A decolonial Europe? Periods and places for defeated peoples

Project within the TANDEM program of The Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS), Charles University and CEFRES/CNRS based on the CEFRES Platform’s cooperation and endeavour to excellency in social and human sciences.

After two deadly world wars, post 1945 Europe was conceived as a political model of peace, offering a safe heaven. Going against the ideal of unity it nonetheless bore, its reorganisation led to new divisions and an inward-looking attitudes towards borders, social spaces and populations.

Ethnic minorities from East Prussia who joined Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, form the masses known as the “losers of history” that are settling in these nation-states. They thus abandoned their material and social spaces. Replenished, these places have now been reinvested by the new occupants. To this, can be added the genocide and/or dissolution of entire Jewish communities that sometimes coexisted in different ways with these groups. Discovering their condition’s fragility, as well as the illusory nature of a relation to their country of origin, to a supposed ethnic or cultural “affinity”, these populations have moved from a transnational and/or cross-border framework that was very often thought of locally, to a closed national framework. They found themselves often marginalised along administrative categories, norms, interrelationships, as well as in the relationship of individuals and historical imaginary.  Having built up a distinct sense of belonging, they transformed their former local and regional places of settlement into homelands, cultivating a “retrotopical” attitude (Bauman, 2017).

This project will therefore compare the vision of these vanquished populations (Watchel, 1971) who are both actors playing out their history and narrators of their own story.  In the long term, indeed, recalls Koselleck, “historic gains in knowledge are from the vanquished”. They rethink and rebuild history in a different manner, adapt their previous social frameworks and open up third-party spaces, transformative places for their imaginations, practices, ties, topographies and feelings of otherness.

This project aims to analyse the dissident nature of these displacements that mark the era of intra- and extra-European decolonisation, and the dissonance of their “post-colonial” vision through three central themes:

  • –  The contextualised inequalities among the different actors in their access to the historical narrative;
  • –  The forms of alternative memory and omissions that accompany them, particularly the Jewish genocide and/or the disappearance of entire Jewish communities (especially in Islamic countries);
  • –  The ordinary representations of the past provided by the social actors involved.

The objective is to describe how these populations have transplanted into their new national frameworks, material, linguistic and memory-related fragments of vast lost empires and local spaces experienced and considered as transregional (and transnational). Through their accumulated knowledge, their memory- and space-based practices, their imaginations and their languages, they draw an invisible map of another Europe, one fuelled by often ambivalent utopian and nostalgic forms, if not to say toxic.

Following this idea, this project proposes to map social memory-based knowledge and gaps where there is only silence, such as grey areas, as it enters the historical production, in alternative forms of mediation of the past making of history a relatively open corpus and in which interact various forms of past mediations. The adopted methodology will rely on numerical humanities for its data analysis and complex knowledges, mobilising written sources, archives, material artefacts, the collected cartography and empirical data (participative observations, qualitative interviews…) to different levels, mezzo and micro in particular (associations – focus group.) It will be built around specific cases remaining open, with a consideration for contested spaces, such as the Koper/Capodistria zone bordering Italy and Croatia, or South Tyrol.

Initiated by Michèle Baussant, anthropologist and CNRS director, this research will be led by an international team, in the process of being formed. Anchored in a multidisciplinary strategy, it will include a Hungarian as well as a Belgium partner. Other members could be considered. A PhD student will also be joining the team, leading its own research project and actively participating in the diverse organisational activities needed for the research.