04 December 2009

'Stalin's Back'

BBC's John Sweeney explores the contemporary rehabilitation of Stalin here. An interview with Aleksandr Filippov, author of the now-infamous textbook Istoriia Rossii 1945-2007, occurs at the 24-, 28-, 33-, and 38- minute marks.

The programme will be available until 9 December 09.

25 November 2009

'A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, Warts and All'

Yesterday the New York Times covered the publication of a landmark two-volume history of twentieth-century Russia edited by Andrei Zubov. An excerpt from the article:
“This is one of the most important books [...] from Russia in the past 20 years,” said Andrzej Nowak, a historian from Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. In an e-mail message, he praised “the exemplary way” it treated sensitive topics like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; the wartime agreement between Hitler and Stalin; the Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939; and the mass murder of Polish officers at Katyn. [...]

“Society is not satisfied,” [RIA Novosti columnist Aleksandr] Arkhangelsky said at the [book] presentation. “It is looking for an answer to the question: Who were we? [...] This means that very serious times await us, because in Russia historical mass consciousness becomes acute on the eve of major changes.”

23 November 2009

President Medvedev on the Issue of Historical Memory

by Josephine von Zitzewitz

On 30 October, Russia commemorated the victims of political repression. The “Day of the Political Prisoner” was instituted by dissidents in 1974 and became an official “feast” day in 1991. This year, President Dmitrii Medvedev delivered a speech on his video blog, in which he expressed concern about the state of historical memory in contemporary Russia:

“Два года назад социологи провели опрос. Почти девяносто процентов наших граждан, молодых граждан в возрасте от 18 до 24 лет не смогли даже назвать фамилии известных людей, которые пострадали или погибли в те годы от репрессий. И это, конечно, не может не тревожить. <…> важно не допустить под видом восстановления исторической справедливости оправдания тех, кто уничтожал свой народ <…> Никто, кроме нас самих, не сохранит историческую память и не передаст ее новым поколениям.” (The full text can be found here.)

This emphasis on the personal responsibility of the Russian people in coming to terms with the negative aspects of the country’s past and present is in tune with another recent statement about shortcomings in the areas of economics and civil society, among other things. Medvedev’s appeal provides a refreshing contrast to government rhetoric presenting Stalin’s victims as the “collateral damage” of the creation of a mighty empire. Yet the speech has attracted little attention, both in Russia and in the West.

It is of course impossible to predict whether deeds will follow these words, such as the establishment of a museum of political repression, as demanded by the “Memorial” society – apparently a lively and positive correspondence with various government agencies is now under way – or a more liberal climate for historical research. But perhaps the President is testing the waters, and surely in this case the community of commentators and scholars out to encourage the tentative new course?

02 November 2009

CRASSH Launches East European Memory Studies Research Group

Two exciting presentations recently launched the new research seminar series in East European Memory Studies at the Cambridge Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH). Andrzej Nowak (Jagiellonian University, Krakow) surveyed two central trends of Polish memory connected to empire. The first trend involved the memory of ‘Polish empire' -- the Jagiellonian dynasty of late Middle Ages, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Second Polish Republic of Joseph Pilsudski, the 2003 Polish occupational zone in Iraq (with its capital in... Babylon) -- while the second involved the memory of 'Poland under empire.' Mark Bassin (University of Birmingham) explored the significance of the Battle of Kulikovo for Russian nationalism in the early 1980s, offering fresh insights into the work of Lev Gumilev and Olzhas Suleimenov.

10 October 2009

Nearly a Century in the Making

Turkey and Armenia signed a historic reconciliation accord earlier today, not without some last-minute drama. Headlines in Turkish media are currently focusing on, among other things, the fact that no spoken comments were made on either side at the time of the signing, but the moment was nonetheless a remarkable achievement that bodes well for the future. The accord counts among its directives the creation of a historical commission to study the events of the World War I era slaughter of over one million Armenians, which the Turkish state still does not recognize as genocide.

25 September 2009

History Lessons from Putin

by Alexander Etkind
Originally published in the 17 September 2009 edition of The Moscow Times

Soviet ideology was always about the future. By contrast, today’s official Russian ideology seems to be focused squarely on the past.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s recent article for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza — written to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland — expresses his determination to make 20th-century European history a major part of the Russian government’s business. That article reflects the deep, unresolved problems of Putin’s era: the inability to distinguish between the Soviet past and the Russian present; an unscrupulous mix of political conservatism and historical revisionism; and indifference, bordering on incomprehension, with regard to the key values of democracy.

In his article, Putin did not mourn the collapse of the Soviet Union. Indeed, he even praised the democratic movements that buried the Soviet Union and its sphere of influence, and he expressed no sympathy for the 20th century’s revolutions, which he called “deep wounds” that humanity inflicted on itself.

What really worries Putin is the balancing of World War II and Stalinism in Soviet history. Calling for a “contextual” and “causal” view of history, he acknowledges the Stalinist terror but interprets it as a response to the extraordinary need to defeat Nazism.

Putin summarizes his understanding of the scale of the war by recalling the loss of “27 million lives of my compatriots.” That number has grown over the years, as Soviet officials broadened the definition of wartime deaths to mean total “population loss,” rather than direct military casualties. Official estimates of Soviet deaths in World War II thus rose from 7 million (the figure put forth under Stalin) to 20 million (Khrushchev) to 26.6 million (Gorbachev), with civilian deaths accounting for at least two-thirds of Putin’s estimate.

Unfortunately, Putin does not explain whom he counts as his compatriots. If he meant those who lived within Russia’s contemporary borders, the number would have been much lower. Instead, he includes all citizens of the Soviet Union who died during the war, including millions of Ukrainians, Belarussians, and others. And, when the Soviet Union annexed the Baltic countries, Königsberg, parts of Poland, Finland, Moldova, and Japan, their citizens, too, became Soviet compatriots.

Moreover, because Putin’s “contextual” history subordinates Soviet-era suffering to the purpose of fighting the Great Patriotic War, his number mixes those who died in battle fighting for the Soviet Union with those whom the Soviets killed through mass murder, deportation, and forced labor. By this logic, one could also reclassify the victims of the terror, collectivization, and famine of the 1930s in order to boost the number of Hitler’s casualties in the Soviet Union.

Putin connects two events that triggered World War II, the Munich Agreement of 1938 and the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, in one causal construction. Both acts of collusion with Nazi Germany were immoral mistakes, writes Putin, but the latter was merely a response to the former. To be sure, Britain’s Neville Chamberlain and France’s Edouard Daladier signed a shameful treaty with Hitler and Mussolini in Munich. But when Hitler breached the treaty, both Chamberlain and Daladier lost popular support, and, by the start of World War II, neither was still in office. The dictators remained, however, Molotov and Stalin among them.

