Culture of Remembrance: Dealing with the Past and Stereotypes

From March 11th to 14th 2019, 22 KAAD scholars from 16 different countries came together in Helmstedt (House St.Ludgerus) in order to discuss the concept of a culture of remembrance and how to deal with stereotypes and the past. The seminar – led by the Head of the Eastern Europe Department, Markus Leimbach- clearly showed how up to date this topic is which manifested itself in the discussions on the still open conflicts in Nagorny Karabahg and Syria.
The theologian and member of the German commission Justitia et Pax, Prof. Dr. Heinz-Günther Stobbe, and the historian and former Managing Director of Renovabis, Dr. Gerhard Albert, accompanied the seminar academically.

Prof. Dr. Heinz-Günther Stobbe

Right from the start, Prof. Stobbe emphasized that he did not relate to individual, but to collective and social actions. During his talk, he bridged the gap between prejudices froming the basis for genocide as one of the most disastrous effects and the coming to terms with the past by e.g. the help of truth commissions as basis for reconciliation. Those theoretical explanations were complemented by numerous examples from German history and the worldwide experiences from the work of Justitia et Pax.
Using the example of the German-Polish reconciliation, Dr. Albert draw the participants’ attention to the concept of a reconciliation process and the many little steps and activities which accompany it. After a historical excursus explaining the background of the difficult German-Polish relationship, he placed the focus on church activities. In the light of the correspondence of German and Polish bishops during the Second Vatican Council, initiated by the Polish side, he presented the activities of Pax Christi, the Maximilian Kolbe Organization and the support during wartime in Poland at the beginning of the 1980s, always related to the political activities taking place simultaneously. Numerous gestures were of high importance to this reconciliation process, such as the above mentioned correspondence, the atonement pilgrimage of Pax Christi, Willy Brandt’s kneeling in Warsaw, solidarity shown during times of war and Kohl and Mazowiecki embracing each other after the fall of the Wall.

Three talks of participants rounded the topic up: Tea Novakovich provided information on the current situation of the reconciliation process in the former Yugoslavia which still proves to be very important even after 20 years since the end of the war. Vardan Aslanyan, Gohar Hakobyan and Gunel Babayeva presented the still unsolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorny Karabagh and the different perceptions about it. Suda Bilal and Hussam Elias explained the different perspectives on the situation in Syria and existing possibilities for a future reconciliation.
The participants‘ contributions in particular and the following discussions, partly from contrary and personally affected perspectives, highlighted the difficulties in reconciliation processes and in coming to terms with conflicts. Once again the KAAD scholars showed their openness and tolerance when dealing with contrary opinions and thus, conducted fact-oriented dialogue.
Each day of the seminar began with a morning meditation conducted by Sr. Stephanie Sangalang and Eduard Fiedler. Together with the local parish and pastor Dr. Kafuti Holy Mass was celebrated as well.
The seminar’s programme was rounded up by a visit to the museum „Paläon“ which presents the lives of our ancestors exhibiting the oldest hunting weapon found so far, the 300,000-year-old “Schöninger Speer”.