House of history or house of ideology? In the EP about the House of European History
This week in the European Parliament a conference dedicated to the permanent exhibition presented in the House of European History, which opened a few weeks ago, took place on the premises of the European Parliament in Brussels. The event was organized by MEP Anna Fotyga and the PiS delegation and featured historians and MEPs from Poland, Italy, Denmark, and Latvia, among others.
In her opening remarks at the conference, Anna Fotyga stressed that, given the current tensions within the EU, she was skeptical about the idea of a house of common history from the beginning. “I’m not satisfied with what was presented there, and it’s not just my feeling. This assessment is confirmed by the opinions of prominent European historians – the panelists of today’s conference”- PiS MP said.
“Europe is not a cultural monolith. I disagree with the mark of equality between Europe and the European Union, not only because not all European countries are part of this international organization but also because when the EU is referring to the roots it does not always refer to the full historical heritage of Europe. “– said Prof. Michael Boss. The Danish scholar also raised questions about why the authors of the exhibition promote the 18th century, the age of enlightenment, as the most significant, while omitting the entire history of Christian roots in Europe. “The exposition almost ignores small European nations, as if there were no Danes, Swedes or Balts in Europe” – the scientist notes. Professor Boss has criticized the conclusion of the whole narrative, which has nothing to do with the challenges the European Union faces, such as border protection, globalization, internal conflicts, as well as difficult issues such as migration. “The nations are presented in the wrong light as the cause of all wars, while the only way forward is federalism” – said the historian. “There is no cultural phenomenon in this museum. The theme of the first floor of the exhibition concerns consumption – it gives rise to a strong reflection on fundamental values in the EU. Was it worth to spend such means on it?”- concluded prof. Boss.
Also in the opinion of Professor Marek Kornata, the House of European History presents nations as the most destructive force. The Polish scientist critically referred to the narrative of the interwar period, which presented the crisis of liberal democracies in Central and Eastern Europe, while the decisions taken under the Treaty of Versailles are overlooked.
“The critical description of the Versailles order is based on the German point of view – for Germany it was a negative and destructive moment in history. And in our part of Europe, many nations have been given the chance to function within their own countries” – the historian said. According to prof. Kornata the origins of World War II and the cooperation of the Third Reich with the USSR were too broadly formulated, and the post-war exhibition is limited to the history of Western Europe, as if there were no links between Germany and Berlin. “Events such as the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, 1956 in Hungary or 1968 in Czechoslovakia were omitted. This is a presentation of the history of Western Europe with some facts and events from Eastern Europe. The exhibition should be more balanced, contain more information on the history of Eastern Europe, such as the Polish resistance movement or “Solidarity”, and it perfectly illustrates the problem of the approach to common history ” – said prof. Kornat.
Professor Bogdan Musiał also drew attention to the economic alliance between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, which was omitted at the exhibition. “It was crucial in the first phase of World War II, when the Soviet Union delivered oil to Germany. Without them they would not be able to wage war “- said prof. Musiał.
The historian has also criticized the negative assessment of the nation states. “The object of both these totalitarian regimes was to fight the national states, therefore the claim that national states were the source of all evil is very out of place” – stressed prof. Musiał.
The historian also pointed out that the exhibition omitted the Soviet crimes from 1939-1945 and the way the Communists came to power in Eastern Europe. “Where is Solidarity, which was a global movement? Where is Ronald Reagan? Instead, there is the Round Table” – said the historian. Professor Musiał admitted, that indeed there is Adenauer’s quote on the settlement of war crimes, but there is no mention of German settling for war crimes. “Errors are so evident that it is difficult to explain this by ideology. This is rather a combination of ignorance and ideology. The advantage is that, when a student will go to the House of European History he or she will not be able to understand anything. It is so badly done that no one will just understand it” – prof. Musiał concluded.
In turn prof. Marco Patricelli noted that “Europe should identify with the nations that make it up and not break them”. The Italian historian pointed out that if it were to be the House of European History, we should feel comfortable in it, and the described controversies do not show it.
Latvian politician and documentary filmmaker Edvins Snore also emphasized that the narrative of the House of European History is very outdated and does not show Soviet crime at the appropriate scale. He pointed out that there was no information about Lenin, who was the founder of the first concentration camps or the Great Famine in Ukraine. “The exhibition says nothing about Europeans in Central and Eastern Europe after 1945. Nothing about the year of ’56 in Hungary, ’68 in Czechoslovakia, nothing about great deportations, guerrilla movements. As if the resistance was only against Nazi occupation. One can get the impression that people in Central and Eastern Europe peacefully agreed to the Soviet occupation” – said Edvins Snore.
Professor Legutko stated that in the European Parliament the words “Europe” and “European Union” are often used as synonyms but they are not. “What built the European unity began long ago and at the end of the 17th and 18th centuries, the whole European skeleton was fully formed. If the story of Europe begins in this place, everything that has actually led to the creation of a European community is lost. If the museum really is a reflection of anything, it is an EU way of thinking and it is not a compliment” – said Prof. Legutko.
Vice-President Ryszard Czarnecki addressed the conference participants about the history of the House of European History. “The concept of this museum was actually realized by the three EP’s mandates, and from the beginning our political formation expressed far-reaching reservations and objections. At the turn of 2008/2009 a letter, signed by representatives of the 5 so-called new EU countries, with significant reservations about the concept of the museum as well as the concrete proposals already exposed at that time, has been handed to the Bureau of the EP” – said the vice-president, pointing out that the concept of the museum was already lacking the role of Christianity in the building of European history and heritage. Shortly after their election to the EP Presidency, Ryszard Czarnecki and Karol Karski addressed a letter to the former chairman Martin Schulz as well as to the coordinators of the project of building the House of European History, saying that the project should be based not on correctness but on the historical truth. “We presented very specific objections from the Polish point of view, such as the lack of information about Poland’s contribution to halting the Turkish invasion of the 17th century, and also the suppression of the Bolshevik aggression in the 1920s. We have protested against the emerging thesis that resistance in World War II lasted only 4 weeks. They were aware of these objections, they were reported, but it seems that the matter of the House of European History from the beginning was not to be the subject of consensus, the balance between the old and the new EU, but it was an element of the creation of a new European from the beginning “- assessed Ryszard Czarnecki.
According to journalist Piotr Skrewinski, there is little space in the permanent exhibition, where one can feel the pride of being a European. “There is no reflection on how it happened that at one point Europe gained such an advantage over the rest of the world. Conversely, the dominance of the element of shame is greater “- said Skwiecinski.
Summing up the conference Anna Fotyga recalled the words of President Lech Kaczyński, who spoke about the two conditions necessary for a common European project to succeed: common roots and values and the abandonment of imperialist and neo-imperialist aspirations.