issues around the concept of collective memory. Discussing effects and conflicts on collective memory, Georges Mink also expose his view on the place of collective memory by the prism of European political dynamics. 

Svetlana Kim offers a narrative of a pilgrimage to the Russian Far East by descents of the Koryo-saram minority, with and underlying question: how to remember people that suffer? Are they only victims?

Balázs Gyimesi analyses the issue of the Germans of Transylvania. Retracing the history of German settlement in the region and its exodus in the 20th century, he relates the recent actions of governments towards the remaining minority.

Pauline Maufrais explores the concept of collective memory through the architecture of Prague, a city that combines old central-European architecture with the modernist soviet one. How do the inhabitants and the Czech government reflect upon this situation?

Andreas Pacher examines the comprehension of collective memory of a contested state, the Donetsk People’s Republic through an original source: the diplomatic notes. Connecting the concept of collective memory with a contested statehood helps to understand how political the understanding of events might be.

Inga Chelyadina studies in depth the political sensitiveness of collective memory with the example of the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Using schoolbooks and a film, she shows how controversial the Revolution still is, especially for the powerful.

Finally, Eric Crozon looks upon the recent House of European History in Brussels. Why is such a projet difficult to achieve? What to include in the exposition? Answers are not obvious, in a time where several European countries try to create a transnational common polity.


This dossier is based on the following readings:
Bazin, A. (2006). Effets et usages de l'intégration européenne sur la transformation des relations conflictuelles: le cas germano-tchèque. Politique européenne, (1), 127-154.
Judt, T. (1992). The past is another country: myth and memory in postwar Europe. Daedalus, 83-118.
Ludwig, A. (2011). Representations of the Everyday and the Making of Memory: GDR History and Museums. In Remembering the German Democratic Republic (pp. 37-53). Palgrave Macmillan UK.
Mink, G. (2008). Between Reconciliation and the Reactivation of Past Conflicts in Europe: Rethinking Social Memory Paradigms. Czech Sociological Review, 44(3), 469-491.
Tamm, M. (2013). In search of lost time: memory politics in Estonia, 1991–2011. Nationalities Papers, 41(4), 651-674.