Call for Papers: State-sponsored History after 1945

Ghent (Belgium), 23, 24 & 25 November 2015

Conference theme

Since their earliest inception, modern states and their regimes have recognized the importance to draft and direct ‘their’ national history. Although 19th century models of romanticist nationalist history lie behind us, post 1945 reality shows that regimes as a rule still recognize the protection of ‘national history’ as an intrinsic part of national state interest. State interventionism in the drafting of national history has arguably increased since the early 1990s, although the shapes, forms, contexts, goals and outcome continues to diversify and complexify.

We want to promote an interdisciplinary debate on the history that is created when state authorities mobilize their financial, political, cultural, judicial and/or academic resources to set up a durable construction of historiographies, collective memories and public narratives or visual representations related to (perceived) ‘national history’. The main aims of the conference are: 1) to create an overview of the diversity of forms of state-sponsored history around the globe 2) to analyze processes of state influence 3) to analyze the types of histories and narratives that result from this.

We are especially (but not exclusively) interested in papers that discuss the appearance of state-sponsored history in:

– ‘memory laws’, ‘amnesty laws’ and other forms of ‘legislated history’
– ‘historical apologies’ and the ‘diplomatic’ history
– classroom history, initiatives of civic education and the creation of historical ‘canons’ – sites of national commemoration (monuments, landscapes etc.)
– museums and documentation and research centres
– Archives, archival laws and science policies
– truth commissions and historical expert commissions – courts and tribunals

The conference aims to be global in its geographical scope. In terms of the timeframe we want to focus on the period since 1945. We welcome a variety of approaches, including theoretical ones, however, we ask all contributors to use one or more concrete cases as a starting point. We will consider both proposals for panel sessions as well as individual papers. Panel proposals should preferably include a commentator and a chair.

We plan to plan to publish a selection of the papers as part of a volume on state-sponsored history which we are creating for the Palgrave Handbooks series.

Practical information

Those interested in taking part in the conference are asked to submit an abstract (maximum 700 words) before 15 July 2015. Notifications of acceptance will be send out by the middle of August 2015.

Please send abstracts and questions to:

Berber Bevernage
Ghent University – Department of History
Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 35
9000 Ghent – Belgium


Nico Wouters
Square d’Aviation 29
1070 Brussels – Belgium

Conference ‘Judging the Past in a Post-Cold War World’

Judging the Past in a Post Cold-War World

Date: 28 September, 2015 – 09:00 – 30 September, 2015 – 17:30

Venue: HRC Conference Room Bldg # 14, ANU

The collapse of the Soviet Union accelerated the search for justice and truth on the part of many millions of people whose lives had been overshadowed by the cold war, in many countries, for nearly half a century.

Keynote Speakers (to be confirmed)

Katherine Hite (Professor of Political Science on the Frederick Ferris Thompson Chair, Vassar)

Henry Rousso (Directeur de recherche au CNRS Institut d’histoire du temps présent

Demands for justice and for recognition of suffering and loss have resulted in national Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, prosecution (or attempted prosecution) of state officials, politicians and military officers and the construction of monuments and memorials as sites of memory. They have inspired an outpouring of literary and artistic works, and a flourishing film and documentary industry. These attempts at settling the legacy of the Cold War are often marked, however, by on-going dissent and recrimination, as the past “refuses to pass.”

This conference aims to trace these various ways of judging the past both in the countries at the hot centre of the Cold War and in those that were swept up in the wake of its confrontations. How have we and how can we come to terms with a past that is still so present?

Concluding an Australian Research Council Discovery Project on this theme, the organisers seek discussion on any and all means of attempts at redress, for example, legal and social, or through the arts, media and literature.

We look forward to receiving panel proposals, as well as individual presentations.

The closing date for submission of proposals is 31 May 2015.

We ask for an abstract of 250 words from each individual presenter or panel representative. All abstracts will be refereed by the organizing committee, and the results notified by 30 June 2015.

