The full version of this article will appear in the book Historical Politics in the 21st Century, edited by Alexei Miller and Masha Lipman.
In the early1980s, the new West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who had a doctorate degree in history, made the revisiting of some key interpretations of the recent past a crucial element of his “moral and political pivot” policy. This policy line, effectuated under the motto of consolidating German patriotism, was aimed at fortifying his victory over the Social Democrats in official historical discourse. As the polemics stepped up, which grew into the famous Historikerstreit, or the “battle of historians,” shortly after that, opponents labeled the policy as Geschichtspolitik.
In 2004, a group of Polish historians politically close to the Kaczynski brothers’ Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (Law and Justice) party said polityka historyczna (historical policy) was important for Poland. They made a conscientious choice as they translated the notion of Geschichtspolitik literally, although it had a derogatory label in Germany, while Kohl’s supporters never used it for self-identification. It was then that the broad use of history for political purposes, so typical of Eastern European countries in the early 2000s, got its name. Soon afterwards, the notion of historical policy spread across Polish borders to neighboring countries.
The phenomenon we are dealing with is an individual case of the politicization of history that has transformed into a global tendency. Each individual element of the political interpretation of history in Eastern Europe over the past decade most likely has parallels in other parts of the globe as well. Moreover, each Eastern European nation has its own specificity in this sense. At the same time, intertwining all the elements of politicizing history in a single region is quite unique. The intensity with which neighboring countries have borrowed the techniques and forms of this policy from one another over the past decade has not been matched; neither has the establishment of a mechanism to escalate the politicization of history in interstate relations or inside each particular country. Thus, why do we not manipulate the notion of historical policy and use it as a term in our research to denote the regional specificity of politicizing history in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 21st century?
AFTER COMMUNISM, AFTER THE EMPIRE
Firstly, it would make sense to note some specific features the region inherited from the decades of Communist domination. The description of recent history, above all the period between the two World Wars and during World War II, was subjected to harsh censorship in all Communist countries. That was the result of a struggle with the enemies of the regime and, partly, of a desire to refine the history of the Communist movement. Although the Communists as such were not involved in the Holocaust, they would typically not talk about the extermination of the Jews – mostly for ideological “anti-Zionist” considerations, and often avoided the touchy aspects of participation by the local population in these crimes. Taboos were also imposed on prewar and wartime ethnic conflicts, as these issues were deemed out-of-place in the “fraternity of peoples of the Socialism camp.”
Still, the existence of large blank spots, which should rather be referred to as the “minefields” of collective memory in many cases, a surge in nationalistic emotions during the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, and subsequently the Soviet Union, cannot explain the sharp intensification in historical policy in the 2000s. By the beginning of the 21st century, researchers were looking at many previous taboos and the mass media were paying particular attention as well. New national narratives were embedded in official discourse and school textbooks. Old monuments had mostly been pulled down, to be replaced by new ones reflecting national pride, or at least as far as their authors could understand the notion.
Among the changes that occurred after the collapse of Communism, the new status of history and historians in society stands out. Strictly speaking, the notion of historical politics as such is worth applying only to societies that are democratic, or at least pluralistic, since the latter demonstrate some degree of commitment to democratic values, including freedom of speech. It is precisely these conditions that give rise to politics as a competition among different actors, parties and viewpoints. In Soviet-style authoritarian societies, the authorities meddled with the study of history and memory policies, proceeding from the official presumption of ideological monopoly, the mechanisms of omnipresent censorship, and administrative control over professional historiography. Dissenting historians were subjected to harsh reprimands at party meetings, and persistent dissidents were fired from their jobs.
All these mechanisms undergo transformation in a society that claims to be democratic. Unlike the former Communist party-state system, a group or a party holding power at a given moment is no longer synonymous with the state. The public sphere becomes pluralistic and the government can no longer aspire to have full control, even more so repressive control. A new set of norms is endorsed at the official level. School education becomes pluralistic, since history teachers are free to choose textbooks and interpret historical events and processes. As a rule, legislation protects schools from the influence of political parties.
