Monday, 14 January 2013

History is the fabric of our existence

King George I of Greece and Tsar
Ferdinand of Bulgaria at Thessaloniki,
December 1912.
This post emerged as a reaction to the historical content of this week's "Picture of the Week", namely (1912-1913) Balkan Wars. I felt I had to explain why I used a historical picture from such an ambiguous and politically sensitive period for Greece, its Balkan neighbours and Europe at large. For Greece this period marks the beginning of the end (later in 1922) of its adolescence. For the Balkans it has been an era of redrawing the map as religious and ethnic minorities and majorities class for space and influence and eventual breakaway from a dying Ottoman Empire and an emerging "New Turks" Turkey. For Europe, The Treaty of London, 1913 is possibly the last act of the Great Powers before the events that led to WWI that led to WWII that led to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951 that has evolved into the EEC, the EC and finally the EU. The ECSC was an international community based on supranationalism and international law, designed to help the economy of Europe and prevent future war by integrating its members.

History provides us with a collective memory; it gives us a sense of connection to place, time and community. And that sensibility is being lost. The destruction of the past and of the social mechanisms that link one's contemporary experience to that of earlier generations, is one of the most characteristic and worrying phenomena of the late 20th century. Most young people at the century's end grow up in a sort of permanent present lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in. This is true for Greece as it is true for all Europe, more or less.

History is not an elective course, one for memorizing names and dates. History is the fabric of our existence. Without it, we are nothing more than children. Cicero: "To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?"

History is not a weapon but it has been used as such. Also dangerous, if not more so, is to falsify history for propaganda reasons; the artificial creation of a non-existing collective memory. This kind of propaganda creates zealots and "zealotry". This has been exercised many times in the not so distant past with notable examples the Nazis and the Soviets but also by many other self proclaimed ethnic groups that soil their zealotry on an artificially constructed history.

None the less, the lack of proper teaching of European and national history is even more critical now. As more and more the memories of the generations of War disappear into oblivience, we witness the return of separatism, nationalism and fascism. Soon -if not already- the younger generations will not be able to understand why Europe should have a Union. What led to this. Why should the "northern voters" pay with their surpluses for the deficits of the "reckless south". Soon the consequences of the loss of our collective memory will lead us to another War. This seems inevitable but is not unavoidable.

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