Postgraduate contributions welcome

We especially welcome contributions on:

  • National Commissions of enquiry
  • Studies in individual countries
  • Retributive and restorative justice
  • Secondary victims
  • Literary and artistic judgments
  • The second and third generations
  • The struggle to memorialise
  • Exile communities
  • History Wars and the politicization of the historian

For further enquiries please contact Colette Gilmour ( HRC, or the organising committee members:


University House

A selection of standard twins and queen suites has been blocked for this conference. The rate on a standard twin is $152 per night bed and breakfast and on a suite $167 per night bed and breakfast. Please call 6125 5275 or 6125 5276 Monday to Friday 8:30 – 5:30pm

Please quote ‘Judging the Past in a Post Cold-War World’ when booking.

Hotel Hotel

Hotel Novatel Canberra

Quest Apartments Canberra


“Marseilles 1915-2015 : gateway to the remembrance trails” cfp

“Marseilles 1915-2015 : gateway to the remembrance trails”, Marseilles Municipal Archives, 9-10 April 2015.

« Marseille 1915-2015 : portail des chemins du souvenir », Archives Municipales de Marseille, 9-10 avril 2015.

Call for papers

The centenary of the landing of the colonial troops of the British and French empires in Marseilles provides an opportunity to reflect upon how the Great War is remembered and commemorated on a wider regional and global scale, behind and beyond the front lines of the European theatre of conflict.

This conference will be a prelude to the centenary of Anzac Day 25 April 2015 and the inauguration of the ANZAC Remembrance Trail in France and Belgium. If Marseilles is a gateway to the remembrance trails of the combatant nations on the Western Front, it is principally as a point of entry and transit for the armies of the allied dominions and colonies from the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania. Of the several hundred thousand soldiers, sailors, labourers and auxiliairies who converged upon the city from 1914-18, or were repatriated  through its port in the months following the Armistice, more than 1,500 are remembered in the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Mazargues. Their memory is in some cases marginal to the mainstream histories of the Great War, but in others it has become central to the narratives which define independence from the European colonisers.

This two-day conference is convened by Aix-Marseille University and hosted by the Marseilles Archives in the context of the “Marseilles and the Great War” centenary programme. It will bring together researchers from AMU’s partner universities in Europe and the Commonwealth and members of the International Research Network for War Commemoration (IRNWC) to examine the shared history of former allies and adversaries from the colonial perspective and to assess the scope and limits of the idea of “shared memory”. The conference will focus on the wider war beyond the lines of the Western Front as part of the “The Great War on all fronts” exhibition cycle organised by the city of Marseilles which draws on the rich WWI documentary heritage of the municipal and departmental museums and archives. Public outrreach will be ensured by cooperation with the cultural agencies of Marseilles and media outlets of the Provence-Alpes-Côtes-d’Azur region. An editorial workshop  prepare the second volume in the series “Nation, Memory and Great War Commemoration (vol II) – The Wider War”, to be edited by Ben Wellings (Monash) and Shanti Sumartojo (RMIT) and published by the University of Provence Presses in conjunction with Liverpool University Press. Projected topics range from post-independence narratives of India’s role in the First World War, to reconstructing the history of the South African Native Corps in France, Afrikaans and British nationalism in wartime South Africa, and the Great War beyond Europe: in the Americas and the colonial theatres of Africa and the Asia-Pacific. Speakers announced include Ben Wellings (Monash), Andy Mycock (Huddersfield) and Devleena Ghosh (University of Technology Sydney).

Proposals are to be addressed to the conference organisers by email, with an attached 250 word abstract and brief biographical profile, by 30 January 2015.

The organisers :

Dr. Matthew Graves  T. +33 648357048

Prof. Gilles Teulié  T. +33 685249892

Laboratoire d’Etudes et de Recherche sur le Monde Anglophone / Research Centre for the Study of the English-speaking World (LERMA)

UFR ALLSH, Aix-Marseille University (AMU)


Screening the Past in a Post Cold War World

Screening the Past in a Post Cold War World

 Friday 26 and Saturday 27 September 2014

Old Geology Building, University of Sydney.