Historical scholars are entitled to independence and intellectual freedom. State funds allocated for historical research are distributed on the basis of expert decisions made by the community of professional historians. State financing of education and research does not presuppose the right of the group or party in power at a given moment to dictate the content of education or research programs. That funding does not come from party funds, but is provided by the state budget, that is through public taxes. The political force holding power cannot lay claims to an ideological monopoly. Access to the archives is supposed to be universal and regulated by laws, not by administrative decisions.
The former system of strict party control over the historical science, historical publications and history as a school subject was demolished right after the collapse of the Communist regimes. One might say that the 1990s became a kind of transitional period in many Eastern European countries when historians were left free. Politicians did not have the time or the opportunity to interfere. Moreover, they still had to master all the diversity of methods of historical policy.
Naturally, not all post-Communist societies managed to transform themselves into genuine democracies. More-or-less steady democratic systems took shape only in countries that were quick candidates for NATO and EU membership, and which were later admitted to those organizations. Other post-Communist countries, which remained on the sidelines of EU expansion, demonstrated various forms of political plurality and soft authoritarianism that largely relied on a social contract with the population, rather than on repression. The facade democracy practiced by the elites of those countries for domestic and international legitimization raised the costs of repressive policies. Even in the most authoritarian countries of the region, the current situation is marked by a greater degree of freedom than during Communist rule.
Eastern European countries are no longer subject to official censorship; nor is there state control over publishing houses, or a single, ideological power monopoly. The government does not steer the activity of professional historians and research institutions, and it does not have monopoly over the channels of financing. It is also important that the state does not risk making open claims about the restoration of a system regulating scientific research, even if it wants to do so (the legacy of the previous regime that manifests itself in intellectual habits and reflexes is found in all Eastern European countries). The Internet is something the government cannot control and it has acquired new significance everywhere. In other words, even though historical policy in Eastern Europe is rooted in many ways in the legacy of the old Communist period, it represents a new set of practices concerning the political utilization of history typical only of pluralistic non-Communist societies. It is quite another thing that the makeup of political regimes and civic society there stands in marked contrast to developed democracies in the West.
This factor deserves a detailed discussion. Interpretations of the very nature of the phenomenon we call ‘historical policy’ usually put all the emphasis on the Communist legacy. In other words, current political manipulations of history are interpreted as the legacy of past abuses, as a consequence of lingering habits formed previously, or as a natural evolution of the countries that have freed themselves from Moscow’s imperial domination. The latter ostensibly presupposes focusing efforts on the consolidation of ethnic self-identity. However, such interpretations diminish the novelty of the phenomenon.
Furthermore, it is exactly the political nature of historical policy as a phenomenon that makes researchers pay more attention to the actors, institutions and methods of this policy, rather than diverse interpretations of the past in its format. These issues have usually escaped the attention of scholars so far.
The post-Communist and/or imperial legacy has been viewed as a universal rationale for the forms that the politicization of history acquired in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 21st century. However, this leaves out a crucial circumstance – the marked diversity of the nature of political plurality across Eastern European countries.
Firstly, some Eastern European countries are seeing a split along cultural and/or ethnic lines. Importantly, in some countries (such as Ukraine) this split is the center of political life, while in others it has been driven to the political periphery (in Estonia and Latvia, where a considerable number of ethnic Russians are still banished from official politics). Moldova combines the two options: the split between “Romanianists” and “Moldovanists” has penetrated the very core of the political sector, while the Transnistria (Pridnestrovie) region stands apart from it. In other words, the overall “post-imperialism” or “post-colonialism” should not overshadow the considerable differences in the character of challenges that Eastern European countries run into as they seek to build their collective identities.
