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.

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