 Recent films from Chile/Cuba, Catalonia/Spain, France/Algeria and Indonesia explore the troubled legacies of the Cold War. The themes that the films evoke carry a powerful resonance today: the violence and disintegration as a consequence of revisiting the past; the moral ambiguities of counter–insurgency warfare; the tragic fate of children struggling to come to terms with their parents’ political commitment; the complex challenges posed by reconciliation and forgetting after civil war.

This mini film festival is part of the ARC transnational research project “Judging the Past in a Post-Cold War World”. Area specialists from Sydney University, UTS and ANU will introduce each screening.

Entrance is free and you are warmly invited to attend

 Friday 26

2-5pm                The Act of Killing  (Indonesia)

5.30- 8.30       Mon Colonel (France)

Saturday 27

10-1pm          Pa Negre (Black Bread] (Spain)

2-5                  El Edificio de los Chilenos [The Chileans’ Building] (Chile)


Screening Programme

 Friday 2-5pm: The Act of Killing (introduced by Adrian Vickers)

2012. Dir: Joshua Oppenheimer. 122min

English and Indonesian with English subtitles

Highly controversial for the ethics of its production and its intervention in contemporary debates about Indonesian history, The Act of Killing focuses on the history of the mass murder of communists in 1965 as the event is remembered by perpetrators and victims.

Friday 5.30-8.30pm: Mon Colonel (introduced by Elizabeth Rechniewski)

2006.  Dir: Laurent Herbiet. 110 min

French with English subtitles

Long before Iraq, Afghanistan and the ‘war on terror’, the techniques of counter-revolutionary warfare were honed in the dying throes of the colonial empires. Set during the Algerian War, Mon Colonel explores what can (and must?) be justified in the cause of counter-insurgency and the price it exacts on those who conduct it.

Saturday 10-1pm: Pa Negre [Black Bread] (introduced by Judith Keene)

2010. Dir: Agustí Villaronga 108min

Spanish with English subtitles

Set in rural Catalonia, after the Spanish civil war, Villaronga’s powerful film uses the central figure of a child to expose the fear and hypocrisy at the heart of Franco’s Spain. Without sentimentality, Pa Negre, lays out the insurmountable challenges confronting those who attempt to transcend the violent compromises of that era.

Saturday 2-5pm:  El Edificio de los Chilenos [The Chileans’ Building]

(introduced by Peter Read and Marivic Wyndham)

2010. Dir: Macarena Aguiló and Susana Foxley. 96 min

Spanish with English subtitles

In the late seventies, exiled militants of MIR, the Left Revolutionary Movement, returned to Chile to support the fight against the military dictatorship, leaving 60 of their children in the care of ‘social parents’ in Havana, Cuba. The film confronts the unbridgeable gap that exists in Chile today between the revolutionary dreams of the MIR generation and the children of the post-dictatorship generation.

Warning: these films depict graphic scenes of violence and torture. Admittance is restricted to those 18 years and over.

This workshop is sponsored by an Australian Research Council grant with the support of the University of Sydney and the University of Technology Sydney.


Commemorating WWI in “The Conversation”

IRNWC network members are contributing a series of articles to The Conversation on Commemorating WWI


Who owns the myths and legends of the Great War centenary? – Ben Wellings & Shanti Sumartojo

Reconciliation or récupération: Indigenous soldiers in WWI – Elizabeth Rechniewski

WWI commemorations in Belgium give a glimpse of a divided nation – Laurence Van Ypersele

Why the Great War centenary will be a non-issue in Germany – Matthew Stibbe

The WWI centenary in France and the diplomacy of shared memory – Matthew Graves

New Zealand: the other half of the Anzac legend – Mark McKenna

UK WWI Commemorations should embrace Commonwealth experience – Andrew Mycock

Nation, Memory and Great War Commemoration – book launch

Nation, Memory and Great War Commemoration – Mobilizing the Past in Europe, Australia and New Zealand (Peter Lang, 2014) edited by Shanti Sumartojo & Ben Wellings

will be launched by Dr Douglas Craig – Head, School of History, ANU.

