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"The Commemoration of the Great War in East-Central Europe 1918-1939"

CAS 06/11/2006

A workshop at the Central European University, Budapest
23-25 March 2007

This workshop aims to explore the way that the First World War was commemorated or memorialized across East-Central Europe in the inter-war period. It will seek to analyze this comparatively across the region, to understand the changing and diverse character of memorialization, but also to identify similar processes at work that transcended the nationalist state structure of the New Europe. Papers are particularly welcome from graduate students, local historians and archivists, as well as from university historians from the East-Central European region.

A key theory for all speakers to address is that commemoration was always multifaceted and often divisive in even the most homogeneous communities.

Topics for discussion will include:
• Local rituals of commemoration
• The erection of local or national memorials
• The official (state) commemoration
• New rituals due to new sacrifice (eg. the Austrian ‘civil war’)
• Socialist or fascist interpretations of the Great War and their reflection in ceremonies
• The sacrifice of national minorities: eg. Slovene, Magyar, Saxon, Polish, Ukrainian, Sudeten German, Jews; and their ties to the ‘mother community’ (Germany, Hungary, etc).
• The role of women
• Private grieving and forgetting
• Official and private visits to graves and battlefields
• The role of veteran groups and youth movements
• The subsequent history of the wartime memorials (post-1939)

Historical Context
Historians over the past decade have done much to illuminate how the Great War was remembered in the western half of Europe, how the sacrifice might be interpreted, and the public rituals which began to accompany the process of commemoration and grieving. This ‘cultural approach’ to the aftermath of the war has, on the whole, not been applied to the eastern half of Europe, usually identified with the ‘Successor States’ of the Habsburg Empire. Yet here there was a major transition underway, as those who had fought or sacrificed for the Habsburg Empire suddenly found themselves in newly configured nationalist states like Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary or Yugoslavia.

In these states - or in Austria, Poland or Bulgaria - the way that the sacrifice of 1914-1918 was commemorated took a variety of forms at a local and a ‘national’ level. In many of the states there was a sharp divide over how the war might be interpreted. For example, in Czechoslovakia, the official pronouncement that the war had been the culmination of a process of Czech national liberation (associated closely with the role of the Czech legionaries) sat awkwardly with the sacrifice of many Sudeten Germans or even the role played by many Czech and Slovak veterans. The same was true in Romania, with its Magyar or Swabian minorities, or in Yugoslavia where the traumatic Serbian sacrifice of 1912-1918 was now set alongside that of Croat veterans who had fought, often loyally, in the ranks of the Austro-Hungarian army.

A further complication in many regions was that the sacrifice did not end in November 1918. Whether in Hungary under Béla Kun, in the Polish-Soviet war, or in the looming civil war in Austria from 1927, new bloodshed occurred, and the commemoration of the wartime sacrifice was reinterpreted or overlain with new perspectives that obscured the 1914-18 veteran experience. In this whole traumatic process, as new states struggled to stabilize, the ritual of commemoration could be comforting, but it could also be controversial depending on the social or national setting. In some communities the memorialisation procedures were strong and specific, while in others it was perhaps difficult to supply any unifying interpretation for the commemoration.

The workshop is part of a larger three-year project, based at the University of Southampton (UK), assessing the impact of the Great War on East-Central Europe. The present event will bring together a range of historians, largely from the region itself, to discuss the question of commemoration, applying both local and national perspectives. Not least, we will learn much about the process of psychological adjustment in the Successor States, and how wartime memories played their part in creating the nationalist/fascist culture of the 1930s.

Proposals for papers should be:
• 200-300 words
• directed to Professor Mark Cornwall, Department of History, Avenue Campus, University of Southampton, Southampton, SO17 1BJ (email: ); or Dr Péter Apor, CEU (email: )
• Deadline for paper proposals: 31 December 2006.

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