Moreover, while the Munich Agreement cynically blessed Hitler’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, it was a public document that meant what it said. But the truly important part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was its Secret Protocols, which divided Europe into two imperial domains, Stalin’s and Hitler’s, without the consent — or even the knowledge — of the nations consigned to them. Molotov, who remained in power throughout the war and until 1956, denied the existence of the Secret Protocols until his death 30 years later. Democracies make shameful mistakes, but they eventually correct them, or at least apologize for them. And they dethrone those who got them into trouble.

It is wrong, and even immoral, to equate democratic and dictatorial practices. But this is the new Russian equation.

Cover image from Peter Andrews, Reuters.

06 September 2009

Yanukovych proposes World War II Liberator monument

During a visit today to the Donets'k oblast, Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych proposed to erect a monument to the World War II "Liberator" (Визволитель) on the border of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. According to Ukrains'ka pravda, the leader of the Party of Regions said, "We know who brought freedom and peace to our land," adding in Kremlin-friendly language that he was against attempts to "rewrite history."

02 September 2009

Jarosław Kaczyński: Putin 'spun a story'

A strong majority of Poles wanted Prime Minister Putin to apologise yesterday for the 17 September 1939 Soviet invasion of eastern Poland. He made no such apology, but offered a conciliatory hand to Polish readers (and the back of his hand to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko) in letter published yesterday in Gazeta Wyborcza. (The letter has been made available in English translation on Putin's website.) Here is the reaction of former Polish PM Jarosław Kaczyński this afternoon, referring to Putin as "prezydent":

Po pierwsze, nie było przeprosin... Putin snuł pewną opowieść, która jest właściwa dla nacjonalizmu. Rosja Stalina była przedstawiana jako zwykłe państwo. Były oczywiście jakieś przyjazne dla Polski akcenty, ale są one nie satysfakcjonujące.

First of all, there was no apology... Putin spun a story that was suitable for [Russian] nationalism. Stalin's Russia was presented as a normal state. There were some nice sentiments for Poland, but they were not enough.

Kaczyński went on to ask why Putin had been invited to Gdańsk in the first place.

01 September 2009

Majority of Poles: 'Putin should apologise' for 1939

Together with other European leaders, the Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian Prime Ministers are meeting in Gdańsk today to commemorate the 70th anniversary of World War II. Vladimir Putin's visit in particular is making headlines. According to a recent poll conducted by GfK Polonia for the newspaper Rzeczpospolita (The Republic),

Na pytanie, czy podczas uroczystości 1 września Władimir Putin powinien przeprosić za napaść na Polską 17 września 1939 r. "tak" odpowiedziało 76 proc. ankietowanych. Przeciwnego zdania było 18 proc. badanych. Nie miało zdania w tej sprawie - 6 proc.

As to the question, 'Should Vladimir Putin apologise for the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September 1939 during the 1 September commemoration ceremonies,' 76% of respondents said 'Yes.' 18% of the polled were of the opposite view. 6% did not have an opinion on the matter.

Photo from Rzeczpospolita's website. A good article on the memory politics wrought by the 1939 invasion in Poland appeared in yesterday's Financial Times.

13 August 2009

Yushchenko Responds

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko responded to Dmitrii Medvedev's charges of "anti-Russian" behavior today in a consciously respectful (albeit at times exasperated) letter that spoke of a "tradition of friendship and good-neighbourly relations" between Ukraine and Russia rather than "fraternal" ties (as Medvedev asserted repeatedly in his letter). Refuting Medvedev's charge that Ukraine has used the tragedy of 1932-33 as part of an "anti-Russian" project, Yushchenko said:

[У]країнський народ віддає також данину пам'яті мільйонам росіян, білорусів, казахів та представників інших національностей, що померли від голоду у Поволжі, на Північному Кавказі, в Казахстані та інших регіонах колишнього СРСР. Відомо, що під час проведення Акції пам'яті «Незгасима свічка», присвяченої 75-м роковинам Голодомору в Україні, у вікнах сотень міст в усьому світі, у тому числі й у Росії, горіли свічки, що є свідченням багатонаціональної солідарності з Україною у визнанні цього факту.

The Ukrainian people also commemorate the millions of Russians, Belorussians, Kazakhs, and members of other nationalities who died from hunger in the Lower Volga region, the North Caucasus, Kazakhstan, and other regions of the former USSR. It should be noted that during the "Inextinguishable Candle" campaign, dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of Holodomor in Ukraine, candles were lit in the windows of hundreds of cities around the world, including in Russia -- bearing witness to a multinational solidarity with Ukraine in recognition of [Holodomor].

The full letter can be found at Ukrains'ka Pravda.

11 August 2009

The Rhetoric of Memory and the "Crisis" in Ukrainian-Russian Relations

Dmitrii Medvedev, visibly perturbed despite the tranquility of his surroundings, addressed the public in a new videoblog entry today to decry the Kremlin's relations with Kyiv, explicitly throwing himself into Ukrainian presidential election politics perhaps earlier than expected. In his remarks, based on a letter sent today to Viktor Yushchenko, Medvedev cites Gogol''s 1842 imperial-friendly edition of Taras Bul'ba as an elegy to, in his view, less acrimonious times -- Нет уз святее товарищества, "There is no stronger bond of fellowship" (i.e. than the bond between Ukrainians and Russians), words not original to the 1835 edition of Bul'ba -- and identifies Ukrainian efforts to come to terms with the legacy of Soviet terror as evidence of a larger "anti-Russian" project.

27 June 2009

Memory and Mazepa

Today is the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Poltava, in which Peter I defeated Charles XII of Sweden and the Ukrainian Het'man Ivan Mazepa. As it happens, the occasion has given us yet another instructive specimen of the defensive discourse about memory and history generated by some vocal Kremlin sympathizers: an article by Oleg Kil'diushov entitled “The Battle for the Battle of Poltava” and featured, not surprisingly, on the home page of Gleb Pavlovskii’s Russkii zhurnal. Mazepa is a fascinating, contested historical figure -- for crossing Peter, he tends to be anathemized as a "traitor" in Russia and hailed as a "patriot" in Ukraine -- but Kil'diushov appears wholly unable to explore his significance without resorting to hyperbole or caricature. He employs with great excess the signature punctuation of le nouveau chauvin russe – namely, sarcastic inverted commas (e.g."Украина" и "украинцы") – and refers to the journalists of Zerkalo nedeli / Dzerkalo tyzhnia as "Banderites" and to historians like Saint Peterburg State University's Tatiana Tairova-Iakovleva as "Mazepists."

Tairova-Iakovleva is the author of a recent, highly-acclaimed book on Mazepa, and it is in her fine documentary research (and not in Kil'diushov's rhetoric) that we see the possibilities of Russian-Ukrainian concord.

