The Camp Chronicles in the Museum Friedland as a Mirror of Social and Political Debates

One of the objects I particularly appreciate are the camp chronicles.

Even during my first visit I was fascinated by them. Not only because they can be found right in the first room of the museum and they are impressive by size and design alone, but also because there are different places throughout the museum where you can digitally browse through them. Thus, even during my first visit, the newspaper articles and other documents transported me to a time when the camp first came into being and I was able to track and comprehend the developments that followed. The camp chronicles not only told me about the historical changes in the transit camp, but through the newspaper articles also revealed the political and social debates behind them.

Due to my background in social sciences, I find these shifts in the social debates to be very fascinating, because they make clear how closely they are linked to political decisions. How strongly political discourses are shaped through power and influence and how powerless actors with less privileges are in these dominant discourses resp. how much is possible if something is wanted by those politically and socially responsible: Especially the great willingness to help the boat people from Vietnam in the 1970s and 1980s in and around Friedland can be explained by the then anti-communist climate. Today's debates about flight and migration are also marked by these interdependencies: In 2015, when both the political and the social discourse pleaded for an open Europe and support for refugees, the spread of solidarity made things possible that we can only dream of today: Voices of the Civil society calling for humanity, the right to asylum, and open borders often go unheard today as the political climate has changed and other courses are set politically.

At the same time, the chronicles also make it clear that there are always recurring continuities within the debates. For example, articles from the 1990s document public debates about counterfeit papers and the sums people paid to prove they are of German descent. As I concern myself with Friedland, I have gained the impression that it was easier in the past to take on the resettlers, categorized and perceived as German. This debate reminds me with a striking potency of today's arguments about falsified papers and unlawful entry; all of them touch upon the question of what is one's own, what is foreign and what distinguishes the two.

And yet the chronicles do not only document the changes and continuities of social debates. During my later visits to the museum I accompanied Samah, one of the museum education staff, during a guided tour with the slogan “with other eyes”, and I recognized that the chronicles are capable of “speaking other languages” as well as actively shape relationships and start conversations.

Serena Müller

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