Date and Time: 5.30pm, Monday 4 August 2014

Venue: ANU Centre for European Studies, 1 Liversidge Street (Bldg 67C), Canberra

Parking: please see the Visitor Parking Map 
RSVP: by 1 August 2014

ANUCES is an initiative involving four ANU Colleges (Arts and Social Sciences, Law, Business and Economics, and Asia and the Pacific) co-funded by the ANU and the European Union.

NMGWC cover

The Great War continues to play a prominent role in contemporary consciousness. With commemorative activities involving seventy-two countries, its centenary is a titanic undertaking: not only ‘the centenary to end all centenaries’ but the first truly global period of remembrance.

This publication is based on a  symposium hosted by the ANU Centre for European Studies in 2012. In this innovative volume, the authors examine First World War commemoration in an international, multidisciplinary and comparative context. The contributions draw on history, politics, geography, cultural studies and sociology to interrogate the continuities and tensions that have shaped national commemoration and the social and political forces that condition this unique international event. New studies of Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific address the relationship between increasingly fractured grand narratives of history and the renewed role of the state in mediating between individual and collective memories. Released to coincide with the beginning of the 2014-2018 centenary period, this collection illuminates the fluid and often contested relationships amongst nation, history and memory in Great War commemoration.

For more information please see

Doctoral Workshop Call for Paper Displacement and Mobility during the Great War


Doctoral candidates at the CHSP (Sciences Po, Paris) are organising a doctoral workshop on Displacement and Mobility during the Great War.

Here is the Call for Paper, in English and in French.

Submission are due on 15 June 2014.

The workshop will be held at Sciences Po on 21 October 2014.

For more information, email

CFP mobility and displacement PDF CFP déplacements et mobilités PDF fr

Nicolas Offenstadt: ‘What is at Stake in Commemoration of the First World War’

Nicolas Offenstadt, one of the leading French historians of the First World War, recently gave an interview to the journal Caesar (reprinted in Mediapart 25 January) on what is at stake in remembrance of the war and the direction he would like to see commemoration take. The thrust of his argument is to warn against the mythification of an idealised national unity as he draws attention to the differences of class, region and generation and the diverse interests in play. He argues, reflecting on what contemporary questions may be posed by the war, that the refusal of war represented by mutineers, deserters and pacifists encourages us to question the role and responsibility of the citizen towards the State.

As a result of a report written by a Commission that included Offenstadt and was headed by Antoine Prost, the French president announced last November that the 740 soldiers who were shot for ‘desertion’ – many of whom were suffering from war trauma – would be ‘accorded a place in the Army Museum at the Invalides’. However Offenstadt finds the President’s comments on colonial soldiers unsatisfactory in that the fact that they were conscripted to fight – sometimes with violence – was downplayed.

He calls finally for a more imaginative approach to commemoration through drawing on the rich cultural heritage associated with the war: the plays, films and songs that were produced at the time.

Interview with Nicolas Offenstadt:

Offenstadt’s latest book on the war: La grande guerre – Carnet du centenaire, Paris: Albin Michel, oct 2013.

France Proposes 80 World War I Sites for Heritage Listing

France has put forward 80 World War I sites for listing by the Unesco World Heritage Organisation. The sites include some battlefields but above all cemeteries and memorials.  To the criticism that a massacre cannot constitute a heritage site, the proposers point out that Auschwitz and Hiroshima are already listed by Unesco, as are monuments to slavery.

They point out too the historic significance of the mass cemeteries containing graves marked with the names of the dead – an innovation in war. Before World War I, soldiers were buried in mass, unmarked graves.  It was the Germans who first ensured that their soldiers were given the dignity of a marked grave, followed by other countries as they responded to the pressure of public opinion.

The list of sites put forward includes cemeteries and memorials to the troops of the many different countries who participated in the fighting: the English at Beaumont-Hamel (Somme); South Africans at Longueval (Somme); Portuguese at Richebourg (Pas-de Calais); Chinese at Noyelles-sur–Mer (Somme); Americans at Saint-Mihiel (Meurthe-et-Moselle); Germans at Langemark (Belgium). Australian and New Zealand troops are recognised by the cemetery at Fromelles and the stone at Quesnoy.

The author of the article in Le Monde (Benoît Hopquin, ‘Les sites de 14-18 au Patrimoine de l’humanité’ 11.01.14) points out the significant economic interest in seeking recognition for these sites: in other cases, Unesco recognition has led to a 30% increase in ‘war tourism’.  Although it will probably be 1918 before a decision is made, too late therefore to benefit from inclusion in the four years of Centenary commemorations.

Australia, 11 November 2013: Commemorative event commemorates commemorative event.

Twenty years after the interring of the Unknown Australian Soldier at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, former Prime Minister Paul Keating returned to the site of his eulogy – now inscribed in bronze on a wall close to the Tomb – and gave another speech reiterating his vision of the links between the Great War and Australian national identity.

Keating, Prime Minister between 1991 and 1996, did much to re-popularise the Anzac legend in the 1990s, although he attached it to political projects like Republicanism in a way that his Liberal and Labor successors did not.

Media coverage of this speech (a commemorative event commemorating a commemorative event) varied, but picked up on the assertive theoretic.  The Murdoch-owned Australian suggested that the Great War was ‘devoid of virtue’, whilst the more liberally-minded, Fairfax owned Sydney Morning Herald led with an op-ed based on the idea that Australians are too wise to be cannon fodder again.  The Fairfax-onwed Canberra Times led with Keating’s warning to Australians to be wary of the grand alliances and grand schemes that initiated Europe’s century of terror and totalitarianism.

The ABC’s 7.30 program featured commentary from Joan Beaumont and Peter Stanley, who both highlighted the political nature of commemorative activity that comes at the expense of historical understanding.

On the same day in England, the BBC reported the funeral of a childless Second World War veteran, Harold Jellicoe Percival, that was attended by about 500 members of the public at Lytham St Anne’s in Lancashire, as well as coverage of events around the United Kingdom and in Belgium.

The BBC was also reporting far-right violence on Poland’s independence day (originally 11 November 1918).

Ben Wellings

Ben Wellings is Lecturer of European Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

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‘Réformer, réunir, réussir’ – French President François Hollande’s Slogan for the First World War Centenary Commemorations

On 7 November the French President François Hollande launched the programme of events to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, using the opportunity to draw lessons  – as he sees them – for the national priorities of today. Under the slogan ‘réformer, réunir, réussir’ (reform, unite, succeed) Hollande concluded that only unity – of the kind that united the nation during the war – would overcome the problems that France faces today, problems that are no longer military but economic and that threaten France’s future and place in the world. Hollande hoped his call for national reconciliation and mobilisation might counter the mounting social protests (for example the ‘red bonnets’ of the Breton movement) and personal unpopularity he faces. It has drawn criticism from some on the left, however, for its exploitation of militarism and from some historians for its amnesia concerning the internal fractures that marked the conflict.

The programme of events will include the participation of the 72 belligerent nations in the 14 July parades and on 3 August, date of the beginning of the war, the visit of the German President.

CFP – War Memories: Commemoration, Re-enactment, Writings of War in the English-speaking World (18th-21st centuries)

Conference organised by the European University of Brittany (Rennes 2, France) and the Royal Military College (Kingston, Canada) 

Université Européenne de Bretagne – Rennes 2, France

17, 18, 19 June 2014


The wars of the past have not left the same imprint on collective memory. Wars of conquest or liberation have marked the history of the British Empire and its colonies in different ways.  American foreign policy seems to be motivated by what is sometimes viewed as an imperialist vision which led the army into the quagmire of Vietnam and more recently into controversial involvement in the Gulf. Whether they end in victory or defeat, or are a source of patriotic pride or collective shame, wars are commemorated in museum exhibitions or through literature and the cinema in which the threads of ideological discourse and the expression of subjective experience are intertwined. From the upheavals of the Napoleonic Wars and  the American Civil War to the Boer Wars in South Africa, from the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland to the carnage and devastation of the two World Wars, some conflicts seem to attract “duties of memory” while others are simply forgotten. Military interventions in the Falklands, in Bosnia, and more recently in the Gulf, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in Libya have created a new kind of memory, the narrative constructed by television images. In this period preceding the 100th anniversary of the Great War, when the links between memory and history are central to historiographical preoccupations, this international conference will encompass the representations of wars in the English-speaking world during the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

Our workshops will concentrate, among other things, on:

1)     The memories of places and the places of memory, commemorations and reconstitutions of wars (ceremonies, acts of remembrance, monuments, memorials, exhibitions, museums, war tourism, web sites, blogs …) and everything linking memory and places of memory with history (inspired by the reflexions of Pierre Nora and of François Bédarida).

2)     Remembrance and testimonies in the public and private spheres from important political and military figures or from ordinary soldiers or civilians (autobiographies, diaries, memoirs, letters, interviews, newspaper articles, etc.), which bring into focus the role and status of testimony in historiography, individual and collective identities in times of war and the process of recalling and commemorating.

3)     Representing war through the media (postcards, trench gazettes, caricatures, comics, posters, the press, radio, television, the internet…), through the cinema and through literature (drama, novels, poetry) and the Arts (music, painting, photography, sculpture), the image and spectacle of war, free and forced representations: propaganda, censorship, idealisation, the rewriting of history and the construction of the war hero.

4)     Subject and subjectivity in the representation of war and the representation of the subject at war. To what extent does conflict integrate the subject into the group by posing the figure of the Other as the Enemy? How does war alter the definition of the subject in an ideological system and a discourse which legitimise the act of war and redefine hierarchies and identity patterns? Subjectivity, memory, trauma, the unsayable or untellable… From trauma studies to fields where psychoanalysis, storytelling and history meet and to the temptation of contemporary hypermnesia and “archive fever” (Derrida).

5)     Wars and memories of war involving indigenouspeoples (Gurkhas, Native North Americans, Australian Aborigines, Maoris, etc.) and/or of non-English-speaking communities (Quebeckers, Afrikaners, etc.)in world conflicts. What traces and recollections remain of their individual or collective participation? To what extent can we say that the shedding of blood was the price they had to pay for national recognition and integration? How does the action of the native in the national cause square with the literary representation of him as an enemy? The contribution of indigenous peoples was long neglected, not to say forgotten or marginalised, in official records. But is this still the case in today’s postcolonial societies? Has literature helped integration by allowing the emergence of new narratives?

6)     Comparative and pluridisciplinary studies using a variety of approaches and methods will be welcome in a workshop dedicated to exchanges between areas with different cultural heritages (English- or French-speaking or within the Americas in particular) around the question of war and memory. Wars involving the United States on the American continent (Chile, Cuba, Mexico …) will also merit attention.

The mediatisation, performance, interpretation and rewriting of facts and events during and after wars will be central to our reflexions. We welcome diachronic, synchronic or comparative studies along with those questioning the process of memory and memorisation. Patriotic fervour, federating or demobilising discourses, resistance, conscientious objection, injury and trauma, propaganda and counter-propaganda contribute to the shaping of individual and collective memory and further the reconsideration of long-held truths in the light of new discoveries and with the benefit of hindsight. There will be a dedicated Great War workshop.

Contacts: Stéphanie Bélanger, Renée Dickason, Delphine Lemonnier-Texier

Please send your abstract of 250 words and a 200 word biography directly to the conference website by 15th June 2013.

