The rise of the right across Europe is facilitated by complex memory politics. The right champions various forms of nationalism allegedly remembered in absentia and distributed through successful digital media strategies. That nationalism touches upon traditional sites of memory and, more importantly, builds up a compelling short-term memory of the movement itself replete with phrases, rituals, and images of party lore. Moreover, the consistent nationalism advocated by the right coincides with a significantly weakened official cosmopolitan memory which is in decline all across Europe. The transition of WWII from communicative to cultural memory has reduced attachment to the Holocaust narrative. In addition, the dynamics of digital media tend to fragment public discourse, allegedly creating self-serving echo chambers of political bias, on the one hand, and highly emotional and divisive arenas of political confrontation, on the other, thus destabilizing the previous cosmopolitan consensus. These hypotheses deserve to be put to the test by analyzing the political discourse and memory regimes constructed by political parties via the web and social media platforms in the run up to the elections in spring of 2019. The analysis suggests that radicalization, balkanization, and historization of memory cultures contribute to the malaise but that cosmopolitan memory has also fallen victim to its own contradictions and lack of democratic and emotional legitimacy. Moreover and most disturbingly, the images and narratives of cosmopolitan memory have been coopted for the purpose of providing memory plausibility to the nationalistic project of ending immigration to Europe. In the end, right wing politicians even struck a compelling pose as the only true internationalists of European politics.
Wulf Kansteiner is professor of history at Aarhus University, Denmark. A cultural and intellectual historian of twentieth-century Europe, Kansteiner has published in the fields of media history, memory studies, historical theory, and Holocaust studies. He is the author of In Pursuit of German Memory: History, Television, and Politics after Auschwitz (2006) and coeditor of The Politics of Memory in Postwar Europe (2006), Historical Representation and Historical Truth (2009), Den Holocaust erzählen: Historiographie zwischen wissenschaftlicher Empirie und narrativer Kreativität (2013), and Probing the Ethics of Holocaust Culture (2016). He is also co-editor of the journal Memory Studies.
This keynote lecture is organized in the context of the Mnemonics Summer School 2019: Memory and Activism. Click here for more information on Mnemonics and the Summer School.
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