The Past is Another Country: Myth and Memory in Postwar Europe

TitleThe Past is Another Country: Myth and Memory in Postwar Europe
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsJudt, Tony
Date Published10/1992

From the end of World War II until the revolutions of 1989, the frontiers of Europe and with 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 transnational unification tied to the reconstruction and modernization 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. In this article, the author aims to propose some reflections upon the price that was paid for this deliberate and sudden unconcern with the immediate European past and its replacement by "Euro-cant" in its various forms. He argues that the special character of the wartime experience in continental Europe, and the ways in which the memory of that experience was distorted, sublimated, and appropriated, bequeathed to the postwar era an identity that was fundamentally false, dependent upon the erection of an unnatural and unsustainable frontier between past and present in European public memory. He further suggests that the ways in which the official versions of the war and postwar era have unraveled in recent years are indicative of unresolved problems which lie at the center of the present continental crisis - an observation true of both Western and Eastern Europe, though in distinctive ways. Finally, he notes some of the new myths and mis-memories attendant upon the collapse of communism and the ways in which these, too, are already shaping, and misshaping the new European "order."

Entry by GWC Assistants / Work by GWC Assistants : 

Type of Literature:

Time Period: