At the start of the 21st century a controversy arose relating to the Second World War and its consequences. At its heart was the issue of forced migration. Much of the debate focused on how events are interpreted and remembered today, but the discussions often lost sight of the facts and were unscholarly in their approach.
The controversy showed that despite the passage of more than 50 years and despite the efforts of politicians and scholars, the memory of those painful events can still be manipulated for political gain and can divide and disrupt relations in our part of Europe. This inspired governments of a number of Central European countries to seek a new form of dialogue regarding the tragic events of the 20th century: the first step in creating an international network of ‘remembrance workshops’. The workshops were designed to support and coordinate research into those difficult events as well as to commemorate them in a way that would not lessen the facts but, at the same time, would not hurt or discourage the dialogue’s international participants.
In April 2004, after two years of discussion and consultation, official negotiations began between culture ministers and history experts from Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. During the first round-table discussions, it was agreed that the newly created organisation would focus not only on the history of forced migrations but also on other events of 20th century – the ideologies and totalitarian systems of power, wars and crimes, which all precipitated the tragedies that afflicted Europe in the last century.
On 2 February 2005 the ministers of culture signed a declaration establishing the ENRS, whose permanent body, the Secretariat, was to be based in Warsaw. The declaration was signed by Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland. In 2014 Romania joined the structure and today representatives of five countries as well as those of the Czech Republic, Austria, Latvia and Albania sit on the Assemblies – the ENRS Advisory Board and the Academic Council. The Steering Committee, composed of delegates of the ministers of culture (coordinators), was established as the decision-making body of the ENRS.
In 2008 the ENRS began its first activities under the guidance of the Polish Coordinator Andrzej Przewoźnik (Secretary General of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites) and in cooperation with the other members of the ENRS.
The first events included the international conference ‘Sites of Memory in East-Central Europe. Experiences of the Past and Perspectives’ held in the Royal Castle in Warsaw in 2008 under the guidance of the four ministers of culture who founded the ENRS. This was followed by seminars in Krzyżowa (Kreisau, south-western Poland) and in Berlin about the Hitler–Stalin Pact of 1939, and the German premiere of the film Quietly Against the Tide in 2009.
In February 2010 the first official Assemblies’ Meeting was held in Warsaw and steps were made to establish the ENRS Secretariat. This was interrupted in April 2010 by the tragic deaths of Andrzej Przewoźnik and Polish Deputy Minister Tomasz Merta in an aeroplane crash near Smolensk. Both were inspirators and supporters of the Network. Having decided to continue their work, the Secretariat of the ENRS resumed its activities in Warsaw in late spring 2010. Since then it has implemented more than 100 academic, educational and promotional projects.
In Bucharest, on 28 May 2014, the Ministers of Culture of Romania and Poland, Hunor Kelemen and Bogdan Zdrojewski, along with the representatives of Germany, Slovakia and Hungary, signed an appendix to the founding declaration of the ENRS. With this document Romania became a fully fledged member of the ENRS. The accession of Romania is the first extension of the Network since its establishment.