Scientific Committee: Stéphanie BÉLANGER – CMRC, Kingston, Canada; James CHAPMAN – Leicester, Great Britain; Corinne DAVID-IVES – ACE, Rennes 2, France; Jeffrey DEMSKY – San Bernardino Valley College, CA, USA; Renée DICKASON – ACE, Rennes 2, France; Anne-Laure FORTIN-TOURNES – Le Mans, France; Matthew GRAVES – LERMA, Aix, France; Hélène HARTER – CERHIO, Rennes 2, France; Judith KEENE – Sydney, Australia; Françoise KRAL – ERIBIA, Caen, France; Daniel PALMIERI – CICR, Geneva, Switzerland; Michael PARSONS – Pau et Pays de l’Adour, France; Elizabeth RECHNIEWSKI – Sydney, Australia; Jean-Claude SERGEANT – Paris 3, France; Gilles TEULIE – LERMA, Aix, France; Delphine LEMONNIER-TEXIER – ACE, Rennes 2, France; Stephen WHITFIELD – Boston, Mass., USA



Christmas Speech Fuels Belgian Memory of War

Political controversy over the memory of the inter-War period and Europe’s fascist era has erupted in Belgium in the wake of King Albert II’s Christmas Speech.  Albert referred to the dangers of populist responses to economic and political crises in the 1930s and made an implicit comparison with the crisis in Europe and national divisions in Belgium today.

This resulted in a rebuttal from Bart de Weever, head of the separatist N-VA (New Flemish Alliance) who said that the king had overstepped his constitutional boundaries and no longer had any legitimacy as an impartial arbiter in Belgian politics.

This speech and the response it garnered has once again put memory of the conflicts of the twentieth century into the forefront of Belgian politics.

A link to the BBC article covering this story can be found here.

Ben Wellings

Ben Wellings is Lecturer of European Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

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In Flanders Fields Declaration

By Laurence van Ypersele and Ben Wellings

The “In Flanders Fields Draft Declaration’ was tabled for discussion by the government of Flanders in the summer of 2010.

The politics surrounding this Draft Declaration illustrate some of the difficulties in commemorating the Great War in Belgium.   They also make an interesting contrast with the politics of remembrance in the United Kingdom, where – outside of Northern Ireland – the Centenary commemorations will be used to emphasise (British) commonality rather than national distinctiveness.

Belgium is currently divided into three major political and administrative regions: Flanders; Wallonia; and Brussels.  As a federation organised along consociational, linguistic lines, each of these regions is highly autonomous.  In this political context it was possible for the government of Flanders to draft a Declaration for discussion amongst the 50 foreign governments participating in the planning of Centenary activities in Belgium.  However, the government of Flanders sent this Draft Declaration neither to the government of Wallonia nor to the federal (Belgian) level of government.  Objections were raised from amongst the 50 foreign governments that this was inappropriate and that the diplomatic services of those foreign governments would only deal with the federal level of government in Belgium in equal government-to-government discussions.

So, when the government of Flanders, under pressure from foreign ambassadors, gave its ‘In Flanders Fields’ declaration to the federal level of government, thus making it a ‘national’ declaration, changes to the wording and meaning were proposed.

The government of Wallonia immediately suggested using the word ‘Belgium’ in place of ‘Flanders’ in the text.  It also called for recognition of the rights of minorities, explicit recognition of the involvement of soldiers and civilians in the name of freedom and democracy, and mention of the Second World War as well as the First. All of these suggestions were in some ways pointed reminders of historical divisions rather than grounds for Belgian unity, where Flemish and Walloon collective memories of twentieth century conflict diverged.

However, a political compromise was reached on October 2, 2012. After two years of political discussion, the word ‘Belgium’ can be found in the text, along with reference to the people who defended democracy and mention of the respect for ‘diversity’ (in place of ‘minorities’).  The rest of the declaration didn’t much change from the Draft.

Coverage of the Declaration announcement can be read here.

Ben Wellings

Ben Wellings is Lecturer of European Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

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Controversy over Commemoration of World War I in France

The French government has issued a text outlining its proposals for commemoration of the Grande Guerre 2014-2018. In fact its plan is to commemorate during this period events from both World Wars including the 70th Anniversary of the Resistance,  ‘the liberation of France and the victory over nazi barbarism’. Some historians believe this will lead to confusion and that it is too Franco-centric, downplaying the significance of the major turning points of World War II outside of France.

The Government’s decree can be viewed at:

A critical article and a  petition against this proposal can be found at :