Investigating Europe’s most difficult conflicts - Universitetet i Agder
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Investigating Europe’s most difficult conflicts

The University of Agder is participating in a new Horizon 2020 project. The aim is that Europeans gain a more common understanding of the history of conflict areas.

veiskilt beograd foto
Bosnia-Hercegovina is one example of a country with a contentious past, and is one of the countries that the RePAST project will conduct research into. (Photo: Queerbubbles, Wikimedia Commons)

In a sense, Europeans share a common past. Countries and people have been affected by incidents and events throughout the centuries, and which still affect Europeans today.

However, there are many, especially those who live in areas with a difficult past, who have completely different views on this history. This applies, for example, to Northern Ireland, Catalonia, Cyprus, and the Balkans, where different interpretations of the past affect how the present is seen. There are significant disagreements concerning facts, about who is to blame for the various crimes committed, and about who the good and bad parties are.

“Different interpretations of the past hinder reconciliation after war and conflict. We have seen these, for example, in recent rulings of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Many feel that no honest confrontation with a difficult past has been undertaken,” says Kenneth Andresen, Professor at the Department of Nordic and Media Studies at the University of Agder (UiA).  

Andresen leads UIA’s part of the project, RePAST, which has recently received funding via the world’s largest research programme, the EU’s Horizon 2020. It is the first time that the Faculty of Humanities and Education at UiA has been awarded a Horizon 2020 project. RePAST gained the award in competition with sixty other project applications from research networks throughout Europe.

Hindering reconciliation

The RePAST project will provide European societies with help to understand the past better, and, in so doing, aid better integration on the continent. RePAST has a budget of 2.5 million Euros. UIA’s allocation is 340 000 Euros, which is almost 3.4 million NOK. 

The RePAST project is multidisciplinary, and comprises social scientists, humanities and media studies experts, lawyers, and historians. The project has twelve partners from eleven countries in Europe, including two companies that work with digital innovations. These are also involved in disseminating knowledge. The project will investigate how historical conflicts are communicated in Kosovo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Germany, Spain, and Ireland.

Kenneth Andresen portrett fotografi

Kenneth Andresen, Professor at the Department of Nordic and Media Studies at the University of Agder

UiA is one of twelve partners, but the idea behind the project originated with Kenneth Andresen’s research on journalism in conflict zones. Andresen has published several articles on how history affects life in the Balkans together Abit Hoxha, a colleague at Ludvig Maximillian University in Munich.

“The difficult parts of history are much further forward in people’s minds than is the case in Norway, for example. We thought that it would be interesting to look at how history affects today’s society through a larger research project,” he says. 

Andresen sent in an application to the Horizon 2020 programme, and Cyprus University of Technology in Cyprus agreed to coordinate the project.

UiA responsible for media

RePAST shall conduct research into Europe’s problematic history in four areas:  

  • The dissemination of history (informal history narratives and history as a subject)
  • Media (journalistic and social media)
  • Arts and culture
  • Politics (formal and informal)

UiA’s part of the project will address the journalistic media and how they handle a difficult past. In eight countries, the researchers will conduct studies of editorial offices and interview journalists and editors. The will also study journalistic texts and survey how they relate to disputed history.  

“We hope to come up with tools and methods for dealing with a difficult past, not least regarding integration and refugees. We want to make it easier to talk about disputed history in school, in the workplace, in cultural contexts, and amongst the general public”, says Andresen.

UiA has, in addition, country responsibility for Kosovo in the project, and will follow up the survey of all four project areas in this country.

Digital games, books, and workshops

The project commences during the summer of 2018, and will run for three years. Ambitious plans have, naturally enough, been made for dissemination, so that the results can be utilised.

Amongst the measures planned are:

  • Workshops for diplomats working with peace negotiations and for journalists
  • Treasure hunt game for schools with the theme of Europe’s difficult history
  • Resources for civil society organisations  
  • Teaching material which can be used in schools and academia
  • An interactive website with digital games and platforms  
  • Academic articles and books  
  • Material particularly designed for museums and the tourism industry

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