Secondly, Poland, Hungary, and other post-Communist nations that are members of the EU are relatively full-fledged democracies, although there is still room for improvement. This democratic stability is bolstered, among other things, by a powerful external factor in the form of influences wielded by EU institutions. Ukraine and Moldova have pluralistic systems, where the outcome of elections is not always predetermined by the people holding the reins of power when the votes are counted. Still, democratic institutions are underdeveloped and highly unstable in this region. Russia has an authoritarian regime, in which political struggle is neither explicit nor conventional, and is replaced by what can be called “the struggle between the Kremlin’s towers.” Nonetheless, Russians enjoy considerable freedom of speech. Belarus has been demonstrating a considerable similarity with tough authoritarian regimes in Central Asia. All these differences naturally leave imprints on the historical policy in different countries.
DIVERSITY OF ACTORS
The issue of who the active operators and/or actors are is crucial for analyzing historical policy. Furthermore, a multitude of works devoted to the problem known as the “politics of history,” the “politics of memory,” or “political wars around history” overlook that issue in practical terms.
The field is crowded with all kinds of players: political leaders, political parties, new specialized institutions (such as the Institutions of National Remembrance, and a number of museums established under the patronage of particular parties over the past twenty years), traditional research organizations like the Academy of Sciences, various non-governmental organizations (from the Memorial human rights center to Alexander Dyukov’s Historical Memory foundation), associations (including associations bringing together the victims of repressions and their descendants), the mass media (especially those that view historical problems as indispensable highlights), and politically active ethnic communities. The champions of historical policy from the milieu of professional historians deserve a special remark. There is a wide variety of people among their ranks, ranging from profoundly committed enthusiasts to career professionals, who will service any political client in exchange for positions and remunerations. It would be interesting to trace the role of the generational factor in this. Especially amazing is the new type of young people who bear a strong resemblance to Soviet-era Young Communist League functionaries. These personalities are strikingly similar in different nations (Piotr Gontarczyk, Slawomir Cenckiewicz and Pawel Zyzak in Poland; Volodymir Vyatrovych and Ruslan Zabily in Ukraine; Alexander Dyukov and Pavel Danilin in Russia; and the list continues).
Furthermore, there needs to be a detailed study of the fight against historical policy. We can see perfectly well that professional historians in some countries – for instance, in Poland – put up organized resistance to these practices, sometimes through the mass media. On some occasions historical policy bumps into resistance in the form of covert sabotage from traditional scientific organizations, especially the Academies of Sciences. For example, one can recall that employees of the Russian Academy of Sciences were extremely reluctant to expose the “falsifiers of history,” even after a notorious presidential commission was set up for that purpose. A vote in the historical/philological department of the Academy against Dr. Alexander Danilov, who edited the ill-famed “Danilov-Filippov textbook,” as director of the Institute of Russian History, falls into the same category.
By way of citing more examples from Russia’s reality, one should stress the crucial role public opinion – and especially some Internet publications – plays in opposing historical policy. Generally speaking, the Internet is gradually turning into an arena and instrument to spread historical policy. This calls for in-depth consideration, since the ways this medium functions and the styles of statements made on the Internet have a specificity of their own.
In general, the situation in Eastern Europe is different because attempts by politicians to interfere in education and the public functioning of history have not met with strong resistance from society. This becomes especially clear if one compares the situation with that in Britain, where active debates on how to teach history at schools have been going for more than twenty years. Moreover, the problems of national identity and state interests occupy an important place in those debates.
Active participation by politicians in these debates is seen in the criticism of school history curricula, which emphasize the history of everyday life rather than the ‘glorious victories’ of the British Army and Navy. One can regularly hear concerns over the failure of history lessons to play a large enough role in the patriotic upbringing of the youth and the shaping of national identity. The main opponents in these debates are organizations like the National Council for School Curriculum and Assessment and the National Association of Head Teachers, which are prepared to resolutely defend their interests. As a consequence, politicians are unable to impose an agenda of their own, to say nothing of dictating certain decisions. They are compelled instead to take part in professional debates and to abide by their rules if politicians want to win voters over to their side. In other words, politicians have to discuss the tricky and ambivalent issues of teaching history as an asset of public heritage, without primitive political slogans or persecution of those who think differently.
