Collective Memory in Sweden: the Living History Forum

By Anne-Roos Renkema

No country exists without its history. Or, perhaps equally as important, the specific way it deals with this history: its memory culture. These memory cultures tell us a lot about a specific society, as it tells us one important thing: how it chooses to deal with its past. Memory culture refers to all practices of memory and commemoration, as well as education about the past – and, especially, the darker pages of its history.

One such country is Sweden. Traditionally a militarily neutral country, its post-war memory culture was concerned with exactly that: its perceived neutrality, especially in Europe’s most traumatic experiences in the twentieth century. There has been a shift in Swedish memory culture since the late 1990s, with Swedish historians paying more attention to Sweden’s role in World War II, and its perceived lack of involvement in the conflict. The country now has its own institute for Holocaust commemoration, which uses the Holocaust as a starting point to discuss issues of tolerance, called ‘Forum för levande historia’ (Living History Forum).[1] Why has Swedish memory changed so drastically since the 1990s, so many years after World War II? Continue reading “Collective Memory in Sweden: the Living History Forum”

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Euroculture: a restart

After a whole year, I’m returning back to Uppsala, Sweden, with only two days to recover from the jet leg. It’s back to the classroom for Swedish classes.

Welcome back from your holiday (although, for me, it was not really a holiday, as I was working back in my homeland, Brazil), but anyway, welcome back to Euroculture, Mada!

In class, I sit next to a student from Colombia, it is time for speaking exercises. We ask each other questions in Swedish:

“When is your birthday? What do you study?”

Our group gets bigger, we are joined by a girl from Germany and a boy from Canada. It is time for the Colombian, Juan, to answer:

“I was born on the 20th of September. I am studying a Master in holocaust and genocide studies.”

I remember the Holocaust Memorial Day (January 27) and, back in America, the “Dia do Índio” (Day of the Indigenous April 19 in Brazil and April 9, the International Day of the Indigenous Peoples of the World) – two anniversaries, two different commemorations. One of the holocaust, and the other of several different genocides – in some cases an event isolated in the past, and in others ongoing genocides. These dates were created so that we do not forget, like now in the middle of class, and so that we honor their memory in our actions.

Lisa, the physics student from Germany, expresses a ‘wow’, seemingly anxious to question him further, this time in English:

“What is it exactly that you study?”

Juan tries to explain:

“I study psychology.”

Lisa is not satisfied (neither am I, I have to admit):

“But what can trigger someone to commit this kind of act?”

I am sitting between them, turning my head as though watching a tennis match (as if turning and shaking the brain would erase the memories). Juan goes on:

“Well, we study the more individual aspects, there are a few things that might trigger such actions in a ‘normal’ person, like religion…” He keeps listing other reasons, but I stop listening. Instead, I quickly think about current news headlines about Gaza, and ISIS, and the attacks on mosques, even here in Uppsala.

For me, this is Euroculture. It is being in a language class, and going all around the world in a minute, in your mind. It is caring about what goes on, knowing what is happening and looking at it from different perspectives. We meet with other students and hear stories and learn about cultures beyond Europe.

The class finishes before we can finish asking all of our questions. We say our goodbyes and I take the bus home. It’s Friday, so I get ready for some Friday evening entertainment. Music, please! The first online radio page I open, I see this:

“U2 releases the new clip for Every Breaking Wave”

 

 

 

I click on it, and watch two teens, in 1980s Belfast, a Catholic girl and a Protestant boy, who fall in love in the middle of a conflict.

Bono sings:
“Every breaking wave on the shore
Tells the next one there’ll be one more…”

 

I decide it is time to go to bed, I can only sleep hoping that Bono’s idea of the repetitive or cyclic nature of life is wrong, at least when it comes to human history. With the certainty that this last term will be as interesting as the other three were, I fall asleep

Magdalena Coelho (34) is a fourth-semester Euroculture student, currently finishing her studies in Uppsala. She has also spent semesters in Italy and Mexico. She is very interested in gender studies and hopes to take a PhD. She calms her mind through writing, swimming and watching the sea. For The Euroculturer, in the coming months she will write some pieces on her life as a Brazilian-Italian student in Europe.