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Europe exploits the Holocaust to spread its message of tolerance

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pampango Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-27-11 04:02 PM
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Europe exploits the Holocaust to spread its message of tolerance

To be sure, honouring the victims of the Nazi era is the motive behind Holocaust commemoration in most European countries. But the goal of these initiatives is not only to reflect on Europe's dark past. What matters in Europe even more is to build a future and to boast about a future that has absorbed the lessons of the Holocaust a future free of genocide, racism and discrimination, and imbued with ideals of peace, tolerance and utopian harmony. Unfortunately, European harmony may be desirable but it is not so easily attained. And not only because it is rooted in genocide. Beneath the harmonious rhetoric of tolerance and inclusion, Europe smoulders with conflicts over exclusion and power struggles over how to establish a world without hatred.

National identities and national memories still loomed large and blocked the emergence of a supranational European consciousness. The vision of a unified Europe could not be achieved without first fostering a common European memory about the continent's recent past. That, at least, was what politicians, intellectuals and pedagogues insisted when they agreed to base European historical identity on the liberation of Auschwitz. Collective identity demands a common vision for the future as well as a shared past. The Holocaust granted both. And the shocking experience of recent genocidal wars in the former Yugoslavia right on the doorstep of countries that had felt safe from mass violence further popularised the rhetoric of "Never again".

Taking their cue from Germany, which continues to honestly face its past as perpetrator nation, other European countries have owned up to their collaboration with the Nazis (Lithuania is a notable exception). Indeed, European memorial politics is rich with spectacular self-criticism, presented in ritualised apologies that don't leave much space for the suffering of victims or their children and grandchildren.

The message of tolerance and peace is not only addressed to Europe but also to those countries that, according to the European view, haven't adequately learned the lessons of the Holocaust namely the United States, still too often engaged in war, and especially Israel. Europe, of course, has learned the lessons of the Holocaust best. That is the message of Auschwitz remembrance. Has it really done so? In truth, the "other" is far away from the "us" of European cosmopolitanism. Jews are welcome in many (though not all) parts of Europe, but Jewish cultures the European "other" of the past no longer exist and Jewish traditions are no longer known in cosmopolitan Europe. Muslim cultures, the new European "other", are even less welcome and ousted as soon as they become too different.

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is part of Germany's honest acceptance of its past as perpetrator nation.
Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
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