Diverse political conditions in Eastern European countries raise an important question for researchers: What mutations do the institutions and methods of historical policy undergo when spreading across borders? The instances of mutation are myriad. The Institute of National Remembrance, set up by Poland relying on the experience of Joachim Gauck’s commission in Germany, has seen changes in its legal status in the context of inter-party political struggle. In Ukraine, however, such an institute turned into a self-mockery: instead of steering the study of the Communist Security Services’ archives, it was transformed into a subdivision of Ukraine’s Security Service. In Russia, the idea of setting up an institute of this kind fueled some different institutional decisions, one of which was the notorious presidential commission for “fighting the falsifications of history.”
Another institutional idea consistently borrowed from country to country was the formation of commissions to investigate the crimes of totalitarian regimes, which mostly engaged in compiling lists of Soviet crimes. The scale of the crimes was often assessed in dozens of billions of U.S. dollars, which the commissions proposed getting in compensation. These commissions functioned for many years in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Moldova’s acting president Mihai Ghimpu formed the body in 2010. It was given the unambiguous task of producing the report in six months’ time, on the eve of the presidential election. The purely practical nature of this initiative was never concealed.
One more example of the institutional dimension of historical policy and intensive cross-border borrowings is the creation of museums under the patronage of certain political forces. Any alternative positions on what such museums would display are ignored outright. Take for instance the Warsaw Uprising Museum, founded by the Kaczynski brothers; the House of Terror in Budapest, set up by Hungarian right-wing groups; or the Museum of Soviet Occupation in Ukraine (including the standard design exhibition of the Holodomor, the man-made famine in Ukraine in the 1932-1933), established under the patronage of former president Victor Yushchenko. Historical narrative in general and museum exhibitions in particular often focus on martyrology, or the image of an enemy, which most typically is tailored on an association with contemporary political forces inside and outside the country. Quite often these are museums of invasion and/or genocide. Almost all post-Communist countries except Russia see a political task for themselves in showing off titular nations as victims of 20th-century genocide. When the epidemic of manipulating the notion of genocide reached Russia during the August 2008 war in Georgia, it produced a brief, but very intensive, splash, which was manifested in attempts to describe the Georgian Army’s attack on South Ossetia in terms of genocide.
It is noteworthy that Warsaw’s municipal authorities have recently rejected the Museum of Communism project endorsed by the Kaczynskis’ Law and Justice party. The municipality is controlled by the Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform) party that has assimilated a moderate line towards historical policy recently.
Historical policy manifests itself at the legislative level, too, when national parliaments pass laws establishing an interpretation of events as the only correct one. Sometimes these bills – and even the laws after endorsement – stipulate criminal punishments for those who call these interpretations into question. This practice is not only typical of Eastern Europe. Similar legislative acts exist in France and Turkey. Their authors will typically refer to Holocaust denial laws adopted in some Western countries. Such references are conscientiously plotted manipulations, since Holocaust denial laws prosecute the refutation of the very fact, rather than attempting to make interpretations.
The methods of historical policy are in many ways clear from what we said earlier. One can divide them into five groups. Obviously, the classification proposed below is rather conventional, since all the methods listed are closely intertwined.
First, the setting up of specialized institutes which are used to impose certain interpretations of past events beneficial for a political force. The problem of financing presents a special interest in this sense. If a party has its own financial resources that it allocates for research it finds necessary or deems correct in historical orientation, it has the right to do so, just like all other regular sponsors do. This sponsorship must be transparent and subject to common regulations. However, the principles of transparency are frequently disregarded and – most importantly – Eastern European countries often use money from federal budgets controlled by political forces holding the levers of power. A dubious, and often illegal, use of finances – and especially budget money – is a characteristic feature of historical policy.