UPDATE 13 July 2007:

Adrian Karatnycky and Alex Motyl take on 'The Battle for the Battle for Poltava' in the 9 July issue of The Wall Street Journal Europe. An excerpt:

For Russians, Poltava without question was a great historical victory and Russians should be free to memorialize it as such. And there is no question that in the 17th century, national identities were ill-formed and many inhabitants of the territory of Ukraine felt a stronger kinship for the common Orthodox faith they shared with Russians than for any aim of independence. But for contemporary Ukrainians, there can be no similar ambivalence. As a young state that gained independence in 1991, Ukraine must develop its own sense of history, its own heroes and founding fathers. In short, it needs a common historical narrative to bind its citizens.

Such efforts are at best benign and should excite from Russia no more than a firmly agnostic ambivalence. But the vehemence of Russian polemics over events and personalities three centuries old speaks to the Russian state's interest in keeping alive the idea of the eventual reunification of the two states. It also helps perpetuate a cultural divide between Ukraine's Ukrainian-speaking west and the Russophone east.

The full article can be read here.

21 June 2009

Timothy Snyder: 'Holocaust: The Ignored Reality'

Timothy Snyder's article in the upcoming 16 July New York Review of Books offers nothing less than a corrective to conventional twentieth-century European historiography in under 4,200 words. It will be read for a long time.

Snyder traces, sensitively but authoritatively, signs of 'the difference between history and memory' in twentieth-century Europe. Among other things, he argues that

[t]he emphasis on Auschwitz and the Gulag understates the numbers of Europeans killed, and shifts the geographical focus of the killing to the German Reich and the Russian East. Like Auschwitz, which draws our attention to the Western European victims of the Nazi empire, the Gulag, with its notorious Siberian camps, also distracts us from the geographical center of Soviet killing policies. If we concentrate on Auschwitz and the Gulag, we fail to notice that over a period of twelve years, between 1933 and 1944, some 12 million victims of Nazi and Soviet mass killing policies perished in a particular region of Europe, one defined more or less by today's Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia...

The geographic, moral, and political center of the Europe of mass killing is the Europe of the East, above all Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic States, lands that were subject to sustained policies of atrocity by both regimes. The peoples of Ukraine and Belarus, Jews above all but not only, suffered the most, since these lands were both part of the Soviet Union during the terrible 1930s and subject to the worst of the German repressions in the 1940s. If Europe was, as Mark Mazower put it, a dark continent, Ukraine and Belarus were the heart of darkness.

As in his fine The Reconstruction of Nations (Yale, 2003), Snyder shows what a skilled, objective practitioner in comparative history can achieve: critical lessons for our common future.

If there is a general political lesson of the history of mass killing, it is the need to be wary of what might be called privileged development: attempts by states to realize a form of economic expansion that designates victims, that motivates prosperity by mortality. The possibility cannot be excluded that the murder of one group can benefit another, or at least can be seen to do so. That is a version of politics that Europe has in fact witnessed and may witness again.

Another note from this past week: Masha Lipman's column in 19 June's Washington Post confronts what Snyder calls an 'imperialism of martyrdom.'

In the following excerpt she targets the logical cul-de-sac of the stated mandate of the Kremlin's new commission 'to counteract attempts to falsify history that undermine the interests of Russia' (“по противодействию попыткам фальсификации истории в ущерб интересам России"), which we discussed in a post on 13 June:

...[T]he goal of a government commission established last month by President Dmitry Medvedev's decree [is] to oppose attempts to falsify history that damage Russia's interests. This mission shows the potential for interpretation -- and abuse: It implies that genuine historical fact cannot be damaging to Russia's world stature, but also that there's nothing wrong with the distortion of facts if it embellishes the country's image.

The rest of Lipman's column can be read here.

13 June 2009

Recent Sorties in the 'Memory War'

A quick update. On May 19, President Medvedev declared the creation of a special commission “to counteract attempts to falsify history that undermine the interests of Russia” (“по противодействию попыткам фальсификации истории в ущерб интересам России"). He did so days after recording this entry on his video-blog marking Victory Day, in which he states (after 3:06) that “attempts to falsify history” about World War II have become increasingly “angry and aggressive.” More about the ukase establishing the commission can be read in these Russian-language articles by RIA Novosti and Vedomosti and in this 11 June opinion piece by Janusz Bugajski from the Wall Street Journal Europe.

Who is responsible for these so-called “angry and aggressive” attempts to “falsify history,” according to the Kremlin? Medvedev has in mind, of course, Ukraine and Poland, who have recently announced a new development in their increasingly collaborative efforts to come to terms with the past.

On 11 June, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU, Служба безпеки України), which has become a significant actor in the investigation of Soviet crimes in Ukraine, announced that Poland's Institute of National Memory (IPN, Instytut Pamięci Narodowej) has given it a large store of archival documents relating to the activity of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA, Українська повстанська армія) from 1944-47. More about the transfer can be read in this Ukrainian-language article on Korrespondent.net. The SBU noted that this was not the first time it has collaborated with IPN, and these strides in Ukrainian-Polish cooperation on the memory front clearly have the Kremlin feeling defensive.

01 June 2009

Old Provocations, Newly Marketed; or, What is 'Project Russia'?

In April a series of odd billboards popped up in and around Kyiv displaying the words 'Project Russia' in various languages and in varying sizes of typeface. The words themselves were arguably innocuous, but coupled with a pregnant image, they were decidedly less so. The image was an outline of the borders of the Soviet Union, with Ukraine and other non-Russian former Soviet republics clearly ensconced within. According to Dmitrii Gusev, who spoke with Delo, the billboards were advertising a three-volume propagandistic book project connected to the Kremlin.

The billboards -- including one that stood outside the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada -- have been reportedly removed from Kyiv. But 'Project Russia' continues to make the rounds -- by special delivery, as Novyi Region reports.

White envelopes with free copies of the book are reportedly appearing in the mailboxes of prominent intellectuals and civic leaders in Ukraine. They're not asking for them. Nor do they necessarily appreciate the free reading. Andrei Ermolaev, Director of the 'Sofia' Center for Social Research, had this to say about 'Project Russia': 'The text has an openly dull messianic character... It's been done either by cowards -- or jokesters.'

19 May 2009

A Victory for Memorial

The End of the “Case of the Raid” and Some Lessons Learned

A Public Statement from 'Memorial'

On 6 May 2009 the City Court of St Petersburg upheld the decision of the Dzerzhinsky Region Court, which had ruled that the raid on the premises of the Research and Information Centre “Memorial” in St Petersburg on 4 December 2008 was illegal.

On the same evening representatives of RIC “Memorial” (lawyer Ivan Pavlov, director Irina Flige and Tatiana Kosinova, a member of the organisation’s governing body), accompanied by two independent observers (Boris Pustyntsev, head of the organisation “Civic Control” [Grazhdanskii kontrol’] and Svetlana Ekimova, representative of the Human Rights Ombudsman for St Petersburg), arrived at the Prosecutor’s Office to collect the items which the officials from the Prosecutor’s Office’s Investigative Committee had illegally confiscated. These items included twelve computer hard drives, which at the time of the raid contained databases with the results of twenty years of research into the history of political terror during the Soviet period.

