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  • Cited by 18
  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: September 2009

7 - The past is another country: myth and memory in post-war Europe


Fifty years after the catastrophe, Europe understands itself more than ever as a common project, yet it is far from achieving a comprehensive analysis of the years immediately following the Second World War. The memory of the period is incomplete and provincial, if it is not entirely lost in repression or nostalgia.

Hans-Magnus Enzensberger

From the end of the Second World War until the revolutions of 1989, the frontiers of Europe and with them the forms of identity associated with the term ‘European’ were shaped by two dominant concerns: the pattern of division drafted at Yalta and frozen into place during the Cold War, and the desire, common to both sides of the divide, to forget the recent past and forge a new continent. In the West this took the form of a movement for trans-national unification tied to the reconstruction and modernisation of the west European economy; in the East an analogous unity, similarly obsessed with productivity, was imposed in the name of a shared interest in social revolution. Both sides of the divide had good reason to put behind them the experience of war and occupation, and a future-oriented vocabulary of social harmony and material improvement emerged to occupy a public space hitherto filled with older, divisive and more provincial claims and resentments.