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Legitimation of European cultural heritage and the dynamics of identity politics in the EU

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - EUROHERIT (Legitimation of European cultural heritage and the dynamics of identity politics in the EU)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2020-08-31

Cultural heritage is an emotional and politicized concept easily instrumentalized for diverse political, economic, social, and socio-cultural attempts. Understanding and researching cultural heritage processes and politics is important because cultural heritage can strengthen the positive emotions associated with a sense of community and togetherness. It can also be used to create boundaries, exclude, and bring attention to unilateral, politically charged interpretations of the past. In recent years, the EU has launched a number of projects aiming at highlighting and remembering the past and fostering European cultural heritage. The idea of common European cultural heritage doesn’t come without its problems, though. Europe is and always has been culturally diverse, and Europeans interpret Europe’s past and cultural traits very differently. Defining European cultural heritage is not a neutral, objective, or value-free process. It means taking a stand on the idea of shared cultural values, understanding of the past, and communality that transcend the national level but are nonetheless not perceived as global or universal.

The EUROHERIT project has innovatively scrutinized the EU as a new heritage actor and its heritage politics and policies as attempts to create a new European heritage regime in Europe. The research has created new theoretical conceptualizations on transnational cultural heritage and the territorial dynamics and power hierarchies in the construction and legitimation of its European dimension. The project has participated in the broader critical analysis of the current identity and integration politics and policies in the EU and Europe by expanding the scholarly discussion on the topic with the investigation of heritage. The project has advanced the research of cultural heritage by emphasizing interdisciplinarity; conducting broad field research; applying the multi-method inquiry; and developing collaborative ethnography and visual methods in heritage studies.

Conclusions of the action:
The EU heritage policies and initiatives are the Union's political tools to construct and govern the idea of common cultural heritage in Europe. Even though they seek to strengthen the feeling of belonging to the EU and Europe and create inclusiveness, they simultaneously create division and borders and exclude various 'others'.
Core results and their exploitation and dissemination:

- The vague concept of European cultural heritage is frequently referred to — but rarely explicitly defined — in a scholarly discussion. The use of the concept in academia constructs a European cultural heritage as a category in research and explicitly and implicitly produces its focuses and outlines. Although the heritage policy discourse and initiatives can be explicitly defined in the scholarly texts as the construction of European cultural heritage, the repetitive linking of the concept to European organizations in these texts at the same time establishes them as European-level heritage agents and naturalizes their role as meaning-makers of heritage. (See e.g. Lähdesmäki, T. 2016 Scholarly discussion as engineering the meanings of European cultural heritage. European Journal of Cultural Studies 19:6, 529-546.)

- Emotionality, affectivity, and morality intertwine in the politics of EU heritage initiatives. The politics of affect in these initiatives stems from their capacity to produce ‘emotional truths’ that are not based only or even primarily on their historical accuracy, but rather on their moral appropriateness and fit. (See e.g. Lähdesmäki, T. (2017) Politics of Affect in the EU Heritage Policy Discourse: An Analysis of Promotional Videos of Sites Awarded with the European Heritage Label. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 23:8, 709-722.)

- The EU seeks to increase cohesion between diverse people(s) in Europe and thereby strengthen a feeling of belonging to the same community. Cultural heritage is, however, a challenging policy tool for creating inclusion. Although EU’s emphasis on common cultural heritage seeks to overcome diverse tensions in Europe, by fostering communality, and creating a positive feeling of belonging to Europe, may simultaneously create new explicit and implicit boundaries and divisions, and exclude some while including others in the practice. (See e.g. Lähdesmäki, Tuuli, Čeginskas, Viktorija L. A., Kaasik-Krogerus, Sigrid, Mäkinen, Katja, and Turunen, Johanna. 2020. Creating and Governing Cultural Heritage in the European Union: The European Heritage Label. London: Routledge)

- EU initiatives dealing with European cultural heritage construct the idea that ‘Europe’ and ‘Europeans’ have some shared cultural heritage. These initiatives function as a tool and an arena to generate, facilitate, and govern the idea, discourses, and narratives on Europe and its shared heritage. (See e.g. Lähdesmäki, Tuuli, Mäkinen, Katja, Čeginskas, Viktorija, and Kaasik-Krogerus, Sigrid. (2020): Europe from Below. Notions of Europe and the European among Participants of EU Cultural Initiatives. Leiden: Brill.)

- Difficult histories are often neglected in the EU's heritage initiatives that focus on highlighting the common ground based on the 'positive sides' of European heritage. At the same time, the expansion of imperial domination, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and colonialism contributed to the European prosperity that is commonly celebrated in these heritage narratives of Europe. Together with their continuing legacies in European racism and the ongoing militarization of Europe's borders, they are examples of European experiences and memories that do not seem to fit into the dimension of Europe constructed through the EU heritage policy discourses. (See e.g. Lähdesmäki, Tuuli, Čeginskas, Viktorija L. A., Kaasik-Krogerus, Sigrid, Mäkinen, Katja, and Turunen, Johanna. 2020. Creating and Governing Cultural Heritage in the European Union: The European Heritage Label. London: Routledge)

The results have been disseminated to scholars, decision-makers, and heritage managers and educators through various publication channels, conferences, panel and round table discussions, events popularizing science, policy briefs, media texts, and personal contacts.
Heritage as a concept and idea becomes operationalized in the EU’s heritage initiatives through political narrativization and discursive meaning-making processes. It is easily transformed into an instrument for multisectoral politics in the EU policy. The publications of the project have emphasized this largely unanalyzed dimension of heritage and identity politics.

The increased pluralization of European societies and the rise of a new nationalism in Europe have both boosted and complicated the diverse and contradictory identity political projects in Europe. The analysis of the EU heritage politics as identity politics in the current societal and political contexts in Europe has brought out how the idea of heritage is instrumentalized at the European level.

The publications of the project have developed several concepts and theories for further research.

The results of the projects are expected to impact academia and its theoretical and conceptual discussion on European cultural heritage. Moreover, the results and EUROHERIT’s outcomes are targeted to impact decision-makers and heritage managers and educators at the European, national, regional, and local levels.