The perceived importance of history and civic engagement: Recent MYPLACE publication

In 2011-2015, CRRC-Georgia was involved in an EC-funded project MYPLACE: Memory, Youth, Political Legacy and Civic Engagement. Sixteen academic partners from 14 countries (see the map below) investigated the forms and causes of young people’s civic (dis)engagement across Europe.
Palgrave recently published one of the outputs of the MYPLACE project in a volume titled Understanding Youth Participation Across Europe: From Survey to Ethnography. MYPLACE project leaders Hilary Pilkington, Gary Pollock and Renata Franc edited the volume. The chapter ‘History in Danger and Youth Civic Engagement: Perceptions and Practice in Telavi, Georgia’ discusses perceptions about history, and the forms of ‘practicing history’ in one of the MYPLACE research locations in Georgia, Telavi and was written by CRRC staff members, Tamar Khoshtaria, Mariam Kobaladze and Tinatin Zurabishvili.
The article shows that there is, on the one hand, vast empirical data demonstrating that the population of Georgia, including young people, report history and traditions are very important for them. There is, on the other hand, evidence that this ‘importance’ hardly goes beyond words, and even the most simple and passive forms of engagement in historical activities, such as visiting museums, are not actually practiced.
The chapter tries to explain this discrepancy, largely focusing on a controversial architectural ‘rehabilitation project’ in the historical center of Telavi, initiated in spring, 2012. For part of the population, young people included, this project led to perceptions of the historical monuments as endangered due to architectural mismanagement. The respondents often felt that, as a result of the reconstruction works, the history of the town was getting ‘damaged,’ or lost. Moreover, forgetting history was often seen as an indicator of the nation’s downfall. But did such perceptions lead to increased civic engagement?
No, they did not. This led the authors to conclude that this was “a missed opportunity from the point of view of potentially stimulating civic engagement. <…> [T]he young respondents report disengagement from politics and negative attitudes towards politicians and political activities even when they report being unhappy with the changes that take place in the society” (p. 311).
Thorough investigation of the reasons for such disengagement deserve further research. In the meantime, readers interested in the chapter can find the book here.