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UNREST addresses Europe’s pressing memory problem. The EU derives a great deal of legitimacy from its foundational myth of transnational reconciliation. It has consistently championed a consensual approach to traumatic memory reaching from the abyss of the World Wars and the Holocaust to post war peace and prosperity. But the storyline is losing its lustre. All across Europe, populist and nationalist movements are successfully challenging the official EU narrative. They use the heritage of war and violence to push conventional, confrontational notions of collective belonging – with very dangerous consequences. Social cohesion is fraying and ethnic tensions are on the rise. Plus, since most of this happens well within the rules of the democratic process, the EU is watching helplessly, rendered impotent by a sympathetic but unengaging cultural memory.
UNREST proposes to fill the perilous vacuum between top-down cosmopolitan EU memory and bottom-up, antagonistic right-wing memory. UNREST pursues a third memory way, which acknowledges and engages with widespread memory discontent without losing sight of fundamental EU ideals. We call this third way agonistic memory. It designates a new mode of remembrance which embraces political conflict as an opportunity for emotional and ethical growth. For this purpose, UNREST combines ground-breaking theoretical reasoning with the empirical study of existing memory cultures and the implementation and rigorous testing of innovative memory practices. The major objectives and research questions are the following:

A. The first major objective is to develop theoretically new knowledge on the multiple and contradictory (top-down and bottom-up) uses of the cultural heritage of selected major armed conflicts in order to identify agents, practices and contexts capable of opening up fixed and essentialist war memories to reflective reinterpretation and change.

1. Refine the theoretical concept of an agonistic mode of remembering as distinct from the antagonistic and the cosmopolitan modes - first put forward by Bull and Hansen (2016 forthcoming) - and develop a description of its defining traits.
Research question: How do we conceptualise and operationalise the differences between an antagonistic, an agonistic and a cosmopolitan mode of remembering wars and violent conflicts in relation to different forms of heritage of war (hot and cold etc.) and in relation to different memory agents?
2. Explore theoretically the role of transnational issues, and more concretely the role of Europe, in different ethico-political modes of remembering.
Research question: To what extent and how have transnational issues and the theme of Europe been involved or absent in different modes of remembering, and how can an agonistic approach contribute to the creation of European identity?

B. The creation of new knowledge on the contradictory uses of the cultural heritage of armed conflicts requires analysing how different ethico-political modes of remembering (antagonistic, cosmopolitan and agonistic) shape the use of war heritage in different case studies and at various territorial scales. This second major objective project will therefore consist of:

1.Identifying and mapping the gap between the ways in which different memory agents and groups address the relation between a violent past, the present and an imagined future, taking as extreme poles the antagonistic memory discourse of rising or residual nationalism and the cosmopolitan memory of the EU in two comparative case studies. The cases are a) mass exhumations of civilians killed in interstate- and civil wars of 20th Century Europe, and b) established/new museums dedicated to the First and the Second World Wars.
Research question: Is it possible to trace a pattern in the distribution of modes of remembering in the practices and narratives in the two different cases?
2. Explore the connection between the main agents of social and cultural memory (institutions, media, civil society, and creative artists), material/immaterial heritage and the uses of different ethico-political modes of remembering, in order to identify and build upon those contexts, agents and practices capable of promoting an agonistic mode of remembering.
Research question: Which contexts, agents and practices are most suited for the promotion of an agonistic mode of remembrance?

C. The third major objective is to deliver a portfolio of impact activities that are directed at the different social and cultural memory agents and society at large so as to illustrate those heritage practices and experiences that promote reflective and multi-perspectival (‘agonistic’) reinterpretations of past experiences of war and violent conflict. This requires:

1.Facilitating interactive communication between different social and cultural memory agents on a transnational basis throughout the project in order to share practices and experiences of reflective uses of heritage and establish long-term durable networks.
Research question: To what extent might direct encounters between different groups of stakeholders and memory agents involved in contradictory (and even oppositional) uses of unsettling memory contribute to the creation of increased reflectivity and mutual understanding?
2. Developing an interactive online toolkit for pedagogical and training purposes that draws upon the empirical and conceptual new findings generated by the project as well as the knowledge exchange developed on a transnational basis among different stakeholders.
Research question: How can information technology and interactive media facilitate this development?
3. Making policy recommendations about how to stimulate open and reflective memory practices with a broad, popular appeal in relation to the cultural heritage of war
Research question: What kind of stories should be put into circulation in order to promote dialogues between different memory communities?
4. Developing two different cultural events (a theatre play and a museum exhibit) that reinterpret the cultural heritage of wars and conflicts and rely on the design and application of innovative information technology and interactive media so as to challenge the users’ / spectators’ ethico-political modes of remembering and promote a process of reflective reinterpretation and dialogue.
Research question: What role can creative artists and artistic cultural events play in the unsettling of fixed and essentialist memory patterns and the creation of reflective and agonistic remembrance?

In order to address the research questions outlined above, the project is divided into a total of 6 Work Packages (WPs): two project facilitating WPs, two case oriented WPs and two impact oriented WPs.

  • Project facilitating: WP1: Managing and control and WP2: Theory and methodology.
  • Case oriented : WP3: Mass Graves exhumations and WP4: War Museums
  • Impact oriented: WP5: Communication and training and WP6: Product development: A new Theatre Play by Micomicon and a new Museum Exhibition at the Ruhr Museum.

We have chosen to address two major inter-state conflicts of 20th Century Europe, WW I and II, and two intra state conflicts, The Spanish Civil War of the 1930s and the Balkan wars of the 1990s. All four conflicts maintain, to different degrees, unsettled and unsettling perspectives. The cases through which we have chosen to address them are the highly unsettling case of contemporary exhumations of mass graves containing executed civilians, and the institutionalised and supposedly more settled cultural memory communicated through museums.
Within UNREST’s theoretical framework, mass grave exhumations and war museums stand at opposite poles of memory building processes of Europe’s violent past. This comparative scheme creates an unprecedented analytical framework to critically elaborate on the relative weight of the deployment of the three different modalities of memory making under scrutiny in UNREST (antagonistic, cosmopolitan, agonistic). On the one hand, UNREST understands such mass graves as the ground zero of European past violence and memory, as close as they are to direct death and destruction. War museums, on the other, represent the black boxes of European memory, encoding a myriad of memorial tensions and stakeholder agendas behind their existence and deployment. While mass graves expose the bare violence inscribed in corpses and skeletons, which has to be traumatically absorbed by the affected communities (hot memory), war museums are the (unstable) result of highly elaborated memory politics (cold memory). One crucial point of tension highlighting the interest of the comparative analysis between the two empirical cases is that the bodies retrieved from such exhumations cannot still be musealised. Instead, they are subjected to processes of remembrance, commemoration, dignification and may even become evidential proof in criminal cases. Thus, the mass graves under study define the external red lines of musealised patrimony of Europe’s violent past, and contribute to better understanding of the limits of the politics and rhetorics of exhibition in the war museums. Conversely, in-depth study of war museums can be used as a thermometer of which memory processes related to mass violence in Europe become cool enough to be formally exhibited and which are off-limits. These tensions reveal some major ambiguities and unsolved questions in the building of a European memory of the violent past.

The following five museums of the First and Second World War from different European countries will thereby be analysed:

  • Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne/France
  • Kobarid Museum /Slovenia
  • Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory, Historical Museum of Kraków/Poland
  • German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst/Germany
  • Bundeswehr Military History Museum, Dresden/Germany

For more information please contact Dr. Cristian Cercel.