The national histories as written in the former Soviet countries during the post-regime-change period often show blank spaces and uncertainties when it comes to the historical interpretation of difficult topics. These gaps in otherwise fact-based narratives not only encourage uncertainty regarding history, but also sow the seeds for falsifications, the persistent silencing of topics already tabooed in Soviet times, as well as counterfactual historical narratives.
This - in combination with other factors - can result in a danger to democracy by becoming the basis for a rhetoric of alterity and exclusion, for the legitimization of individual political interests, or fostering anti-democratic or authoritarian ideologies.
This project “History Competitions” implemented by DVV International in cooperation with EUSTORY network and Koerber Shtiftung, with financial support of German Foreign Office, was devoted to undermining uncertainties regarding history and past.
It was about helping young people in Eastern Neighbourhood actively and independently explore the historical dimension of their environment, and thus switching from the role of recipient that can be found most commonly in school lessons, to the role of a producer. This encourages personal responsibility and critical faculties, and will reveal in a practical manner the fundamental problems that are associated with historical perspective, as well as the constructive character of historical narratives to the participants of such a competition.
In May-June DVV International held number of Award Ceremonies for winners of the competitions.
The ceremony took place on 26 May in the centre of Chisinau. It was the conclusion of a quite successful competition with 135 participants from 30 different schools and universities submitting 101 individual and group entries.
The topic of the competition was “Local Heroes of the 20th Century in Our Neighborhood”. Looking for such heroes, participants were often quite surprised to find everyday heroes in their own families and neighbourhoods. The nurse who cared for the health of the villagers for more than half a century, the liquidators at the disaster-site of Chernobyl or the train-driver who, even in difficult times, managed to keep up public transport: All of them could be defined as heroes, as the participants stated.
While working on their projects, participants conducted interviews with witnesses and experts, collected pictures and documents and consulted libraries and archives. Work was not always cheerful and easy, since some of the interviews with family members dealt with traumatizing experiences in situations of catastrophe, disaster or war. Still, in most cases these talks fostered intergenerational understanding and strengthened family-ties, as one of the tutors said after the ceremony.
Most participants chose the form of an essay, while others preferred journals or posters to present the results of their research. The age of participants ranged from 14 to 18 years, with the 16-17 year olds forming the most active group.
The award ceremony of the history competition for young people “Behind the scenes: from the history of the family to the history of the community” was held on June 14, 2018 in the Memorial Museum-Workhouse named after Zair Azgur in Minsk. The Jury (composed of historians Alexei Bratochkin, Andrey Mostyka, Olga Pevzner, media representatives - Vladimir Puchinsky, the Belarusian state archive of cinematographic, photo- and phonodocuments - Elena Grinevich, representative office of DVV International in the Republic of Belarus - Galina Veramejchyk) marked 18 works (among 98 applications sent within the competition) by special diplomas and awards.
The under-researched pages of the Belarusian history of the second half of the twentieth century (1945-1991) was the focus of the competition, and the use of photographs of the period and interviews with witnesses of events - the main condition for participation. The theme of the winners ' works (essay or presentation) was wide: the possibility of additional education in the Soviet time, everyday life of the plain man, traditions of an artel, under-researched social events.
On June 15, the celebration was followed by a seminar for tutors and representatives of Regional institutes for education development (with whom the competition was being held in close cooperation). The competition winners attended the master-classes on sculptural modeling held in the Museum. The joint excursion to the Belarusian state archive of cinematographic, photo- and phonodocuments in Dzerzhinsk turned to be a nice completion of the event.
The topic of the competition was “(Hi)story of my community: The past for a common future”. On June 15-16 in Kyiv, the award ceremony took place. It was a quite busy two-day event, during which participants were able to get acquainted with different approaches to working with historical sources, shaping a culture of memory and promoting historical knowledge in local communities.
Feature of the competition in Ukraine was the absence of a rigid format for entries. So, the participants were allowed to submit essays, films, guidebooks - anything that they believed would best approach the topic. Among the winners - for instance - there is a guide to the industrial district of Lviv, an online tour of Soviet mosaics in Sumy or a traveling exhibition.
The teams of winners and guests gathered at the National Museum of History of Ukraine, where they were greeted by representatives of the German Embassy, the EUSTORY network and the Ministry of Education. Petro Kendzor, a representative of "Nova Doba", referring to the participants, compared the history with a rear-view mirror in the car - you can drive without it, but it is going to be extremely dangerous.
Each of the 12 winning teams presented their work and answered questions from the audience. After presentations, tutors and team members took part in the discussion about local history, moderated by well-known writer Oksana Kis’. "Why do I like this project? - one of the students said, - Because it helps to understand that history is not just a set of dates to be learned for the test, but something interesting, something belongs to you, something you can find by yourself."
After the discussion, the winners were awarded with the certificates and presents.