chapter  5
40 Pages

The memory politics of becoming European: the East European subalterns and the collective memory of Europe

Even a cursory look at the central themes in the Baltic and Polish postEU accession foreign and security political debates will reveal their rather remarkable preoccupation with the implications and ramifications of the Second World War in Eastern Europe. The Latvian President’s applauding of the NATO summit in Riga in November 2006 as a sign of the ultimate end of the Second World War in the region; the Polish Prime Minister’s pointing to Poland’s suffering in the war as a moral argument for giving to it the voting weight of much more populous Germany in the EU Council of Ministers in June 2007; the Estonian government’s recent re-ordering of the Second World War-related sites of memory in the country – all this speaks of the increasing invocation of the traditionally subaltern collective remembrance practices in these states’ foreign policy-making of the day. Orientation to the past, rather than to the future, has often been

regarded as part of some putative ‘East European syndrome’ (e.g. Ramonet 2007). Yet this curiously Orientalist approach obscures the point that memory, as well as forgetting, is a constitutive feature of any culture or social imaginary. Understandings of a collective past also have an orientational function for the collectivity’s direction of development (Havel 1990a; Irwin-Zarecka 1994: 9; Olick and Robbins 1998: 124; cf. Meri 1999e). Since memory is by nature active and creative, a genealogical analysis of a security imaginary also inevitably involves negotiations with the contents of social, or collective, memory (M. Lotman 2001: 218; Berger 2002: 83). Without a critical analysis of memory in the politics of becoming, of the paradoxical politics of creating a new cultural identity out of the old injuries and mourning of the traumatic past, any examination of a security imaginary would not be complete. Unfolding the dynamics of social memory’s incorporation into the formulation of collective identity, and the reification, or public institutionalization, of its particular threads, sheds light on the role of the politics

of memory and historical trauma, and the heritage of founding violence in the constitution of security imaginaries and security policies of different collectivities (Müller 2002; Bell 2003; Foucault 2003). This chapter focuses on Polish and Baltic attempts to enlarge the

mnemonic vision of the ‘united Europe’ by placing their troubled ‘subaltern pasts’ in contest with the conventionally Western European-bent frameworks of understanding the implications of the Second World War in Europe. Although admitting that the past per se cannot be changed, these ‘new Europeans’ have launched a vigorous campaign in the European arena to change the general aloofness towards their past sufferings that have been constitutive for the development of their post-Cold War identity/difference constellation towards Russia.1 Their endeavours to wrench the ‘European mnemonical map’ apart in order to become more congruent with the different historical experiences within the enlarged EU, as well as to gain EU support for influencing Russia to acknowledge its responsibility for the crimes of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet occupation in the Baltic states, demonstrate the curious trademark of their politics of becoming European: a combination of simultaneously seeking recognition from, and exercising resistance to, the hegemonic ‘core European’ narrative of what ‘Europe’ is all about.2