From Memory to Mending: Lessons for Eastern Europe from Germany’s Foreign Policy of Reconciliation

March 6, 2014

On March 6, 2014, the AGI Society, Culture & Politics Program and the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center hosted a public panel discussion titled “From Memory to Mending: Lessons for Eastern Europe from Germany’s Foreign Policy of Reconciliation.” The purpose was to bring together leading experts to assess how lessons gleaned from Germany’s experience of post-World War II reconciliation with neighboring states, the Jewish community, and the wider world might be applied to promoting reconciliation within, between, and among states and societies in post-Communist Eastern Europe, with a special focus on Ukraine.


Dominique Arel, University of Ottawa
Slawomir Debski, CPRDiP
Angela Kachuyevski, Arcadia University
Lily Gardner Feldman, AGI
Eric Langenbacher, Georgetown University


Matthew Rojansky, Wilson Center

Although the process was difficult and long, Germany’s reconciliation after WWII with its neighbors is exemplary. It has developed a deep culture of self-reflection about the past, involving a strong civil society committed to reconciliation, and visionary political leaders, who helped move forward the process of reconciliation, particularly in the face of domestic opposition. Self-reflection requires acceptance of historical grievances and is a joint process that implicates both the aggressor and the victim. Third parties are also critical, as the U.S. was in Germany after World War II. Germany now looks outward and wants to be more “engaged” in global affairs and a long-term, consistent leader in international reconciliation. It has the capacity for such a role on the basis of its past experience and successes. In terms of German involvement in Ukraine, Germany is more hesitant to take sides than other countries like the U.S. because it wants to keep the dialogue open, just as it has past conflicts involving Russia. Germany’s extensive economic ties with Russia also militate in favor of a pragmatic approach.

The Ukrainian crisis can be seen as an internal crisis of identity, and a question of where it belongs internationally—with the West in association with the European Union or with Russia in association with the “Eurasian Union.” There is a wide diversity in the country with a multiplicity of languages and geographical orientations. According to a number of the panelists, Russia is occupying Crimea, which some Ukrainians clearly support. Others, especially in Western Ukraine, strongly oppose Russia’s moves.

Long-term reconciliation is needed between Russia and Ukraine but while the current situation unfolds, it is unclear how this will happen, and how Germany and the U.S. can assist. Russia has unfortunately so far ignored dialogue and violates past agreements, and its objectives are muddled. We need to find new ways to build trust. Civil society must step up and play a larger role. In Ukraine, religious leaders are already putting themselves at risk on behalf of reconciliation, but business leaders, academics, and other public figures must also make their voices heard.

3:00 – 5:00pm

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20004-3027

If you have any questions about the event, please contact Woodrow Wilson by phone at 202-691-4000, or by email at