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The proliferation of memory laws and policies in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has instigated a contemporary culture war in Europe, a clash concerning the meaning of the past for present European identities. Can and should the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe (CoE) respond to these policies developed in Member States when they oppose common European values? What sort of intervention is possible, considering that these laws are framed as a democratic expression of national identity? Our project addresses this democratic dilemma, and the related legal and political challenges in contemporary Europe. The aim of our in-depth analysis of these recent developments is twofold: to raise awareness about the inherent danger of seemingly internal, yet outward-oriented policies, as well as to uphold – or even rescue – liberal democratic standards in all the Member States. The innovative contribution of our project lies in the unfolding of the nexus between the erosion of fundamental democratic rights and the emerging nation-centric governance of memory in CEE. The term ‘memocracy’, coined for the purposes of this study, is understood as a composite of memorare (Latin for ‘to remember’) and κράτος (Ancient Greek for ‘rule’). It thus means ‘ruling on the basis of memory’. As such the term is neutral, but when instrumentalised for specific purposes – it can indicate a regress away from democracy towards autocracy. In this latter context, we can speak of ‘militant memocracy’. This link between the erosion of fundamental rights and the rise of memocracy is important for understanding the democratic backsliding in the region and the related challenges to the European normative order, as the CEE memory laws contentiously diverge from the paradigmatic concepts of constitutional (or national) identity and militant democracy. While the notion of national identity (inherently present in ‘constitutional self-government’) is laid down explicitly in Article 4(2) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), militant democracy refers to the heritage of defending democratic systems against takeover by anti-democratic forces. We argue that the way these notions have been invoked in the context of militant memory policies has upended their original meaning.

Our project has three objectives:

  • To develop an analytical framework for studying the migration and distortion of constitutional concepts in Europe by theorising memocracy, and thereby pushing the debate on militant democracy to new conceptual and empirical grounds.
  • To conduct qualitative case studies of the memory laws and policies in Germany and seven CEE states over the past decade, on the one hand, and democratic standards in the EU and the CoE, on the other, thereby exploring the compatibility of memory governance in these countries against the benchmarks of fundamental rights and democratic standards.
  • To contribute to current public debates about the future of liberal democracy by providing new scholarly insights on the parameters of democratic memory governance in the transnational European space.

The main outputs of this collaboration between the Universities of Cologne, Kent, the Asser Institute and the Polish Academy of Sciences will be thematic workshops with stakeholder engagement, academic publications, and a website, showcasing comprehensive policy briefs about memory laws, judgments and policies in the reviewed countries.


Dr. Paula Fischer
Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin

Akademie für europäischen Menschenrechtsschutz

Klosterstraße 79d
50931 Köln

E-Mail paula.fischer(at)uni-koeln.de