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Strengthening European integration through the analysis of conflict discourses: revisiting the past, anticipating the future

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - RePAST (Strengthening European integration through the analysis of conflict discourses: revisiting the past, anticipating the future)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2021-10-31

RePAST is grounded on the idea that the process of European integration is jeopardised by conflict discourses rooted in age-old antagonisms among and within European nations. More specifically, the project addresses the problem of increasing anti-EU public sentiments, evident by European citizens’ shift of support towards eurosceptic/nationalist/populist political parties who explicitly adopt reactionist agendas and promote disengagement from the European Union. In that respect, RePAST’s core assumption is that a series of crises that emerged in Europe within the last decade (namely financial, refugee and political crisis) have fueled conditions, in which the troubled pasts of several European nations were revived and pose a threat to the process of EU integration. Within this context, RePAST’s aim is to develop a research framework that is applicable across cases, where collective memory of troubled past informs present conflicts in relation to the integration of the EU, in order to investigate how European nations deal with past traumas and how these are currently reemerging. The project produced classifications of conflict discourses in four distinct discursive fields (oral and official history, mainstream and digital/social media, art and culture, and formal and informal politics), at eight European countries. The main focus of those comparative studies was to investigate how these conflict discourses are received by the general public and civil society actors, along with the ways in which they are reproduced and renegotiated, and to understand the impact of discourses about troubled pasts on political attitudes and attitudes towards European integration. RePAST disseminated its key findings to relevant stakeholders by involving policy makers, civil society and the tourism industry and equipping them with recommendations, tools and mechanisms for acting upon troubled pasts in ways that promote mutual understanding and cultural cooperation among diverse groups.
RePAST’s aim was to investigate how European nations deal with past traumas. Regarding (oral) history, the turbulent past was an argument for the urgency and necessity of EU integration. Difficult historical legacies make their way into public discourse, and are being entangled with emerging sources of conflict and signs of disintegration. Regarding media, we identified contradictions between journalistic aspirations/identities and reality, which may compromise journalistic autonomy and its ability to advance debates on past conflict. Media representations have become resistant to contestation, reconfiguration, and dialogue, and tend to represent the mnemonic hegemony. The reception process is, to some degree, autonomous from representation, but inevitably anchored in current mnemonic hegemony. Regarding arts and culture, we produced a vast archive of artistic interventions to troubled pasts, and analyzed relevant public responses. Artistic interventions into the sphere of public memory can become a trigger for crucial transformations of images of past conflicts, and create affective and intellectual disturbance which can be addressed by agents such as museums and critics. Regarding politics, we asked if political discourses acted as a factor facilitating EU integration or preserving and/or further extenuating specific traumas, on a comparative basis across time. We investigated if political discourses are reflected in citizens’ discourses, and measured citizens’ attitudes across countries. The sociolegal analysis of EU transitional justice law critically evaluated EU law and policy in relation to the troubled pasts. RePAST equipped stakeholders with mechanisms for acting upon troubled pasts, including an online data platform for deconstructing conflict narratives; “dark tourism” seminars; a tour and a digital game to discover and renegotiate troubled pasts; policy recommendations.
WP2 established of a typology of troubled pasts, according to type of conflict and the relevant regimes of memory they create, focusing also on revisionist debates in Europe and on victimhood in comparative perspective. The analysis of the research data of the oral history research showed, among other findings, the dominance of the national identity over the idea of a common European identity. The EU’s influence is extremely difficult to extend beyond the level of the economy (and at this level, it has bureaucratic and punitive characteristics) into fields such as culture, society, or everyday life.

In approaching the mediation of past conflict, most research up to date focused on individual case studies; on one kind of media process, mostly representation; and on one kind of medium. RePAST advanced this state-of-the-art within WP3: by conducting parallel studies of the mediation of different conflicts in eight European countries; by examining all media processes of production, representation and reception; by examining representation from a longitudinal perspective; and by including an analysis of social media.

The cases researched under WP4 keep offering multiple possibilities for further study and research as well as for discussion. More and more works and artistic projects are emerging in the studied contexts or are re-evaluated by critics and curators. In that sense the research did not “exhaust” the possibilities and potential of the material gathered, yet it managed to reach all the aims planned and more. Research carried out in WP4 of the RePAST inspired several other engagements of the leader of this WP, which attests to the sustainability of the project and its impact after its completion.

Within WP5, we highlight three main aspects: polarization, radical right populist parties, gender and intergenerational transmission of memories. We have seen how polarization about the past can grow with the passage of time as a product of the political context. Also, we measured polarization about the past in different ways, i.e. as feelings, identification with one of the sides, or impact of the past on citizens’ vote. In the field of electoral studies, we show that the past matters at the time of voting for radical right populist parties and these effects. We have seen in exploratory analyses how gender is a crucial dimension in understanding conflict. We propose a novel taxonomy of the EU’s policies in respect of ‘troubled pasts’, which is original, thereby understanding the EU’s actions beyond the prior state of the art.

In WP6 RePAST organised a virtual workshop on the state of the art in the field: Negotiating Troubled Past(s): International Workshop took place in May 2021. The Workshop discussed the outcomes of 12 EU-funded international research projects that dealt with the processes of negotiating troubled pasts in several European societies. 140 participants from more than 30 countries registered and attended the workshop from a variety of stakeholders: NGOs, policy-makers, politicians, and academics.
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RePAST Consortium and members of the Advisory Board (Brussels, November 2018)