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‘Our memory defines our identity’

‘Our memory defines our identity’

KARACHI: A discussion among consuls general of Russia, France and Germany to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, and to highlight the importance of a film festival ‘World War II – Testimony Archives’ that began at the Alliance Francaise on May 6, brought into focus interesting views on the role that memory plays in our lives at the French cultural centre on Thursday evening.

Russian consul general Oleg N Avdeev talked about the numbers of sacrifices the Russians made during the war, claiming that the Russian nation gained a strong will to survive from it. He said all the major battles took place on Russian territories, which was why Russians had a direct connection to the war. He feared neo-fascism was on the rise and there were elements that wanted to rewrite history. Therefore the film festival was the ‘right occasion’ to reflect on the horrors of such a conflict.

German consul general Dr Tilo Klinner termed the festival timely and important because it underlined the “biggest catastrophe” in history. It started as a great European civil war involving European nations, and later on engaged the whole world, he said. Referring to the Russian consul general’s speech, he remarked that Russia suffered in the second part of the war, that is, in 1941, as Hitler attacked Russia.

Dr Klinner said history was about the collective memory of a nation of what happened, but it was also “treacherous” as it depended on how one “recount” it. One may lose focus on how things really were, he pointed out, suggesting that documentaries were made with “certain intentions” but were very close to the events, giving the viewer important insights into what actually happened. He said the film festival gave “us a chance to reflect on the war as we are now 70 years from the event”. He told the audience that he was a young boy when the war broke out, but there were people who had firsthand experience of it. Now a majority of people couldn’t recall it as their personal experience, which was good because it was difficult to analyse things if one had personal feelings towards it.

French consul general Francois Dall ‘Orso said that on May 8 “we shall be celebrating the end of the Second World War in Europe, because elsewhere it ended in September”. He said it was time to recall the pain and sacrifices made and endured by millions of people and it was also time to avoid a repetition of such a war. He rounded off his speech by saying that it was the occasion to hope that no two states would consider war a legitimate instrument to end a conflict.

The speeches were followed by a short lecture on the subject by Habib University’s Markus Heidingsfelder.

Focusing on the topic of history, he remarked “history is storytelling”; it was a selective process where one picked and chose events. Memory was constantly renewed and shaped, he said, and the “here and now” was the only perspective available to us. He said the Russians believed they defeated Nazi Germany whereas Hollywood told us a different story.

Mr Heidingsfelder said documentaries constructed reality. To elucidate his point, he gave the examples of photographers who selected a few pictures from many photographs to construct reality. He showed some famous WWII pictures which were cropped to give a certain impression, but when they were zoomed back to give a full view they had a different effect. He then raised the question “What and why shouldn’t we forget?” and answered: “It is our memory that defines our identity and directs our future actions.” On the significance of archives and multiple views on a subject, he stressed they were important because they “bring us close to the real story”.

The festival will run until May 13.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2015

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