The House of European History forges a new European
I am returning from Brussels, where I visited the famous or rather - the infamous –House of European History. It has already been the subject of prominent critique from many sides, including Professor Andrzej Nowak. Below are just a few impressions and reflections.
I. The exhibition makes quite an impression. It is huge, and contains many very interesting displays.
II. Its magnitude has consequences, including chaos and illegibility. And the "casket" structure of the museum. Combined with the fact that the exhibits are not captioned, and that we derive our knowledge and a sense of the entire segment of the exhibition from the tablet which we can navigate freely with, creates a situation in which it is very easy to overlook what has not been particularly prominently displayed. I spent four hours exploring, and I felt that to complete the exhibition I needed two more hours. As a result, many people who have visited the exhibition can be genuinely convinced that it is missing something specific, while the opposite is true. It might contain it, but perceiving something that the museum's creators decided not to put in the forefront of the exhibition appears very difficult at times.
III. In this way we come to the issue of the intentions of the "European House" creators. They are clearly distinct. The main thread leading through the mass exhibition is sinister nationalism and its sinister consequences. And the nation state, formed around the concept of the "excluding the other”. Nightmare scenarios, which are the result of non-national reasons are also touched upon by the creators of the exhibition, but they are less obvious. Depicted in a similar positive light (related, inter alia, to the democratization effect) is the phenomenon of the state. Generally in this exhibition, the nations are the bad guys, as a Danish historian concluded upon visiting the exposition.
IV. The House looks as if individual fragments of it were created by completely different people with completely different motives and thoughts. Whereas it has to be stated that communist crimes were generally named and condemned, moreover they were put together with those of the Nazis, emphasizing the similarity of the practices of the two regimes, but in other segments of the exhibition we find amazing passages such "Was communism a failed experiment or will it ever return to Europe?" - such a question is addressed to the visitor at the beginning of the exhibition (so in some sense at the most important stage, because when he enters, the guest is not yet tired, he is more absorbent). In one corner the truth about the establishment of a communist dictatorship in our part of Europe through Soviet violence is documented - and elsewhere we come across the suggestion that the choice of communism in countries east of the Elbe was just as voluntary as the reverse choice made at the same time by Western societies..
V. Finally, as I understand, the whole project of the House is designed to forge a European identity. It is difficult to imagine any sort of identity without at least a limited amount of pride. And in the narrative of the museum's creators, one searches in vain for anything that could help create pride in being European. Quite the opposite.
By way of example, a great part of the exhibition is devoted to colonialism, treated as a whole and unambiguously criminal. Without going into the discussion of this assessment, it should be noted that at the same time the creators of the exhibition do not at all raise the basic question: how did it happen that at one point, Europe achieved such a crushing advantage over the rest of the world? What propelled Europe to this? Something in philosophy, culture, religion? Social organization? What made the development of our continent and our civilization proceed faster?
A European who wants to improve the museum's narrative is asked not to ask such questions and not to notice them at all. He has to be made up entirely of shame.
Author: Piotr Skwieciński