In Debate: The Return of History

Moira Pérez PhD

“Die Tradition der Unterdrückten belehrt uns darüber, daß der Ausnahmezustand in dem wir leben, die Regel ist. Wir müssen zu einem Begriff der Geschichte kommen, der dem entspricht.”

Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, These VIII.

On March 2022, a few days after the first strikes of the Russian army on Ukrainian territory began, Time Magazine published a special issue on the topic with the title “The Return of History”, subtitled “How Putin Shattered Europe’s Dreams”. As a backdrop, the cover featured a full-page, almost black and white photograph of a military tank with six soldiers looking straight into the camera. Although the phrase was most likely meant metaphorically and is obviously hyperbolic, the cover did express what seemed to be a widespread sentiment: something important had changed, and (Western) Europe was confronted with a reality it had deemed long gone, or at least, safely restrained.
For those of us attentive to discourses around history, however, this cover – as many comments and declarations by analysts, journalists and politicians which followed a similar pattern – tapped into fundamental questions about how events are framed in specific temporal and spatial narratives.