Saturday Essay Europe was only able to build a future after the world wars by keeping quiet about events – but the Czech author’s historical work highlights gruesome truths

The past is as much about intentional forgetting as remembering, writes journalist Pekka Torvinen.

History is never true. It is always an interpretation, some interpretations more convincing than others.

British historian Eric Hobsbawm (1917–2012) knew this when he wrote about the time of extremes, the so-called short 20th century.

The short 20th century refers to the years 1914–1991, from the beginning of the First World War to the end of the Soviet Union.

Published in 1994 Time of extremes (1999, Finnish. Pasi Junila) is both an academic historiography and a memoir or autobiography, for Hobsbawm lived himself.

“We talk about our own memories. We enliven (and correct) them and talk at a certain time as men and women who have lived in a certain place and who have been involved in history in various ways. We speak as individuals who have acted in its dramas, no matter how insignificant our role, and have taken note of the changing world. … We are part of this century. That’s part of us. ”

Second British historian Tony Judt (1948–2010) wrote Postwar (2005) their own interpretation of European history after World War II. One of its big arguments is that Europe could only build the future by remaining mostly silent about what happened in the recent past.

The past is as much about intentional forgetting as remembering. Only when the pain is gone can the past distorted by forgetting and remembering (one destroys, the other transforms) begin to catch up with a diverse history in which different narratives compete with each other. The accidental division of Europe ideologically between the West and the East was not an inevitable inevitability, but an epilogue to the European Civil War of 1914–1945. The greatest narratives of the Cold War were illusions.

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Time of extremes is a stack of about 800 pages, Postwar similar. Both are masterpieces, in-depth works that are worth reading in parallel with a few other in-depth works. Few people have the time or gusto to do so, even if they have the will.

In terms of time and time, the problem with both works is precisely the length that arises from thoroughness. In both cases, a Czech writer comes to mind Milan Kunderan (1929–) description of novels Curtainessay (2005, translated 2013): utopias of a world where there is no known oblivion. Thoughts repeated in different forms echo, multiply, direct the reader to play a symphony composed by the author.

But the reader takes breaks, and has already mostly forgotten what he read the day before the next day. The author would like the reader to remember briefly the case mentioned at the beginning of the book, as it will be returned to at the end of the book. Remember, only some sort of summary is saved, and each reader has their own kind of summary. Even if we read at the same time, we always read a different book. The novelist does not care about this, but “builds his novel like a castle of indestructible unforgettability”.

Is there Is there more optimism than writing a novel? Or is there a bolder insanity than claiming to have written history, any history, when we don’t even remember what we ate for lunch last Friday?

This is what I was thinking when I read a book published in Finnish in January Europeana – A Brief History of the 20th Century (Siltala, Finnish. Eero Balk). It is a Czech writer Patrik Ouředníkin (1957–), originally written in 2001, promising to cover the whole of Europe in less than 150 pages in the 20th century.

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What a wonderful book! Europeana don’t try to be thorough, even if it wants to tell you everything. It’s an intriguing story fueled exclusively by facts. The book is like the monologue of a few beer-scattered academic omniscientists at the corner of the corner cup, who, having gained momentum through theses and antitheses from the past century without sinking into history as a capitalized or moralistic story.

Ouředník, like his compatriot Kundera, has moved to France and translated into Czech, among other things: François Rabelais and Samuel Beckett. It belongs to Europeana.

Ouředník draws up lists of various things that would go on indefinitely unless he always stopped them “etc.” or “etc.,” quotes statistics and confuses different social theories, jumps from 20th century paper on the contradictions of fine theories to another, but doesn’t even bother to explain that there is a contradiction here, it remains to be deduced by the reader. People’s disappointment with the past is one of the main themes of the book, and how great was the faith in healing humanity by optimizing how it would be a guarantee of peace and a harmonious future.

The optimization was done mainly by killing or injuring a large number of the wrong kind of people. It is the greatest of the contradictions, the greatest tragedy of the last century, repeated on a larger and smaller scale.

“The first law to sterilize inferior and antisocial elements was enacted in the United States in 1907. The law allowed the sterilization of hardened criminals and the mentally ill, and in 1914 it was extended to repeat and alcoholics on the initiative of psychiatrists, and in 1923 the thieves were still believed to find a way back and join society through hard work and conscious work. ”

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When reading the facts overwhelmed by the text are a dizzying and at times frightening narrative with a focus on world wars, communist and Nazi crimes, other genocides, and how “among other things, a young Jewish woman survived the war by playing the violin on Struthof’s pier About the happy widow”.

The past and living life is absurd.

Ouředník also has time to talk about, among other things, neuroses, eugenics, the invention of bras and birth control pills, Barbie, Scientology, the Internet, and the turn of the millennium for Buddhists. in life a frog, a maracam or whatever ”.

The text is cut into pieces of a page or no more than a few in length, and it’s worth reading in sections, then its second and broken impression is greatest.

Europeana is a bit like Europe itself, and also participates in a debate on the history of Hobsbawm and Judt’s in-depth historical works:

“Historians said that historical memory was not part of history and that memory had moved from history to psychology, which had established a new order of memory that was not about remembering an event but about remembering memory. And the psychologization of memory had made people feel that they had to pay some debt to the past, but what and to whom was not clear. ”

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