Knocking on Europe’s Door: Heritage-Making and the Valorization of Saxon Settler Colonialism in Sibiu, Romania

The European Capital of Culture is considered a success and a ‘brand’ of the European Union. It became a dominant policy paradigm for how culture, memory, and heritage can be articulated - and sold - in European cities. After EU enlargements to Central and Eastern Europe, ‘modernization’ and ‘Europeanization’ appeared as one of the primary aims of the programme, alongside the usual aim of developing the city and region. Sibiu’s tenure as ECoC in 2007, the year of Romania’s accession to the EU, put forward the multicultural and multiethnic history of the city in which Romanians, Saxons/Germans, Hungarians and Roma lived together peacefully, while emphasizing the German heritage of the city and the contribution made by Saxon colonial settlers to the city's heritage at the expense of other heritage or urban forms. Romania and Sibiu signalled Europeanization and ‘return to Europe’ through the valorization of Saxon Settler Colonialism and German heritage. Museums operate(d) within a culture underpinned by what I call ‘monocultural multiculturalism’ characterized by a hierarchization of ethnicities and heritages within European cultural policies and urban development strategies such as the ECoC. As such, institutions such as the Lutheran Church and the Brukenthal Museum benefited from the ECoC, while other museums that did not fit with the narrative of urban German history such as the ASTRA museum (an open-air museum dealing with Romanian rural life) were disadvantaged within the programme. In this presentation, I will focus on contemporary heritage-making practices in Sibiu, Romania, while placing these transformations within the broader history of German colonization to the East, Austro-Hungarian empire, and post/socialist transformations of Romanian Saxon cities. I will interrogate what these perspectives from the ‘margins’ of postcolonial EUrope illuminate about Europeanization, heritage-making processes, and museum cultures.

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