In 2015 more than one million refugees sought protection within the border of the European Union. Citizens and member states were confronted with the moral and political question - is the EU a space for refuge or not? This also fueled a discussions about a multi-cultural society. Citizens and member states drastically went from the status of exchanging opinions on this issue, to hard-core fractions unwilling to change one degree of their standpoint. The newly arrived refugees were either considered to enrich the already existing multi-cultural society in Europe or to be a threat to the national identity.
Shared History is an outcome from a polarised Europe! It is a project that strongly reacts upon the nationalistic politics of re-dreaming of homogenous European national states. But more importantly, it is a project dedicated to exploring cultural strategies that facilitate and encourage a historical consciousness based on integration from all directions!
Shared History takes place in Sweden, Latvia and Poland. Three countries that share contemporary and historical experiences through their geographical belonging to the Baltic sea region. But when it comes to the perception of the EU as a place for refugees and thus generating a multi-cultural society, the distinction is clear between Sweden and it’s two neighbouring countries, Latvia and Poland. Two countries who indeed have a history of being multi-cultural societies and a recent dramatic past consisting of war as well as physical and mental occupation forcing individuals and families into exile. Some of them arrived to Sweden and made it their new home only decades ago. Sweden’s recent past is less dramatic than it’s neighbouring countries. The institutionalisation of the asylum process shortly after the World War II eventually transcended Swedish society into the multi-cultural environment we know today. However, too often with distinctions between we and them – our history and their history!
But what if we consider history to be open and therefore charging it with the possibility of being inclusive from all directions? Can this conceptual framework be transcended into artistic expressions? Shared History is about doing that; investigating and visualising how experiences of exile and integration can merge into shared experiences by intertwining artist in Sweden, Latvia and Poland – both those who are established in each country and those who recently arrived.
The concept shared history means that two different entities share a certain part of history with each other. This may involve local, regional or national areas that have a partly shared history with other local, regional or national areas. But one may also view ethnic groupings as being parts of a historic conflict. Shared history therefore means to focus on the common, or more precisely focus on the point where the histories meet each other and form a common historical entity.
Inclusive history has been used before, but does not mean the same thing as a shared history. In the museum's nationalist rhetoric, the concept of inclusive has been used as an educational tool. Our definition of shared history contradicts this pedagogic. Inclusive means that something is included in something already existing. Shared history creates a new order.
There is no fixed definition of shared history and the concept has been used in many different contexts. Any situation where shared history is possible therefore requires its own definition and its specific empirical conditions. Shared history emerge through dialogue and critical reflection.
The advantage of starting from shared history is that you can merge two historical narratives and thus dissolve the deadlock in a conflict, among other things. Shared history opens up emancipatory and unifying solutions, since the historic narratives are being problematized when two or more different or even contradictory experiences or perspectives on the same historical phenomenon are forced into meeting and dialogue.
History is something that is told, that is to say that history is the story of an event or a process that once was. One such event or process can result in many different historical interpretations that often compete. Competing historical narratives can lead to conflict. Shared history joins different stories and seeks a broader and more complex interpretation of the historical event or process.
Applying a shared history-thinking may facilitate in-depth knowledge and problematization of historical processes or events but also help us understand the current events that will be our future history - through actively seeking shared perspectives connecting different experiences on several levels: global, regional, local and personal. Acknowledging we are part of the same history although we might have different backgrounds, experiences or opinions is the starting point.
Shared history is no universal method but a method which can be applied to situations where the meeting between different historical perspectives and experiences creates deepening, emancipatory and problematizing perspectives. Thus shared history contributes to new stories emerging; stories that increases historical consciousness; histories that impact how we understand and act in the present and that help solving historically conditioned social problems and conflicts. Shared history also casts light on the shortcomings, bigotry, exclusion, etc. within the prevailing view of history and history writing.