Collective Memory and Adapting Identity

Jacob Braun

European identity has a lot to do with collective memory. It’s how states like Italy and Germany came to unify, and how new states emerged within the European continent following the end of the First World War. Fast forward to the end of the Second World War, decolonization and the dissolution of the USSR, this collective memory has been diluted by years of immigration and emigration. Faced with the challenge of adapting their identity, Europe has been divided amongst their responses.

Memory also serves in determining this response. Among progressives, imagery of the Kindertransport (the rescue effort of children in Nazi-occupied territory) and Jewish refugees seeking to escape Nazi persecution are conjured. In response to the Syrian Civil war and the ensuing migrant crisis, Germany was one of the most eager European states to open its doors to migrants because it had come to terms with its Nazi past; “remembering to remember.”

Populists on the other hand in states like Poland and Hungary have not been confronted about their country’s Nazi-collaborationist history, and have thus not been able to come to terms with their pasts. Political action in these states is dependent on having immigrants as an “other.” As G.M. Tamas puts it, “only racism promoted by the state can persuade people to vote for the ‘dismantling of the few remaining elements of social services and social assistance.’” Through this rhetoric, we see groups like QAnon take root in circles with already similar thought processes.

The myths surrounding European identity buckle in the face of postcolonialism and mass migration because they were created by “othering” foreigners more so than engineering their own identity. It’s a lot easier to say “you’re not me!” to someone who looks and speaks a different language from you than to instead stop and question yourself, “who am I?”

2 Replies to “Collective Memory and Adapting Identity”

  1. Great points! I really like the idea that European identity may be grounded more in identifying who isn’t European rather than a clear understanding of the similarities between European nations. I think its hard to find a unified “European” identity when before the mid-20th century, I think inter-European tensions would prevent most states from considering themselves that similar.

  2. I love your answer to Dr. Evans first question… basically that some identities are based on a negative. I don’t think it’s a complete answer, but it’s definitely true!!
    Perhaps some don’t want to answer the “who am I” question – as they wouldn’t find a palatable response.

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