Second, there is political interference in the mass media. This is by no means a specific feature of Eastern European, since such practices take place in countries like France, Japan and Turkey. However, Eastern Europe offers a marked difference. In some cases such interference is fraught with serious troubles for politicians, while in other cases it constitutes an undeclared norm. The latter case applies to practically all Eastern European countries. Although instances of outright censorship in the form of deleting sections from books and movies are rare, widely used methods include marginalizing opponents, and blocking access to television and the most widely read papers.
Third, archives are manipulated, partially by labeling many state archival materials as classified documents, although the law states that researches should have access to them. Priority, or sometimes exclusive, access to archival documents is given only to historians who lean towards one or another political force. Materials are retailored for publication and independent experts do not have an opportunity to verify them.
Fourth, new measures are devised and used to control the work of historians. In addition to moral pressures on opponents, an entire system emerges of official and non-official bonuses for historians close to certain political parties. In some cases, this presupposes privileged salaries and status; for instance, for the staff members of Institutes of National Remembrance. While on the government payroll, researchers at these institutes enjoy much larger salaries than their counterparts at regular research institutes or universities. Part of this special status is a much higher level of “discipline” and risk of losing one’s privileges. In other cases, people with a merit record in terms of historical policy can expect to receive support in getting key posts at academic institutions.
Fifth, there are instances of political interference in the content of textbooks and curricula, up to overt encroachments on the law. This was exactly the case with a chapter on ‘sovereign democracy’ in the Danilov/Filippov textbook that portrayed an element of the ruling party’s ideology as an objective and even scientifically grounded concept.
The aspect all these methods have in common is the use of state administrative and financial resources in the field of history and historical policy to serve the interests of the ruling party.
Political manipulations with history in the new conditions demand a new ideological grounding. The ideological foundations of historical policy reveal stark similarities in all Eastern European countries and are based on four principal postulations.
In the first place, history and memory (remembrance) are regarded primarily as an arena of political fighting with enemies, both domestic and external. This leads to the conclusion that “history is too important to be left to the care of historians.” This in turn means that historians need to be placed under the control of people more sophisticated in political issues. Historians as such do not have the right to refer to the principles of professional ethics in order to claim independence from politics.
Secondly, there is an assertion that “everyone is doing it.” Thus an attempt is made to justify in the public eye an obvious infringement on the principles accepted in democratic societies of how social science functions. The true and imaginary instances of manipulations in the sphere of historical consciousness and collective memory in other countries are invariably cited to substantiate the thesis that the politicization of history is an “unavoidable evil,” not as something of which the nation should be apprehensive.
Thirdly, there is a belief that historians have a duty to put up “solidarity resistance” to interpretations of history that are detrimental to the homeland and are used by external enemies. It is only natural that polemics with opponents at home gives way to personal assaults, accusations of complicity with the enemy, or attempts to pass the opponent off as an alien. As a consequence, any room for dialogue about the problems of history inside the country is destroyed and – let us reiterate – the productive instruments of public discussion of the past as an asset of common heritage are broken, too.
The mechanism for destroying the space for dialogue is applied to relations with the outside world, as well. The adepts of historical policy on both sides of the border initiate a heated war of words with each other. They sometimes conduct this war under the motto of a “dialogue of national historiographies.” A standoff like this usually boils down to defending opposing arguments. What it suggests sounds like “We’ll say ‘no’ to each ‘yes’ on their part, and vice versa.” Since neither side wants to convince or understand the other, these discussions only aggravate the conflict and eventually serve as a means of legitimizing the adepts of historical policy inside each country. This, in essence, replicates a characteristic feature of Soviet propaganda, where increased brainwashing inside the country became the main technique of responding to the “malicious ideological designs of the enemy.” In the past no one in the West except for postgraduate students with bizarre tastes would read Soviet critiques of “bourgeois historiography.” Nor does anyone today in the Baltic States read the rancorous tirades of Russian champions of historical policy, which they spearhead at coeval Baltic fighters with Soviet totalitarianism.
