Conference: Histories of 1914: Debates and Use of the Origins of World War I in Southeastern Europe, Austria
One hundred years after the beginning of World War I, in 1914, debates concerning its causes, heroes, participants and outcomes continue. Perhaps one of the most poignant issues is determining how to properly remember and commemorate the war. Thus far, the general mode of public debate in much of Southeastern Europe regarding World War I has been one of an echoing A strong nationalization of the narrative surrounding the war, and a lack of a broader, encompassing discussion in Southeastern Europe is representative of wider European trends. This year’s threeday conference in Graz, Austria, titled “Histories of 1914: Debates and Use of the Origins of World War I in Southeastern Europe,” brought together a number of scholars and experts to discuss relevant topics, from Nov. 20-22, 2014. This “conference about conferences” examined the debates on how to remember the beginning of World War I.
The conference in question was the fourth in the “Southeast European Dialogue” conference series organized annually by the Center for Southeast European Studies of the University of Graz (CSEES). The purpose of this conference was to highlight the various ways in which the beginning of World War I has been discussed and interpreted in the past, both in southeast Europe and beyond. For most states, World War I was a national tragedy that resulted in immense losses, but that also played a vital role in nation- and statebuilding narratives. In addition to these national founding myths is the general perception that in the last century focus on World War I has been overshadowed by the events and consequences of World War II.
In southeast Europe, in particular, World War I is oftentimes just one chapter in a decade of war, and is in many states discussed as a continuation of the Balkan wars and the violence that ensued after. Therefore, this year’s conference served as a forum for putting different experiences, interpretations and memories of World War I into a dialogue with one another that outlined key differences and similarities across the region.
During the three-day conference, panelists and participants covered a wide array of issues, including the Sarajevo assassination, revisions of history, oral tradition, textbooks, the memory of the war in Austria, and the Europeanization and democratization of commemoration in many countries. These and other engaging topics were presented and discussed through nine thematically divided panels.
The first panel of the conference set the stage with a discussion of the Young Bosnians and Gavrilo Princip, as well the historical backdrop of the events of 1914. Emphasis was put on the context and the debates in Yugoslavia since 1918 and the global discussion on World War. The subsequent panel addressed remembrance of World War I in Austria, showing that the country has been largely silent about the war and that the Habsburg Monarchy and its army’s actions during the war have come to be evaluated more critically only in recent decades.