The Brief, powered by Goldman Sachs – How Europe teaches its past –

It is hard to remember a time in Europe’s recent past when conspiracy theories and disinformation were so popular and so prevalent to the scapegoat of communities. The health crisis aside, the COVID pandemic has brought distant echoes of the darker moments in Europe’s last century.

This underscores the importance of the way we teach our past in order to understand and avoid future crises.

“Some say history rhymes, but I’d say it’s more of a kaleidoscope. History is pattern recognition, ”Niall Ferguson said last week at the annual conference of the Observatory on History Teaching in Europe (OHTE).

“Historians use very hard-to-read forms of data to reconstruct past thoughts, understand our own time, and anticipate our potential future,” added Ferguson.

It seems obvious that we, and especially young people, need to be equipped with knowledge in order for our institutions and our democracy to function properly.

Yet some European countries are still reluctant to deal with the most controversial legacies of their past. Colonialism, civil wars, and ethnic conflicts are the most obvious.

This reporter’s experience of going to school in the UK was that the less palatable parts of the British past – slavery, colonialism and concentration camps, to name just three – were barely or not addressed.

The UK is not unique at being squeamish when it comes to tackling the dark depths of its past. Belgium has only recently begun to face the truth that the horrors of King Leopold’s butcher shop in the Congo are a source of shame, not pride.

Europe’s former colonial powers have complicated relationships with Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The sensitivity to migration in many European countries is also largely due to colonialism.

Elsewhere, democracy is only a few decades old and the legacy of civil war and ethnic conflict is fresh and painful in the minds of millions of Europeans. It does not take into account that key events in history are explained very differently in the participating countries and always with a hint of national bias.

This fear of discussing painful truths is heightened by social divisions and derogatory phrases such as “wake up” and “break off culture”.

A recent survey by UNESCO and Education International found that 40% of 60,000 teachers felt unable to teach racism in the classroom.

This stuff is painful and often personal. But when we are not taught the truth about our past and we do not have the ability to think critically and reflectively, it is fantastic to imagine we can understand where we are from and where we are going.

How we teach our story is important.

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The abstract

The heads of state and government of the EU agreed on Thursday to coordinate with allies on possible sanctions against Russia in the event of further military aggression against Ukraine. The problem remains to define which escalation level would trigger which type of reaction.

Talks between European Union leaders over energy policy ended without an agreement on Thursday as states argued over how to respond to record high carbon prices and upcoming green investment rules.

The coalition agreement of the new Dutch government under Prime Minister Mark Rutte provides for more spending on childcare, teachers’ salaries and environmental issues, which shows the increased influence of the left-wing liberal party D66.

On a rare occasion, a week before a crucial EU negotiation, the Maltese government sent letters to members of the European Parliament to persuade them to support a controversial gas pipeline that connects the Mediterranean island to the Italian gas network.

EU lawmakers discussed “modern slavery” in Serbia on Thursday, in particular the reports of forced labor in the Chinese tire factory Linglong in the city of Zrenjanin. With the support of all major political groups, a resolution was passed denouncing Chinese influence. The resolution, which was passed by 586 votes in favor and 53 against, expresses concern about the growing influence of China in Serbia and throughout the Western Balkans.

At his first Agrifish EU Council, the new German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir presented himself as an advocate of climate and animal protection when the ministers discussed measures against deforestation.

On Wednesday, MEPs discussed the EU’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the new variants. Most MPs highlighted the rise in disinformation and the need to vaccinate populations outside Europe.

Deliberative democratic processes are more democratic than parliamentary elections or polls, according to the participants in the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) and experts in the second panel on democracy that met in Florence last weekend.

As the EU becomes increasingly focused on media finance, ensuring that the goal is long-term sustainability rather than short-term investment will be critical to success, according to those in the sector.

Don’t forget to read our Digital Letter for a recap of the weekly news.

Watch out for…

  • Last quorum meeting on December 22nd.
  • Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders will hold a video conference with Irish Justice Minister Helen McEntee on December 22nd.

Views are those of the author.

[Edited by Alice Taylor/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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