Looking to Europe for insight on dealing with discussions of removing Confederate monuments

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Debates regarding Confederate monuments and memorials are at an all-time high in North Carolina and across the country.

America has seen angry protesters deface and even haul down statues like the ones at the North Carolina Capitol. But this is nothing new to the rest of the world. Franco, Mussolini, Hussein, Lenin, and Stalin are just a few whose representations met a similar fate.

“Tearing down a statue, in a variety of ways, can be more emotionally fulfilling and cathartic than having a long, nuanced, historically informed, painful, uncomfortable, and perhaps unsatisfactory conversation,” said Gregory Vitarbo. He is a professor of modern Russian and European history at Meredith College.

Vitarbo offered a reminder that, as communism fell, so did the statues.

“It was wonderfully cathartic. It made for incredibly powerful, visceral images,” Vitarbo said. “We saw crowds taking down the statues, but, at the same time, it did not erase the reality of decades of communism. And grappling with the legacy of communism turned out to be much more problematic and difficult in the day-to-day grind than just the emotional satisfaction of tearing down a monument.”

While the monument comes down, it doesn’t erase history.

Germany has arguably done more than other European countries to make sure its past is not forgotten or repeated. Statues of Hitler or the Nazi party aren’t found around the country. Still, Holocaust reminders like memorials or the somber silence of former concentration camps are around.

“Most other European countries have far more problematic, you might say, relationships to the memorials. Again, memorials to the Holocaust are indeed about remembering and not forgetting, which is fantastic, but then there are other other memorials that raise a lot of the same issues,” Vitarbo said.

“This issue of completely eradicating memorials in the past while simultaneously finding new heroes or reclaimed heroes, that brings its own kind of baggage in a kind of whitewashing or problems of its own, you might say.”

Context is the key.

“As a historian, you cannot eradicate the history of the Confederacy. It happened. It was odious. It was largely driven by a heinous agenda of racial subjugation, but it happened. It was a real thing, and erasing all references to it where does that leave us,” Vitarbo said.

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