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

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RePAST (Strengthening European integration through the analysis of conflict discourses: revisiting the past, anticipating the future)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2019-04-30

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 will produce 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 will be 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 will disseminate 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.
The work performed during the first twelve months can be classified into three broad categories:
1. Management. A significant part of the tasks performed during the first reporting period is related to setting up an operational framework that specifies the roles of each member of the consortium and sets up procedures for work organisation, the management of the project and the rights and obligations of each related party. The Project Coordinator and the Project Management Group defined procedures for decision-making and problem solving, data management, risk assessment, gender management and quality assurance. An External Expert Advisory Board was assembled to provide guidance and monitor the progress of the project, and the Ethics Expert and Data Protection Officer established a framework of rules and procedures to safeguard that the project adheres to H2020 research ethics standards.
2. Research. The most substantial proportion of the work produced during the first twelve months concerns research work. RePAST implements a comparative and multidisciplinary research methodology with simultaneous studies being conducted across eight countries in four distinct fields, namely history, media, arts and culture and politics.
The work performed under the history work package is divided into official and oral history. Under official history, a report on the historical events of each case study’s troubled past was issued, in which the conflicts under study were classified according to their characteristics, while each case study leader produced a national report providing a more in-depth analysis of each case study. Through interviews with individuals from various social groups, oral history research seeks to identify the main themes that emerge concerning each country’s troubled past aiming to detect the factors that shape or influence troubled past discourses. At the end of the first reporting period, all interviews had been conducted, and the data have been transcribed and translated while the analysis is expected to be completed on time.
Media research initially focused on establishing the theoretical foundations and determining the conceptual framework of the study. Next, methodological designs were developed for the discourse analysis of mainstream and eurosceptic media, interviews with professional journalists and focus groups with members of the public. The focus groups have already been completed, and data have been transcribed and translated while the final analysis is expected to be completed on time. Interviews with journalists are ongoing. Work related to citizen-led media has commenced and will be completed in the following months.
The main focus of arts and culture research was to identify and analyse artistic and cultural works that appeal to collective memory and traumatic events of the past, aiming to explain how collective memory is renegotiated through art and culture and how this affects audiences’ perceptions of troubled pasts. During the first stage of this study, a methodological framework for identifying and recording artistic and cultural artifacts was produced. Researchers across all case studies collected relevant items, which were compiled in a database of 180 items for further analyses. The following stage of the study involved collecting and analysing public reactions to the artifacts in the database (both popular and academic), which is currently ongoing.
The study of troubled pasts in the field of politics involved a discourse analysis of formal political actors’ positions towards troubled pasts, as well as an analysis of reactions of the general public. Discourse analysis focused on political statements of various political actors across time in all countries and produced a typology of discourses related to troubled pasts. Perceptions of the general public regarding the role of the EU in relation to past conflicts are studied in focus groups analysis and a public opinion survey. During the first reporting period, the data collection of the focus groups was completed, and the analysis is expected to be completed on time, while the survey is scheduled for the next reporting period.
3. Dissemination and innovation. During the first twelve months a strategy for disseminating the project’s findings to stakeholders was developed and implemented. Most of the innovation work is scheduled for the next reporting period. However, a digital platform, which will provide tools for researchers and the general public, is currently being constructed.
The work and the results produced so far comprise a unique toolkit for understanding how past traumas reemerge in the present and how they affect citizens’ attitudes. The structure and scope of the project are offering an innovative way to study conflict discourses as it combines simultaneous comparative multidisciplinary research, which explores collective memory of past conflicts from several perspectives. The project’s impact and societal implications, which are expected to be measurable during the next reporting period, extend to developing solid theoretical and methodological tools for scientific inquiries, formulating policy recommendations for national and European policy-makers, providing civil society actors with tools and strategies for dealing with troubled pasts and integrating educational tools and activities to formal education to strengthen cognitive and behavioral qualities of teachers and students.