Nationalism, Religion and Violence in Europe Summer Seminar 2016 will be opened by a presentation of a keynote speaker.
We are happy to announce that Pieter Lagrou (Université Libre de Bruxelles) agreed to join us for this occasion and share his perspective with participants of the summer seminar. He teaches contemporary history at the Université Libre de Bruxelles since 2003. He studied history at the Universities of Leuven, Yale and the European University Institute in Florence. From 1998 to 2003, he worked as a researcher at the Institut d’Histoire du Temps Présent in Paris. He has published on the legacy of the Second World War in Europe, on questions of international justice and contemporary historiography. He is currently working on the history of national languages and national sovereignty.
Presented Lecture: “The violent utopias of universal suffrage and national self-determination, 1870-1923”
Around the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many Europeans shared a diagnosis of what was wrong with the continent. A double-faced lack of popular sovereignty lay at the root of all contemporary evil. Benevolent sovereigns or similarly enlightened bourgeois elites had confiscated the political representation and confounded their particular interest with the general interest. Only universal suffrage could guarantee that governments and lawmakers got their priorities straight and tackle the social and economic problems of the disenfranchised classes. Popular sovereignty also implied national self-determination, since the people’s will asked for a national expression. Unshackled from the chains of census suffrage, autocratic rule and the people’s prisons that were the multiethnic empires, European societies would finally be able to resolve the problems of poverty and illiteracy, poor housing and sanitation, international instability and war. Universal suffrage and national self-determination carried utopian expectations of peace, justice and prosperity for the continent. They also carried the promise, however, of the brutal expression of majority rule, unbridled by the arbitration of Sultan, Czar, Kaiser or the ruling classes. The bright horizon of the dawn of popular sovereignty was thus also filled with the fear of the emerging right of majorities to dispose of minorities. Changing simultaneously the rules of the game – universal suffrage – and the delimitation of the playing field – national self-determination – proved to be an explosive mix and many chose to change the situation on the field before the hour of reckoning and the drawing of new borders and states. The Wilsonian moment was thus not a foreign import, but very much anticipated by decades of tensions and violence in Europe. In the end, were the promise of universal suffrage and national self-determination the cure or rather the cause for the woes of the European continent at the dusk of the Old Order?
Selective List of Publications
- “Memories of totalitarianism. The assymetry of memory East and West, and the Holocaust”, in Eugeniusz Smolar (dir.), Memory and Responsibility. The legacy of Jan Karski (Warsaw: Semper Scientific Publishers, 2015), pp. 182-192.
- “De l’histoire du temps présent à l’histoire des autres. Comment une discipline critique devint complaisante”, Vingtième Siècle 118, April 2013, pp. 101-119.
- “‘Historical trials’: getting the past right – or the future?”, in Christian Delage and Peter Goodrich, The Scene of the Mass Crime. History, Film and International Tribunals (London: Routledge, 2013), p. 9-22.
- “Europe as a Place for Common Memories? Some Thoughts on Victimhood, Identity and Emancipation form the Past”, in Muriel Blaive, Christian Gerbel, Thomas Lindenberger (eds.), Clashes in European Memory. The Case of Communist Repression and the Holocaust (European History and Public Spheres, Vol. 2) (Innsbruck: Studien Verlag, 2010), pp. 281-288.
- “Regaining the Monopoly of Force. Agents of the State Shooting Fugitives in and around Belgium, 1940-1950”, Past&Present, Supplement 6, February 2011, pp. 177-195.
- The Legacy of Nazi-occupation. Patriotic Memory and National Recovery in Western Europe, 1945-1965 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare, 2000).