17 May, Pan-Europe Day! Speculative commemoration in the interwar

Authors: Benjamin Thorpe*, University of Nottingham
Topics: Historical Geography, Europe, Political Geography
Keywords: Pan-Europe, Europeanism, commemoration, interwar, memory politics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Embassy Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


One of the strategies used by Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi's ‘Pan-European Union’ in its interwar quest to bring about a united Europe was to publicise 17 May as ‘Pan-Europe Day’, or simply as ‘Europe Day’. This was chosen to commemorate a date that was itself carefully chosen and planned, the simultaneous release of the ‘Briand Memorandum’ and opening of the 2nd Pan-European Congress, on 17 May 1930. The ‘Briand Memorandum’ proposed the uniting of European states within the framework of the League of Nations, but it was quickly deflated by a tepid response from the states to whom it was addressed. By contrast, the Pan-European Union, which existed outside this framework, continued to enthusiastically celebrate 17 May throughout the 1930s, arranging Pan-European publicity and festivities across Europe for the date. Ironically, the PEU’s celebration of Europe Day was to prove more lasting than either Briand’s Memorandum or the League itself, and its influence can be felt today in the continued celebration of Europe Day, now shifted to 5 and 9 May. This paper uses the interwar celebrations of (Pan-)Europe Day to reflect upon this early example of European memory politics, in which the object of commemoration remained in many ways speculative, and asks what it can tell us both about the internationalisation of memory politics and about the politics of commemorating history-in-the-making.

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