Negotiating the past : restitution and historical commissions in the new Europe / by Alexander M. Karn
Includes bibliographical references (p. 73-489)
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Electronic version from ProQuest
This project explores the ways in which Europeans, particularly in the post-communist bloc, have confronted historical injustices and tried to manage the conflicts which stem from them since the end of the Cold War. Specifically, the essay examines restitution debates and the work of historical commissions to see how citizens in the "New Europe" have used their history during the transition to democracy and how the recent past figures in their newly constituted identities. Analysis of restitution focuses primarily on two countries: the Czech Republic and Poland. These countries were selected because of the ethno-national complexities which they present and because their proximity to the West, geographically as well as historically, saddled them with obligations which other countries in the post-communist bloc did not face. I argue: (1) that restitution legislation, because of the history it addresses, includes an ethno-national component which the logic of "objective" cut-offs cannot conceal; (2) that restitution legislation, in order to adhere to liberal-democratic norms, requires a group-sensitive approach and a frankness about the distinctions which group-sensitivity creates; and (3) that restitution, despite arguments against it, can serve practical ends if it manages to balance the rights of victims with those of non-victims and those of the state. With respect to the historical commissions, the dissertation treats both the national Holocaust commissions which have been convened in Poland, Switzerland, Norway, and Austria as well as the bi-lateral commissions which have tried to ameliorate conflicts between ethno-national rivals, e.g., the conflicts between Poland and Ukraine, Poland and Germany, Germany and the Czech Republic, and between Catholics and Jews wrangling over the Vatican's record during World War II. This study aims not only to analyze the work of past commissions, but also to identify a set of best practices for future bodies. In general, the prospects for these commissions are improved by a commitment to "multi-perspectival" history and by transforming the mode of inquiry from an accusatory to an explanatory framework. As a tool for managing conflict and "domesticating" the past, these commissions have been under-utilized thus far.
Record last modified: 2018-05-18 16:19:00
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