The representatives of Memorial made a record of the procedure by which the items were returned, and this record was witnessed by the independent observers. All returned items were then packed into boxes, sealed and taken to “Memorial’s” premises.

On 13 May independent technical experts tested the hard drives for their functionality and the integrity of the data held on them, once again in the presence of representatives of the public. All drives turned out to be functional and data samples confirmed the integrity of the data. The test report states that the drives show no sign of having been read, with the exception of a single drive which was unsuccessfully connected to a computer in the night of 4 December. It seems that during all this time the drives were simply kept at the Prosecutor’s Office, without anyone taking an interest in their content.

A total of four court hearings took place in the five months that passed since the raid, during which RIC “Memorial” demanded that the raid be declared illegal and the confiscated items returned. As early as March the Prosecutor’s Office declared its willingness to return the confiscated items “since they were not needed”, but now it has been forced to do so by court order.

Obviously, the return of the confiscated items does not compensate for the damage done to RIC “Memorial’s” work: as a consequence of the raid almost the entire IT system was put out of service and large parts of the information and reference material held on the confiscated hard drives were inaccessible for five months. Moreover, the issue of the moral damage inflicted on our organisation remains open: investigator M.G. Kalganov’s absurd suspicion that “Memorial” could be involved in funding rightwing extremist publications, publicly reiterated by the permanent representative of Russia at a session of the OSCE, was not refuted during the court proceedings. The court refused outright to address this issue. “Memorial” intends to take further steps in order to defend its good name.

Nevertheless - our organisation’s rights have been rehabilitated and our property has been returned to us. We believe this outcome would have been impossible without the wave of protests and acts of solidarity that began immediately after the raid on 4 December, internationally as well as within Russia. As members of “Memorial” we wish to express our sincere gratitude to the scholarly community in Russia and abroad, the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation and the regional Human Rights Ombudsman for St Petersburg, the human rights section of the European Council, the democratic civic and political organisations in Russia, the mass media in Russia and abroad (in particular the information portals Polit.ru and “Human Rights in Russia” [Prava cheloveka v Rossii, hro.org), foreign politicians and many others for the support they offered to us.

Memorial would like to draw attention to the fact that several conclusions can be drawn from the “case of the raid”:

Firstly, despite widespread opinion to the contrary, it is possible in certain cases for non-governmental organisations in Russia to defend their rights in court, if they invest a considerable amount of effort and display insistence. Such a victory does not come cheap: in this case it has cost the staff members at “Memorial” much time and energy – over a period of five months they had to put their main work aside time and again in order to stand up for the rights and the good name of the organisation.

Secondly, public solidarity campaigns are not merely symbolic acts of protest. They can yield practical results.

Thirdly, we have seen that under the present conditions a full triumph of law and justice is unlikely when the case in question concerns official interests. In the “case of the raid” this was evident from the fact that the court refused to address the issue of the illegality of the search warrant itself on the grounds that it was wholly unjustified, limiting itself to pointing out that the decision to carry out a raid is the exclusive prerogative of the investigator. Thus the court in practice confirmed the right of the investigative agencies to take such arbitrary decisions, infringing upon rights of legal persons without having to fear subsequent legal investigation. “Memorial” believes such practice to be anti-constitutional.

Fourthly, during the court process it became clear that the law enforcement agencies (at least the Centre for the Fight Against Extremism at the Main Administration of the Russian Ministry for Internal Affairs for the North-Western Federal District) consider “Memorial” to be an “extremist” organisation, something that warranted the decision to place our office under “operative observation”, in other words “external surveillance”. All our attempts to establish why our Research and Information Centre in St Petersburg has become the object of operational investigations have been unsuccessful so far. The Centre for the Fight Against Extremism refused to reply to our enquiry, pointing out that the law prohibits disclosing the classified information about operational investigations. However, the very fact that the efforts in the “fight against extremism” are directed against organisations such as “Memorial” throws a specific light on the reasons why real extremism in St Petersburg, as well as in the whole of Russia, is on the rise, while the percentage of extremist crimes solved remains catastrophically low. The story of how RIC “Memorial” was placed under external surveillance ought to serve as yet another stimulus for a serious public debate, during which we need to arrive at an evaluation of the present aims and priorities of the law enforcement agencies with regard to the “fight against extremism”. We expect interested government agencies to join in such a public debate.

Thus the “case of the raid on RIC “Memorial”” is over, at least in as far as the rehabilitation of our injured rights are concerned, but there are certain aspects of this case that still need to be evaluated by society.

International “Memorial” Society

“Memorial” St Petersburg

Post-Soviet Hauntology: Cultural Memory of Soviet Terror

by Alexander Etkind

Constellations, Volume 16, Issue 1 , 182 - 200

In Russia, where many millions were unlawfully murdered during the Soviet period, the cultural practices of memory are inadequate to these losses. While Europeans are talking about the “mnemonic age”, a “memory fest”, and the obsession with the past “around the globe”,[2] Russians complain about the historical “amnesia” in their country. Sporadically, some Russians outsource their memorial concerns abroad. Sometimes they strive to protect Russian monuments in Tallinn, Vienna, and elsewhere. Sometimes they attempt to silence the public sorrows of Russia’s neighbors in respect to a past that they happen to share with Russians. Sometimes it feels that the former Iron Curtain has become the frontline of the Memory War. But in contrast to the “amnesia” thesis, sociological polls show that Russians remember the Soviet terror fairly well, though they vastly differ in their interpretations of this terror. In contrast to the abuse of memory for nationalist purposes, most important developments of Russian memory are structured not by nation or ethnicity, but by solidarity between different communities and generations. While the state is led by former KGB officers who avoid giving public apologies, building monuments, or opening archives, the struggling civil society and the intrepid reading public are possessed by the unquiet ghosts of the Soviet era. Haunted by the unburied past, Post-Soviet culture has produced perverse memorial practices that are worthy of detailed study.

The Black Energy of the Remnant

Close to the Belomor Canal in the North-Western corner of Russia, a large mass grave was uncovered in July, 1997 by independent researchers from St. Petersburg and Petrozavodsk. The site, called Sandarmokh after the closest village, is a pine forest which is distinguished by small, regular depressions in the earth. About 9,000 people were shot on this spot in 1937 and 1938. The victims were men and women of sixty ethnicities and nine religions, with an unusually high proportion from the political and academic elites. More than a thousand of the murdered were delivered here from many hundreds of miles away, from the Solovetskii camp, for unknown reasons. People were brought there alive, forced to dig their own graves, and were shot on the spot. The executioners knew that it is easier to transport living people than corpses.

The site was discovered in 1997 by Veniamin Iofe and Irina Flige, leaders of the Memorial Society at St. Petersburg, and by a local enthusiast named Iurii Dmitriev from Petrozavodsk. None of these three researchers was trained as a historian, though Iofe was a political prisoner - good training in itself. The discovery was based on the testimony of Captain Matveev who was sent by the NKVD to Karelia in 1937, shot thousands in Sandormokh, and was arrested and interrogated in 1939. Having survived in the archive, the evidence he provided helped lead to the discovery of the remains of his victims. Ironically, Matveev also survived; he died as an old man in 1981.

