Nicolas Moll

Trans-European Research and Cooperation

In: Mémoires en jeu / Memories at stake, published online 17.1.2019: 
Is there a time to stop commemorating? Two years ago I heard that a village in Belgium, whose population had been massacred by the German Army in 1914, had recently decided to stop the traditional annual commemoration of this massacre. This sounded unusual, even spectacular. I knew about communities who do not want to commemorate acts of violence because their majority had been on “the perpetrator-side”. I knew about survivors of mass-violence who preferred not to remember what had happened to them or who were denied possibilities to commemorate this. I knew about memory sites which had fallen in oblivion, or commemorations which had been abandoned after a political regime-change. But I had never before heard of a community which had been the victim of a massacre, and which had regularly, over decades, commemorated this massacre, and then one day, without any change in the political situation, decided deliberately to stop this annual commemoration. So I decided to investigate this case.
The present article is the story of this research, which led me to discover the village of Spontin, in Southern-Central Belgium, where I met different protagonists from the village community and it’s surroundings. It’s a story with twist and turns: each question I answered brought up new questions, and the deeper I went into the topic, the more interlocutors I spoke with, the more enigmatic the case seemed to become: had there actually been a decision to stop the annual commemoration? And if yes, by whom and how had it been taken? Beyond the case of Spontin, the text raises various more general questions: under which circumstances does it make sense to stop or to continue the tradition of commemorations? What are the appropriate means to keep alive the memory of painful events? Who is legitimate to decide about such matters? At the same time, the article is also a reflection on my own relation to the topic of memorialization, on my own expectations and approaches when doing this research, and on my role as a foreign researcher investigating a village community I did not know before.