After Empire: SEE identities at 100 years since the start of the WW1

2014 is a year or special significance. Not only it marks a century since the beginning of the Great War but it marks a quarter of century since the fall of communist regimes in Europe and a decade since the countries in this region joined NATO. 

Throughout the year Aspen Institute Romania will mark these significant moments with debates, publications and dialogues independently or with partners. 
To kickoff this special year of reflection, we are organizing an event around the launch of Aspen’s joint publication with the Romanian Cultural Institute. In the framework of Aspen Romania’s National Identity Dialogues series, we are organizing a debate focusing on the evolution of national, ethnic and historical identities and contemporary political national narratives in the region 100 years since the beginning of the First World War. We aim to identify future developments in the Central and Eastern European region at a time when national identity, sovereignty and European federalism are creating a new and evolving national narrative.

The consequences of World War I are visible to this day, as a turning point in the history of the last centuries: the emergence of the United States as world superpower, a misbalanced situation in the Balkan region, arbitrary state borders in the Middle East or the legacy of federalism, populism and communism. Although war seems impossible among European countries due to the integration level built through the European Communities, strong dissonance is possible and visible. Alliances from the past, translated now into European mechanisms and institutions, put pressure on various countries to abide to treaties. 

The most troubled region of Europe in the beginning of the 20th century, the Balkans, erupted in conflict towards the end of the century.  The region continued to stir tensions between the large powers before and after dissolving in the bloodiest conflict in Europe since the Second World War. This region’s national, local and personal identities have witnessed tremendous convulsions over the course of these 100 years. From subservient territories of large empires to colonies of ideologies, countries in the South Eastern part of Europe seem to have always been catching up to decisions and influences of larger powers. Influencers like the British, German or French Empire, challenged the dominance of the Ottoman, Russian and Austria-Hungary empires. Later Nazi rule and occupation followed by Soviet influence and continuing with American presence (including via NATO) and EU accession processes have had a major impact on politics and identity. Regardless of their specific causes, most current tensions can be found - if in rather different clothes - at the very moment WWI started in 1914. Since 1989 the region by and large had to balance national identity with an increasingly federative process in the form of EU accession and integration. This has served for and sometimes in place of a national narrative for the XXI century. As soon as the EU has hit a political difficulty, partly because of the side effects of the financial crisis and its handling, support for EU plummeted and chorus of renewed nationalism and assorted populisms has become again prominent. This is true across Europe.

Populism and extremism are dangers to democracy and an inclusive society just as they were 100 years ago all across Europe. Nationalistic and xenophobic feelings, movements and parties are winning votes and influence both in the East as in the West. What are some of the crucial debates that the European society needs to have today as to prepare for a tomorrow which, due to unfortunate economic conditions, could allow for some of the 1914-onwards ideology dangers to return?
What are the lessons to be learned from the pre-1914 period that can be applied to today’s Europe? What were some of the mistakes or compromises which we should not make now? How has identity changed from Balkan, Yugoslav to Communist and Capitalist and what does it mean nowadays for the space between Croatia, Greece and Romania to be European? What is the relevance of European values and the imperial legacy? These and other questions will be addressed to the speakers and audience in an attempt to remember the past, understand the present and prepare for the future.

Could the twin remembrance of a Century since the Great War and a quarter of century since the fall of the communist regime shed some cold water on the inflamed spirits. Can it serve as political underpinning for the European project or has the EU already moved in a different direction altogether? Can South Eastern Europe as a region gain a clearer sense of a common European future?  

Aspen dialogues revolve around specific issues highly relevant to Romania and its region in the field of democratization, human rights, including promotion of cultural and minority rights, development issues related to urbanization of the societies, the effect of EU integration processes, language and identity, sports and society, foreign policy, environment the relationship between contemporary culture and nature etc.

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