The excavations at the site recovered bones and skulls, many marked by a bullet hole. Decomposing under a thin layer of soil, the corpses of the people whom Matveev executed on each of his daily missions form a recognizable depression in the ground. There is a memorial complex in Sandarmokh, which consists of wooden sharply-roofed stakes which mark every mass grave. Dozens of these markers are scattered around the pine forests. The memorial also includes a figurative sculpture by Grigorii Saltup, a prolific artist and writer from Petrozavodsk. After taking part in the excavations, Saltup applied to the ministry of culture of Karelia with a project for a monument. The government promised money but never gave it; Saltup believes that the ministry wanted a kick-back. Having a three-meter model in his workshop, Saltup mortgaged his apartment, reduced the project, and completed it in a local factory[4]. The monument shows an angel with wide-spread wings and tied hands, waiting to be shot. On the top of a stone obelisk, an inscription declares, “People, do not kill each other”.[5]

I interviewed Iurii Dmitriev, a slight man with a sailor’s mustache and unusual energy. He is fully obsessed by the duty of memory which he feels as his personal responsibility. His father served in the Soviet military; his own family’s connection to the Soviet terror seems to be irrelevant.[6] Among his discoveries is the largest known burial ground in the area of the Belomorkanal, the notorious construction site of the GULAG which connected the Baltic and White seas. Dmitriev knew that in 1933, the hectic race to beat the spring floods killed about ten thousand prisoners who dug the ten kilometer-long rocky, frozen terrain of the 165th canal, which connects the Northern and the Southern parts of the Belomorkanal. For many months, Dmitriev explored the nearby woods and marshes with no success. Wandering in the woods with a local hunter, Dmitriev found a deep hole made by a raccoon that had dug up remnants from under a layer of stones. Nearby, Dmitriev identified about a hundred depressions in the moss floor. In this marshy land, the victims had dug deep holes, in which they were shot and covered with stones so that predators would not reveal them (which eventually happened anyway). There is no monument there. [7] In 1997, Dmitriev found another mass grave in Krasny Bor, 20 kilometers from Petrozavodsk. After marking about 40 “shooting holes”, he started the excavations. After months of work with a shovel and a computer, Dmitriev identified the names of 1193 victims and two executioners. Having failed to convince the local authorities to allocate money for a memorial, Dmitriev erected a self-made one. Two rocks stand vertically like strange teeth gazing at the skies.

In 2002, after many years of assiduous research and begging for money, Dmitriev published a thousand-page volume which lists more than 13,000 biographical entries for those who were murdered in Karelia in 1937-1938.[8] In the initial stage of composing this book, Dmitriev was supported by Ivan Chukhin, a police officer who became a deputy of the Russian Duma; in the 1990s, such people could open archival doors. A third member of this group was Pertti Vuori. Chukhin’s father was an NKVD officer who was implicated in the terror; Vuori’s father was murdered in 1936 during the “repressions” in Karelia. In spite of their opposing relations to the catastrophe in the past, their work of mourning was a joint project. But working on their Book of Memory, Chukhin and Vuori died young men. Having survived them, Dmitriev publicly states that his coauthors were killed by “the black energy of crimes and murders which were committed decades before”. Using his own words, the local newspaper described Dmitriev’s ordeal:

After many months, which Dmitriev spent in the archive reading the files of those who were exiled or shot, he lost his appetite, could not sleep… There is a black energy; it leaks into everyone who touches the yellowish pages of interrogations, denunciations, and shooting protocols. But Dmitriev continued his work on the Book of Names. He ran out of money. His friends died. His nerves betrayed him. His relationships were destroyed. He lapsed into months of heavy drinking. [9]

I like to compare monuments to crystals that settle in a solution of memory, provided that this solution is strong, stable, and not too hot. Contemporary Russian memory barely approaches these minimal conditions of crystallization. An important condition in the process, analogous to the temperature of the solution, is the social consensus. High social consensus encourages the proliferation of monuments but, since there is not much to debate if everyone agrees, it discourages public debates; we see such a situation in contemporary Germany. In contrast, low consensus suppresses public memory, but can intensify manifestations of memory among the remembering minority. The enthusiastic efforts of solitary individuals, veritable heroes of memory like Dmitriev, are vital in this situation.

But many sites of the Soviet Terror still have no monuments. To give a well-known example, about 30,000 people lie in unmarked graves in Toksovo near St. Petersburg. A part of this area is favored by wealthy Russians for its natural beauty and proximity to the city. Another part is a shooting range which is still being used by naval artillery to test weapons. As a Moscow newspaper wrote in 2002, “They are being shot until now”.[10]

Russia vs. Germany
When Nikita Khrushchev initiated his de-Stalinization campaign in 1956, he he chose the concept of “unjustified repressions”as the idiom for mass murders, arrests, and deportations, Always mentioned in the plural, this is a striking concept: a formula for senseless acts of violence which do not specify agency and therefore, elude responsibility. In contrast to the Nazi terror, in the Soviet Union no specific group (ethnic, territorial, professional, etc.) suffered significantly more than other groups, with one exception: “A particularly heavy toll among Stalin’s victims was, of course, extracted from the state and party apparatus”.[11] Following this line, a bizarre argument was produced by the defense attorneys who represented the Communist Party at the Moscow trial of 1992. Since communists suffered from repressions more than others, this argument goes, their organization cannot be blamed for these repressions, even though it organized them. Conflating subject and object, Soviet repressions differed from Nazi German exterminations, in which the victims and perpetrators were distanced by crystal-clear constructions. “Unjustified repressions” means, exactly, self-imposed, meaningless social catastrophe. If the Holocaust was the construction and extermination of the Other, the Great Terror was similar to a suicide.

Comparing the state of the German memory of Nazism to the Russian memory of Communism, a Russianist feels despair. The processes and institutions of terror in Nazi Germany and Communist Russia featured multiple parallels and contacts; but the cultural memories of Russian and German terror developed in such different ways that they seem to defy comparison. Holocaust memorials, museums, films, and novels have been studied by numerous researchers. The memory of World War II has recently become a subject of Russo-German comparative studies.[12] In contrast, the scholarship on the Russian memory of Soviet terror is negligible.

