The former Soviet sphere of influence, or post-communist Europe, experienced some of the worst political violence in human history in the last century – including the Holocaust, World Wars, the repression of human rights, mass deportations, and ethnic cleansing. Acknowledging this past is vital to healing historical trauma, bringing justice, and understanding societies in the region as well as the imperialistic mindset which attempts to reimagine the borders of Russia.
As part of the Green Screen project, which engages citizens in contemporary issues through films and debates, we explored Latvia's struggle for its own independence and identity through the lens of memory politics, and how this relates to Ukraine's own fight for freedom and self-determination. What is the way Latvia has been dealing with its past and what are other European examples of dealing with war crimes, repression of human rights, and ethnic cleansing? How can transitional justice bring lasting peace and security in post-conflict situations?
We featured the documentary film 'My Favorite War' (2020) and held a debate on memory politics. My Favorite War is an animated documentary recounting the personal story of its director, Ilze, who grew up in the Cold-War USSR. It is an exciting coming-of-age story about finding one's own identity, truth and loyalty. First, we meet Ilze as a little girl playing war at her grandfather's farm in Latvia. Then, she is faced with the horror of war threats at school. Ilze lives in a clash between Soviet reality and the state propaganda which denies what people are experiencing. Moreover, Ilze finds out that even the people she loves the most have opposing beliefs. The film is about the difficult choices she must make at a very young age and the courage she must find to finally speak out.
Watch now! Creating lasting peace: How countries cope with historical trauma
The USSR was formally dissolved in 1991, when Latvia gained independence. The Singing Revolution that led to the restoration of independence of Baltic states from the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War was a non-violent revolution that overthrew a violent occupation. While recognition of victims and perpetrators is a precondition to putting the past to rest, it is just a first step in healing collective trauma.
The two Latvian panellists, Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen, Director and Scriptwriter of My Favorite War, and Kaspars Vanags, Member of Progresīvie and art critic, exchanged about their divergent past – the first coming from a farmer's family and the other from a middle-class home. Both of their families had their small acts of resistance, but they still experienced very different realities. They spoke about their conflicting personal and collective histories, and how Latvia still struggles to deal with its past without people feeling tremendous sorrow or becoming aggressive. This is a signal that collective healing has yet to happen, which impacts politics as people still feel that they cannot express their political opinion and get the deserved justice. Ilze notes that due to the fear of positioning oneself on the past conflict, people still try to not take a personal position, and despite the end of the authoritarian regime the one-party system never stopped existing in people's minds.
The difficulty of reconciling with the past is not limited to Latvia or post-Soviet states but is an issue across Europe. Mar Garcia, the Secretary-General of the European Greens, and Laura López Domínguez, Deputy of Spanish Parliament, speak about the ways in which this is also present in Spain, due to the Francoist dictatorship. The audience also touches on general trauma and colonialism, noting how memory is incomplete and impacted by personal and historical amnesia.
"Europe is now a shared space of freedom. Unfortunately, however, in many corners of Europe there has been barbarism until very recently. I think Europe has been in a crossroads between two totalitarianism – Nazism and Stalinism. We must deal with the past because it is a debt we owe to the victims, and it helps us to understand who we are." – Mar Garcia, Secretary-General of the European Greens, Moderator
"In the Latvian state archive there were just happy children (...) and it's not how I felt – I felt stiffness, fear, obligation and suppression. I had to make an animated film because I needed my emotional memory." – Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen, Director and Scriptwriter of My Favorite War
"If Russia wants to deal with its past, it has to do it twice: first with the soviet regime, and then Putin's regime. The same goes for Latvia, because we have to remember that we also had an authoritarian regime, and it was never discussed." – Kaspars Vanags, Member of Progresīvie
"In Spain, a very bad consequence of not having a collective memory is that we are all impacted by the values and ways of thinking that came from the dictatorship, but most people are not conscious of this. There has not yet been enough healing." – Laura López Domínguez, Deputy of Spanish Parliament
We need to dive deeper in the nuances of our troubled histories in Europe and how conflicts have shaped Europe as it is today. At the 35th Council of the European Greens, the Progressives (Progresīvie), a poltical party in Latvia, has been accepted as candidate member party by delegates. They are a progressive voice set out to unite the people of Latvia by advocating for the harmonisation of Latvian society.
The next Green Screen is taking place after the summer break. Tune back in on 27 September to 4 October to watch 'Earth:Muted' (2021), a documentary about 3 families in China struggling to provide a good life for their loved ones amid an ecological crisis. The discussion will be on the widespread use of pesticides, and how this leads to the dramatic decline in bees and other pollinators. Sign up now!
Find out more about the 35th European Green Party Council.