Le jeudi 20 juin, la 9e rencontre de l’initiative Re-Bel se tiendra à la Fondation universitaire sur la thématique suivante : « Diverging memories in Belgium. Is this so ? If so, why ? And is it a problem ?  ».

C’est l’occasion de poser quelques questions au concepteur et maître d’œuvre de cette rencontre, Bruno De Wever, professeur d’histoire contemporaine à l’Université de Gand.

1. Diverging Memories in Belgium. What is it about?

According to the French historian Pierre Nora we are witnessing a world-wide upsurge in memory. Belgium is no exception. New museums are build ; Heritage and Open Monuments days are a huge success ; heritage sites and living history events even so ; every day a new digital source collection is presented ; political commissions seek the truth in long ago events (Patrice Lumumba, Julien Lahaut) ; Belgian authorities offer apologies for their responsibilities in  past crimes (the mayor of Antwerp to the Jewish community, the Belgian Prime Minister to the Rwandese Tutsi’s).

This ‘memorialism’ finds its deeper reason in the search for a sense of belonging and a collective consciousness. Because of the rapid and continuous changing of the present – what Nora calls the ‘acceleration of history’– and the growing feelings of uncertainty about the future, people are seeking comfort in the past. Traditions, customs, landscapes, ‘terroir’, monuments etc. – ‘les lieux de mémoires’ in Nora’s words – offer access to the past.

2. How does this general and world-wide pattern fits in with the actual Belgian state of affairs ?

The future of the Belgian nation-state has become very uncertain.  Does this provoke memorialist activities concerning the Belgian past ? Not at first sight. On the contrary, the Walloon, Brussels and Flemish regions and communities develop their own memorialist activities. This can be seen for instances in the commemoration of the centenary of WWI.

3. Does this provoke diverging memories ? If so, are these diverging memories part of the crisis of Belgian identity ?

Recent research on the way collective memories are constructed points at the importance of ‘memory makers’. As long as memory has not been organized by opinionmakers it contains little more than atmosphere, feelings or another form of suggestion. It is therefore essential that the dynamic processes that lend a collective memory form, content and resonance, both top-down and bottom-up gets a more structural interpretation. Memories only assume collective relevance when they are structured, represented and used in a social setting.

The apparent weakness of the Belgian federal state, especially in matters of culture (and thus in the field of history and memory), could well be one of the causes of the diverging memories on the Belgian past. That Belgium was once a strong nation-state finds no relevance in the actual society and is therefore forgotten or transformed into nostalgia without connection with the present and without relevance for the future.

The Re-Bel event on ‘diverging memories in Belgium’ seeks answers to these questions.

Le programme est disponible ici (inscription obligatoire).