Both the Russian and German catastrophes have rich and controversial historiographies. Both national traditions are familiar with attempts at particularizing their respective catastrophes and insisting upon the methodological principle of incomparability. In the 1980s, in the atmosphere of Détente, the question of the (in)comparability of the Nazi crimes launched a fierce discussion which is remembered as “Historikerstreit”. The philosopher Ernst Nolte emphasized the historical fact that the practices of state terror, such as concentration camps, were developed in the Soviet Union earlier than in Germany and that German socialists knew of these Soviet practices well before the Nazis came to power, thus suggesting the direct influence of the Soviets upon the Nazis. The philosopher Jürgen Habermas found in these arguments an unacceptable “historicization of the Holocaust” which, he argued, relieves the burden of historical guilt.[13] The comparison between Communism and the Holocaust is central to the French “Black Book of Communism”, now published in Russian with an introduction by Alexander Iakovlev. A former member of the Politburo, Iakovlev eagerly characterized the Soviet regime in terms which alluded to the German parallel: “It was full-scale fascism of the Russian type. Our tragedy is that we have not repented”. [14] Iakovlev chaired The Presidential Committee on the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Political Persecutions; as he knew well, “rehabilitation” was far from repentance.[15] The GULAG survivor and founder of the Memorial Society, Veniamin Jofe wrote that the current “chaos of speculations” about the Soviet past works like “a smoke-screen” which masks the problem of “evaluating the Soviet period of Russian history in terms as clear as those used for evaluating Nazi Germany”.[16] He obviously wanted the Russia of the 1990s to produce as “clear” a vision of its violent past as Germany managed to do.

Comparing and contrasting the Russian and German situations, several major factors should be taken into account. First, the Socialist regime in Russia lasted much longer than the Nazi regime in Germany. Repairing the damage probably also requires more time, but Russia is less distant from the collapse of its Soviet state than Germany is from the collapse of its Nazi state. Second, the Soviet victims were significantly more diverse than the Nazi victims; their descendants are dispersed and in some cases (e.g. Russian and Ukrainian political elites), have competing interests. Third, Germany’s post-war transformation was forced upon it by military defeat and occupation, while Russia’s post-Soviet transformation was a political choice. Fourth, the memory of the Nazi period has developed in different ways in Germany’s Western and Eastern parts; it may happen that the situation in East Germany is more similar to the Russian case than the better-known situation in the West. Finally, among the victims of both regimes and their descendants, the subjective experience of victimization and mourning was significantly different. In Soviet camps, most of the political prisoners shared the principles of their perpetrators but believed that in their personal cases, they were mistakenly identified. In Nazi camps, on the other hand, the typical victim did not question his identification (as a Jew), but objected to the general reasons for his persecution. These are two deeply different sentiments, which had different consequences: a strong and coherent anti-Fascist and Zionist movement in one case and a chaotic mix of loyalty, escapism, and resistance to the Soviet state in the other.

With few exceptions, Jewish victims of the Nazi regime perished in a way which excluded hope in their families and communities. In contrast, many prisoners of the GULAG returned from it; of those many who did not return, relatives and friends often knew nothing for years and decades. The condition of mourning in a situation of uncertainty is unusual and under-theorized. As Jacques Derrida put it, “Nothing could be worse, for the work of mourning, than confusion or doubt; one has to know what is buried where – and it is necessary … that, in what remains of him, he remain there. Let him stay there and move no more!”[17] Interpreting ways of life which were relatively orderly, Sigmund Freud famously distinguished between mourning and melancholia, basing this distinction on the subject’s ability to acknowledge the reality of the loss. In Freud’s logic, if the loss is not recognized, it is repressed; when repressed, it turns into new and strange forms; henceforth, it threatens to return as the uncanny. The failure to recognize death as death produces the uncanny. When the dead are not properly buried and mourned, they turn into the undead. Unlike some researchers on memory,[18] I believe that Freud’s metaphors retain their heuristic value; however, - different historical contexts shift the borders between such categories as certainty and doubt; mourning and hope; health and pathology; and, as Derrida insisted so vigorously and ghosts demonstrate so often, life and death. Scholars have not yet explored what happens to mourning/melancholia in a condition of uncertain loss.

In a situation in which the beloved person disappears for reasons which nobody understands; in which she may be alive and might possibly, miraculously return; in which no information about the loss is available or trustworthy -- Freud’s clinical distinction should be modified.[19] In this situation, uncertainty was external and realistic rather than internal and pathological. In an indefinitely large part of the Soviet experience, death could not be recognized as death, and survival could not be relied upon as life. The state, the source of repressions, was also the only source of information. Millions were convicted for long terms “with no right of correspondence”; no information was received from them for years or decades. As we know now, some of these victims were murdered immediately after their sentencing and some of them died later in the camps. Relatives were usually not informed in either case. People returned from the camps earlier or later than their sentences were supposed to expire. The sentence had little or no predictive value. The GULAG did not provide reality checks for either hope or mourning. What it did provide was fertile ground for ghost-making.

One night the general was found in a cold sweat, screaming, “Forgive me, Dmitrii Ivanovich!” His wife shook him awake and asked him, whom he was talking to; he did not respond. After a few weeks, the general started talking to the invisible Dmitrii Ivanovich while awake. After they took him to the insane asylum, his wife learned that Dmitrii Ivanovich was a man the general had shot with his own revolver in 1937.[20]

The trained historian Liudmila Alexeyeva, who later would become a leading Soviet dissident and post-Soviet human rights watcher, heard this story in 1953 and retold it in 1990. She remembers the first prisoners who returned to Moscow as the undead: these people “had been forgotten, written off, and now they were out there, on the streets, like the walking dead”. Clinically, a disturbance of reality-testing distinguishes psychotic conditions, such as paranoia, from more benign ones, such as melancholy. But the ghostly panic which was launched by the return of the repressed from the GULAG in 1953, was not an individual disease or an epidemic. It was a post-catastrophic condition that should be understood as a communitarian event, for which the integral, long-lasting effects have been clearly different from the sum of individual ailments and recoveries. One can compare this condition to melancholy or paranoia, but its subject was not an individual but a community, not the screaming general talking to Dmitrii Ivanovich but the Soviet society, which has continued talking to its victims even after its own death.

Marking the end of the Nazi regime in 1945 and the end of the Soviet regime from 1986-1991, we must judge the current state of Russian memory against German memory, as it was documented in the 1960s. At that time, complaints about “collective amnesia” and “silencing the catastrophe” were probably as typical in Germany as they are now in Russia. However, Germans had already experienced the Nuremberg trials (1945-1946) and the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials (1963-1965). In Russia, an attempt to try the Communist Party failed in 1992. Germans began in the sixties to open memorials and museums on the sites of camps. Russians started opening memorials in the nineties. Comparing the Russian and German memory of terror is like comparing two individuals, an adolescent and an old man. One needs to imagine the old man in his younger years in order to understand their actual difference.

