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Poland: Photo: “W drodze na Wawel“, by Piotr Drabik, licensed under CC BY 2.0, Hue modified from the original.

Schmidtke, Oliver. 2023. “Competing Historical Narratives: Memory Politics, Identity, and Democracy in Germany and Poland” Social Sciences 12, no. 7: 391.


This article considers the growing rift between Western and Eastern Europe regarding the commemoration of Europe’s recent past and related historical narratives of nationhood that shape contemporary political preferences. More specifically, it investigates the connections between collective memory, national identities, and democratic cultures as they manifest themselves in Germany and Poland. With the help of an interpretative analysis focused on the discourse of political elites in both countries, the article identifies competing ways of interpreting 20th-century history and providing it with meaning for contemporary audiences. The national case studies of Germany and Poland present a contrasting logic in this respect: the promise of freedom and democracy in Poland is primarily narrated as the liberation from foreign rule and the desire for national independence. This narration is significantly built around a notion of popular sovereignty in which dissenting views of the heroic national past tend to be discredited and largely banned from public debate. In contrast, in Germany, the memory of fascism and the Holocaust has established a stronger rights-based approach to democracy in the liberal tradition and an openness to contesting historical narratives in the public domain.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.