First World War Memories and the Conflict in Eastern Ukraine

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Melville Room (University of Glasgow)
Tea Sindbæk , Cross-cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen
In the spring of 2014, the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the international diplomatic environment surrounding it were repeatedly compared to the international climate in Europe immediately before the outbreak of the First World War.  Historians and politicians seemed to agree that Europe’s diplomatic atmosphere just before the July crisis 1914 was an apt illustration of the current threats. While Germany’s Minister of foreign affairs hosted a conference in Berlin at which he used the experience of 1914 to remind the audience of the potential risks in Ukraine, historian Christopher Clark in May 2014 told Croatian journalists that ”the situation today is increasingly similar to the one that preceded the First World War”, pointing out that several states were willing to take serious risks, just like in 1914. This prospect was obviously extremely gloomy and thus rhetorically efficient. Yet, the terrifying image of the First World War seems to have very nearly disappeared during the summer of 2014, making way for the First World War as a reminder of the need for peace and European unity, which was the theme of many of the centenary ceremonies.

This paper investigates how memories of the First World War were being used in the spring of 2014.  Exploring how politicians and historians contributed to debates in public media on Europe and the Ukrainian conflict in Croatia, Serbia, Germany and the UK, my aim is to understand how and why this metaphor was useful, and why it was apparently abandoned so soon.