The aftermath of this approach is highly destructive both for professional historians and for public morals. It breeds a conviction in society that craving for objectivity in historical research and assessments is little more than a facet of naivety, or a hypocritical camouflage for ethnic or political partiality. Double standards in the assessment of political personalities and events are used excessively, and discussions are sidetracked about the essence of genuinely historical issues. Those who allegedly conduct discussion in the format of historical policy are, in fact, engaged in imitating it, as they address their own target audiences instead of addressing opponents in reality.
Ukrainian historian Georgy Kasyanov, who conducted a brilliant survey of the Holodomor as a specific form of cultural reality, listed the following generic features of the discourse: ethnic exclusiveness; confrontational orientation; elements of xenophobia; preponderance of ideological forms over scientific ones; accentuating the martyr’s mission of the own nation; imparting a sacred nature to ethnic torments; equating the nation to a human body; the domination of moralistic rhetoric; and a justificatory pathos that relegates the main responsibility for the harm sustained to external factors, primarily to Russian communism. All the nine signs of the syndrome inevitably show up in discourses molded in the format of historical policy in all Eastern European countries.
Fourthly, the justification of historical policy is made under the pretext of an allegedly pitiful state of patriotism and the inconsistent teaching of history at schools. The same cunning explanations stand behind proposals to jettison (provisionally) the plurality of views from textbooks and concepts, so that “our children could at least learn the basics.” Regarding “the basics,” priority is given to fostering patriotism, not the critical civic stance. Naturally, patriotism is to be fostered with the aid of the historical narrative that highlights the moments of a nation’s glory and sufferings, and carefully erases the guilt of some of its members.
INTERNAL POLITICAL OBJECTIVES
In reality, however, concern for public interests will typically disguise the sheer party-oriented goals of historical policy. The “truly patriotic” version of history is unfailingly lucrative for a definite political force. Take Poland, for example, where the supporters of historical policy used it as an instrument in fighting with contenders over the Kaczynski brothers’ right to be considered the sole genuine successors to the Solidarity movement. In Ukraine, the interpretations of the history of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the famine of 1932-1933 voiced by Victor Yushchenko provided support for him in the struggle with the opposition and helped (in the opinion of the authors of this policy) to install a concept of the Ukrainian nation that matched the ideas espoused by the former president and his political associates. As for Russia, the historical policy conducted from 2007-2009 overtly served the objectives of ‘sovereign democracy’ that was (or maybe still is) an element of the United Russia party’s political program.
Historical policy is instrumental in struggling for votes and eliminating competitors on the basis of lustration laws or in the absence of such laws. This partly results from the sterilizing of meaningful agendas, in which case the desire for votes appeals to interpreting the past, rather than resolving the acute problems of contemporary development. This also works the other way, when the real life situation throws in a convenient theme for a campaign from a different sector. In this case, historical policy is shelved immediately, such as what happened in Poland after Lech Kaczynski’s death in a plane crash near Smolensk.
It is a persistent fact that the intensification of historical policy in the early 21st century is mostly linked to the activities of right-wing parties. Right-wingers are active players in the field of nationalism and patriotism, where they take on the role of “defenders of the homeland.” They often invoke alarmist motives of a threat to national sovereignty, dignity, and traditional national values. The subjects of “historical injustice” and “genocide” are devised in such a way that the role of victim is assigned exclusively to their own ethnic group or nationality, while demands for repentance are regulated to external forces. Today’s liberals are more inclined to raise the problem of historical responsibility of their own group, and it is much more fruitful for fostering public morality and for relations with neighboring countries. This does not mean that liberals or left-wingers refrain from implementing some methods of historical policy, especially in modeling the public discourse about the past. However, on the whole, right-wing forces tend to use historical policy instruments on a much larger scale.