The first study of German memory, The Inability to Mourn by Alexander and Margaret Mitscherlich, documents the situation of 1967. Read now, this book suggests a strong, almost ghostly resemblance to the Russia of 2008. In their clinical case studies and in an astute cultural critique of German society of the 1960s, the Mitscherlichs identified a syndrome which consisted of the “unconscious fixation on the past,” “collective ego depletion”, “blockage of social imagination”, and material satisfaction. Germany needed “a political working-through of the past” and failed to produce it. Historians, public intellectuals, and politicians failed to “master the past” in which millions were murdered. “After the enormity of the catastrophe that lay behind them,… the country seems to have exhausted its capacity to produce politically effective ideas”; as a result, political life froze into “mere administrative routine”. Atypically for psychologists, the Mitscherlichs blamed the political system rather than specific individuals. “Hard work and its success soon covered up the open wounds left by the past. … Economic restoration was accompanied by the growth of a new self-esteem.” Every word here is true for the Russia of the 21st century, with the difference that economic success in Russia has not been secured by hard work but inadvertently awarded by a chance of history and nature. Since the German society of the 1960s, like the Russian society of the 2000s, was “at least materially, on the whole better off than ever before… it [felt] no incentive to expose its interpretation of the recent past to the inconvenient questioning of others”. It also had no reason to overcome the “affective isolation of the Germans from the rest of the world, which started under the Nazi regime”; this self-isolation has only just begun to change, wrote these German psychologists in 1967. Though the Mitscherlichs used overly evaluative terms in their formulations, the working hypothesis of their old book is still relevant, though in a context that they would find hard to imagine: “Our hypothesis views the political and social sterility of present-day Germany as being brought about by a denial of the past”. [21] Talking about Russia of 2008, I would only replace “sterility” with “apathy” and “denial” with “misrepresentation”.

Politically and culturally, the aftermath of president Yeltsin’s rule has proven to be very different from the aftermath of Chancellor Adenauer’s. However, this anachronistic comparison gives modest hope for the future. A number of studies demonstrate that the transformation of German memory reflected and led the broader development of culture and society.[22] If German memory dramatically changed after the time analyzed by the Mitscherlichs, Russian memory could also undergo such a transformation in the future.

The prominent Holocaust historian, Dan Diner, recently re-examined this problem. He stated that the Nazi regime eliminated those whom Germans considered a “part of a culturally and historically different collective”; as a result, the crime “entered the ethnicized memory” of Germans and “acquired the status of a specifically German crime”. In contrast, the Soviet regime defined both victims and perpetrators “as part of the same historical mnemonic collective”; in such a situation, “the process of overcoming the evil naturally becomes wrestling with oneself”.[23] Naturalizing ethnic differences (as if Germans were naturally different from Jews and did not invest enormous efforts into construing this religious group as the national Other), Diner denies the ability of non-ethnic groups to structure “mnemonic collectives” and remember their dead in a collective way. Unavoidably, this “thesis of a fundamental difference” (Diner) between ethnic and other groups underestimates those types of solidarity which surpass national borders. In the Cold War era, the memory of the GULAG was preserved by the international community, which consisted of American and European historians and politicians, and Soviet dissidents and memoirists. These people smuggled, translated, and published manuscripts of Solzhenitsyn, Grossman, Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam, and many others; they produced magisterial pieces of scholarship, such as The Great Terror by Robert Conquest. In more recent cases of genocide, global memory has played various roles in relation to national memories, from supplement to catalyst to substitute.

Starting with Maurice Halbwachs’ classical argument that collective memory requires a remembering collective, Diner comes to the conclusion that nations can preserve memory while some other social groups, such as classes, cannot. Therefore, German guilt and Jewish mourning pass down through generations while the “Soviet” crimes vanish from memory. According to this argument, the repressions of “Kulaks” or “Nepmen” could not and do not remain in the collective memory, either because these groups were ideological fictions of the Bolsheviks with their theories of class warfare, or because these groups were successfully exterminated and did not leave descendants who would mourn them. Diner characterizes such crimes as historically describable but mnemonically non-transmissible. With hesitation, Diner makes an exception to this rule for those Soviet groups who suffered from repressions which were (if not in Bolshevik theory, then in their practice) defined by ethnicity. Diner mentions Ukrainians but he could give many more examples, for instance, Chechens, Crimean Tatars, or, indeed, Jews after WWII. However, my central question addresses not these ethnically defined cases but a more general picture that Diner draws here: is Diner’s identification of the remembering collective with the nation (i.e. the nationalization of memory) historically true and morally defensible?

I do not believe so. Diner’s concept of collective memory seems to be custom-made for the Nazi Holocaust. Designed to clarify comparisons between the Holocaust and other cases of mass murder, it precludes many of these comparisons. Diner seems to operate within a simplified distinction between two types of human collectives, nations and classes. Marxist efforts to furnish classes with self-conscious identities do not seem convincing to Diner, but the idea that nations have identities and therefore, subjectivities, he takes for granted. Indeed, “class feelings”, as the Soviet Marxists understood them, have never existed; it is individuals who feel guilt, sorrow, or greed. However, these individuals have the ability to pass, preserve, and exchange their feelings; culture provides them with the instruments for these purposes. Using cultural means, some individuals and groups are able to shape the feelings of other individuals and groups. With the help of texts, images, and other cultural instruments, some individuals even create new groups and collectives. Besides nations which allude to Hitler and classes which allude to Marx, there is a third type of collective: associations, as Alexis de Tocqueville first described them. Indeed, the post-Soviet transformation seems to be a process of “wrestling with oneself” only to those who subscribe to a vision of the Soviet people as an undivided (classless, nation-less, subject-less) unity. Actually, it was a struggle between myriads of collective subjects, who constructed themselves according to a variety of principles, from the ethnic to the political to the generational to the memorial, and shaped their identities in this struggle. The active role of the Memorial Society, a typically Tocquevillian association, exemplifies the post-Soviet type of the “remembering collective” and testifies to the role of memory in structuring the social space.

The concept of cultural memory is close to the concept of collective memory but is significantly broader. Cultural memory presumes a remembering collective only in the broadest and loosest sense; the cultural communities of those who subscribe to a certain journal or take part in an online chat, play the role of such a collective. In some rituals, people get together to share their mourning. Near the Solovetskii stone in Moscow, on the 29th of October, 2007, the Memorial Society commemorated 70 years since the start of the Great Terror by reading the names of its victims. For twelve hours, volunteers read aloud 2,600,000 names of those who were shot in 1937-1938. Some of those who read these names spontaneously added – my grandfather, my uncle… The Memorial Society intends to repeat this performance annually; indeed, in many provincial centers such as Vologda, descendants of the victims come annually, on ‘The Day of the Political Prisoners” on October 30th, to the local memorials. Emil Durkheim has sensitized us to the concept of rituals as the means of religious and political instruction. Integrating monuments, texts, and performative acts, mourning rituals are indispensable mechanisms of cultural memory.

