Memory laws enshrine state-approved interpretations of crucial historical events. They commemorate the victims of past atrocities as well as heroic individuals or events emblematic of national and social movements. They date back centuries and continue to spread throughout Europe and the world.
Memory Laws in European and Comparative Perspectives (MELA) is a four-nation, EU-sponsored consortium gathered to examine memory laws throughout Europe and the world, organised with the generous support of a major HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) grant totalling over € 1.2 million, awarded in March 2016.
In Sanskrit, the word mela means ‘meeting’ or ‘gathering’. That image recalls the pan-European role of memory laws, but also elicits a paradox. State-constructed memory ‘gathers’ citizens under a mantel of symbolic unity, yet, in a multicultural society, precariously threatens that unity.
Our questions are: When do memory laws conflict with values of democratic citizenship, political pluralism, or fundamental human rights? Are the punitive laws inevitably abusive? Are the non-punitive ones mostly benign? Are there optimal ways for states to propagate historical memory?