FOREIGN POLICY OBJECTIVES
As a rule, historical policy plays a less important role in foreign relations, although its supporters will usually claim the opposite. If deep splits emerge along political, cultural, or linguistic lines due to discord within official quarters, then internal political tasks almost certainly become historical policy priorities, even in cases where the debates and manipulations formally focus on relations with the outside world. At the same time one should not underestimate or – and this happens quite often – oversimplify the role the external context plays in Eastern Europe. The foreign policy factor has never exerted an influence in one dimension only. Research mostly brings out the post-imperial dimension of the situation, i.e. the tensions between Russia, on the one hand, and the former Soviet republics or Warsaw Pact countries, on the other. Although this aspect is self-evident, it will hardly help understand the dynamics of current developments, as it does not explain in any way the sharp increase in historical policy in 2003-2004, and its noticeable decline in 2009 and 2010.
Eastern European countries found themselves in a previously unknown situation in 2003 and 2004, when the war in Iraq jolted the unity of the West and the world, prodded on by Donald Rumsfeld, started speaking about Old and New Europe. The “smaller” Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – were always concerned by what they believed to be insufficient guarantees of security they had received from the West, while joining NATO and the EU. These apprehensions intensified after the NATO and U.S.-led invasion of Iraq had exposed deep divisions between Washington and its leading European allies. In these conditions, actively exploiting the theme of victims of Soviet totalitarianism and of betrayal on the part of the liberal West on the eve of World War II was addressed precisely to Western public opinion, since it mirrored the willingness of “smaller” countries to ensure security guarantees from leading Western powers.
Georgia’s Rose Revolution in 2003 and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 also raised the stakes in Eastern Europe. This was the time when historical policy sharply intensified and received its name.
There is hardly any doubt that the new U.S. administration in 2009, and the ensuing changes in the course and rhetoric in U.S.-Russian relations, strongly influenced the situation. The Obama administration made it absolutely clear to the New Europe that it had no interest in a further growth in tensions in those countries’ relations with Moscow. The change facilitated steps towards a “dОtente” in some cases, and this applies to efforts undertaken by Moscow and the Polish government led by Donald Tusk since 2008. This in turn prompted the Russian authorities to make serious adjustments in their own approach to historical issues.
At the same time, warmer relations between Moscow and the major European powers, which have been interpreted as a return to Realpolitik, are yet another reason for using historical policy as far as the Baltic States are concerned. It is worth noting that, contrary to Poland where certain political forces proved ready to supplement the “resetting” of relations between Washington and Moscow with a “dОtente” between Warsaw and Moscow, the leaders of the Baltic States have kept up the previous line – in spite of U.S. recommendations to lower passions. A fear that their interests may turn into a subject for bargaining compels smaller Eastern European countries to continue employing historical policy as an instrument of influencing public opinion in the West.
One can presume that the 2012 presidential election in the U.S. will become a landmark for historical policy in Eastern Europe regardless of who wins in the White House. The Obama administration’s policy will either be reaffirmed and dОtente – including in the field of historical policy – will continue, or we will see a new surge of this policy. In any case, the annals of historical policy are far from exhausted.
It is difficult to predict the future of historical policy today. The intensity of “historical wars in Europe” has decreased since 2009, but the process could still be reversed. First of all, it is not at all clear how long the resetting of relations between Moscow and Washington will last. Secondly, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there is a crisis in European integration. This has already ignited a growth in nationalistic economic sentiment all across Europe. In time, this may call into question achievements made in historical reconciliation and the surmounting of past divisions, which underlies the European Union. It is still very likely that history will be used as a tool for political disputes among EU member-states and in conflicts with immigrant communities inside European countries. Eastern Europe beyond the EU continues to be quite unstable – politically, economically, and even with respect to borders and the countries per se. Given this situation, reverting to extremely aggressive, conflict-prone and destructive methods of historical policy is still a realistic threat.