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Background

In March 2015, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stated in a speech to parliament that Germany, instead of demanding further cutbacks from Greece, should make reparations for its pillage of the country during WWII, which, in his view, had caused famine and deprivation. During the 84th commemoration of the Holodomor in Kiev in November 2017, President Petro Poroshenko called on Russia to finally “repent” for the famine the Soviet regime had caused, while Oleksandr Turchynov, Chief of the National Security and Defense Council, drew a parallel by stating that “there is a war and we again see manic attempts to destroy Ukraine” (RFE/RL 2017).

A year later, British Conservative MP Priti Patel sparked off public outrage when she stated that potential food shortages in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit could be used as “leverage to force Ireland to give up the ‘backstop’” (RT, December 2018). Across Europe, recent and current displacements of refugee groups have been compared to Ireland’s Famine diaspora (Irish Times, 24 April 2016) and to refugees during WWII, as many Europeans were then uprooted by war, occupation, and hunger (Trouw, 11 September 2015). Also, on 27 January 2019, Germany announced that it would donate €12 million to Russia as reparation for the suffering and famine endured during the Leningrad blockade (NOS).

Clearly, Europe’s past famines remain present in current debates about major challenges. In context of increasing class and ethnic divides, outbreaks of epidemics, poverty, emigration and immigration, these pasts function as living histories that generate polarisation and potentially divide European communities. They have been politicised and recalled as forms of national or sectional victimhood; additionally, they have functioned as repressed heritages, marginalised by dominant historical narratives.

Afbeelding6Holodomor Memorial,“The Bitter Memory of Childhood” (Kyiv, 2008)

Afbeelding7Verzetsmuseum, Amsterdam