Contemporary German-language Literature From and About Former Yugoslavia: Towards a European Memory?
This project forms part of my long-term research program aimed at evaluating the impact of the European Unions eastern expansion on German and Austrian literature since the end of the Cold War. Specifically, I focus on the ways in which German-language literature engages with academic, public, and political discourses surrounding the formation of a common European memory.
In the face of Europes ever-increasing ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity, European institutions strive for greater European integration. This integration is based in part on constructing a common European memory, to serve as a foundation for a common European identity. As evidenced by numerous EU-funded projects such as commemoration sites or the House of European History in Brussels, to open in 2015, the EU takes the goal of creating a common memory very seriously.
An important criterion for joining the EU is for countries to successfully address their past national traumas such as violent dictatorships or genocides. For example, Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, had to demonstrate that it had successfully come to terms with its own national past. However, many critical voices observe that this process is based on Europes unofficial and unduly imposed memory standards, and runs the danger of creating a politically convenient, top-down Europeanized memory. Such a unified memory potentially erases rather than accommodates the diverse ways in which different communities actually remember and express their own past.
In this project, I look at the ways in which collective memories of events such as the Holocaust, socialist dictatorships, and the wars in former Yugoslavia function in the sphere of German-language literature and contribute to European memory discourses. Specifically, I analyze the understudied contribution made by post-1989 German-language literature written by authors originally from the territories of former Yugoslavia. These authors left Yugoslavia during their childhood or youth, were then socialized in Germany or Austria, and today are accredited authors of German-language literature. Unsurprisingly, many of their works thematize the wars that ensued during the disintegration of former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Doing so, they also confront issues that have been equally central to post-World War II canonical German and Austrian literature concerned with the Holocaust and National Socialism. Therefore, these works not only contribute to an understanding of the formation of collective memories of the Yugoslav wars, but also reshape German and Austrian collective memories of previous events. This project thus traces the transnationalization of German-language memory discourses, putting them in their proper, larger European context.
By probing the construction and transmission of collective memories, this project furthers research on European memory conducted within German and Memory Studies. It also engages with interdisciplinary theoretical discussions about the transnationalization of collective memory that are applicable to other multicultural and multiethnic contexts. My research thus sheds light on how we, as humans living in increasingly globalized societies, construct narratives about the past and how these stories provide foundations upon which we can build communities that either hold together or break apart.