However, culture allows people to share their experiences without requiring physical encounter. Various media and genres of culture transmit and distort memory, which moves between individuals, communities, and generations. Cultural forms structure virtual collectives of their fans and connoisseurs or, in some cases, their active antagonists. However, the turn from “collective memory” to “cultural memory” deemphasizes the remembering collective and focuses on the materials which memory is made of. It is a turn from the sociology of memory in the tradition of Maurice Halbwachs, to cultural studies of memory in the tradition of Walter Benjamin. “Multimedia collages” [24] of cultural memory integrate multiple types of signifiers: from memoirs to memorials; from historical studies to historical novels; from family albums to museums and archives; from folk songs to films to internet. Marianne Hirsch in her research on the “postmemory” of the Holocaust emphasized the relevance of personal artifacts, such as photographs, family albums, and letters, for the memory of parents’ and grandparents’ experience. The crucial interaction between post-memory and public memory remains unexplored in her work. [25] With time, public forms of memory, from monuments to textbooks to novels to films, become increasingly dominant. Most of the people who are shaping post-Soviet memory have never experienced the GULAG themselves. The initial denial of the past transforms into the public interest in history, which is represented in multiple, mutually incompatible interpretations of events and personalities of the past.

Though Dunkan Bell believes that in a “historical representation”, one can distinguish between “social memory, mythology, and critical history”,[26] I doubt the practical use of this tripartite distinction. In respect to the past, validity claims are uncertain or controversial, as are their relations to the ethical or political concerns of the present. As Russian examples generously teach us, what was believed to be true yesterday is not considered to be true today. Cultural memory is a living realm which changes with history. Works of fiction which do not claim truth (e.g. historical novels) or genres with unverifiable validity (e.g. memoirs) are difficult to categorize according to Bell’s tripartite scheme. Borders between myths and truths tend to shift and curve from one political position to another and from one generation to another. These movements of truth in the space of memory comprise, in their own turn, an important part of cultural history. In democratic and other societies, various institutions of power compete for control over cultural memory, i.e. for the patrol on the borders between truth and myths in the representation of the past. For some political regimes, it is crucial to insist on their definitions of truth; when they fail to do so, they collapse. Having much at stake, various communities of memory either comply with claims of power, or ignore them, or reinterpret them according to their interests.

An arresting example of this interpretative power is the 500 ruble banknote, issued in 1997 and widely used now. On its face side, this banknote show the Solovetskii monastery, one of the most cherished in the Orthodox Church. In the historical photograph that this note reproduces, the onion-shaped cupolas of the cathedral, which it previously had and which it has now, are cut off and replaced by unusual pyramids. The local historian Jurii Brodskii believes that the atypical cupolas that are depicted on the note date this picture at the end of the 1920s. [27] At that time, the semi-destroyed monastery housed the Solovetskii camp, the earliest and one of the most important in the GULAG. It would be brash to assert a conspiracy theory that ascribes subversive intent to the officials of the Central Bank. Neither would I dare to speculate about their “unconscious” motivations. Perhaps what we have here are prosaic processes of serendipity, which are then interpreted by enthusiasts of memory. Such interpretation constitutes an act of memory in itself, a performative which is no less significant than other initiatives of memory, such as the renaming of a street or the writing of a memoir.

In contemporary Russia, history is omnipresent. In the press, parliamentary debates, and political speeches, historical concepts like “Stalinism”, “cult of personality”, and “repressions” are rhetorically employed as often as modern legal or economic terms. The events of the mid-20th century are still perceived as a living, contentious experience which uncannily threatens to return again. The present is oversaturated with the past, and this solution refuses to produce any sediment. As the historian Tony Judt puts it, “If the problem in Western Europe has been a shortage of memory, in the continent’s other half the problem is reversed. Here there is too much memory, too many pasts on which people can draw”.[28] Historical memory in Russia is a living, de-centered combination of symbols and judgments which are experienced simultaneously, all at once, responding to various political needs and cultural desires. Because of the de-centered nature of this construction, deprived of consensual anchors or reference-points, the public does not perceive the inconsistencies or logical conflicts between its different parts. In contrast to multiculturalism which is characteristic of (and actively promoted by) American society, Russians live in and promote a condition I would call multi-historical.

There are Russian university professors who explain Lenin or Gorbachev by the “fact” that they were Freemasons. There are influential churchmen who want to canonize Ivan the Terrible and Grigorii Rasputin. There are astronomers who have written volumes on “The New Chronology”, which claims that in the Middle Ages, Mongols did not occupy Russia but rather Russians occupied Europe. There are academics and officials of law-enforcement agencies who believe that the years of Stalinism were the best time for Russia. However, the majority of teachers, scholars, and politicians support the established ideas of history. They have to defend them daily.

The most noticeable manifestation of this multi-historicism in popular culture borders on kitsch. A fancy St. Petersburg restaurant called “Russian Kitsch: Café of the Transitional Period” features grand frescos executed in the manner of Socialist Realism, in which Soviet collective farmers dance with American Indians, while Leonid Brezhnev, looking like Frank Sinatra, gives a political speech to a stone-age tribe. This, seemingly postmodern, attitude in many sites of contemporary Russian culture is ubiquitous. In the very successful film The Peculiarities of National Hunting (1995; director Alexander Rogozhkin), a Finnish historian studies the rituals of Russian hunting. During his field trip to Russia, he falls into the company of some drunken hunters. While they are drinking and shooting, the student visualizes gorgeous scenes of hunting with Borzoi dogs and aristocratic beauties. The whole story is based on the interpenetration of a bathetic present and an extraordinary but irrelevant past.

Currently, history seems to divide the population more than do politics and economics. The vast majority of Russians support Putin, but about half of these supporters hate Stalin and about half respect him. Most probably, it means that these people are divided in their actual, substantive idea of Putin as well: some support Putin because they see him as different from Stalin, while others support Putin because they believe he is similar to Stalin. The content of Russians’ varying interpretations of history is highly relevant to current politics. For obvious reasons, sociological polls do not provide access to this content.

The liberal-minded Russian press daily compares Putin to Stalin and speculates about the coming “thaw” (the historical term which scholars use for the short period of relative liberalization after Stalin’s death). [29] The details of Stalin’s life and the names of his cronies arouse public interest, as if they are politically pertinent. “Stalinism” continues to be the center of gravity of Russian intellectual discourse; in a similar way, American historians and intellectuals make their studies relevant by referring to “September 11”. Specters of Stalin are haunting a post-Soviet culture that produces dozens of alternative histories of “the miraculous Georgian”, as Lenin once called Stalin. In Vladimir Sharov’s novel Before and Then, Stalin is a son and lover of the immortal Madame de Staël. In Vladimir Sorokin’s Blue Fat, Stalin is a tall and handsome ruler, a friend of Hitler, a lover of Khruschev, and a possessor of the elixir of immortality. In Pavel Krusanov’s The Angel’s Bite, an unnamed Eurasian ruler is of Russian-Chinese origin, sleeps with his sister, and murders his friends and foes. In Dmitrii Bykov’s Justification (2001), Stalin subjects people to unbearable suffering in order to select those few who are fit to survive it all; those who give up under torture and confess to invented crimes have betrayed Stalin and must perish; those who resist to the end are preserved, healed, and trained to be KGB operatives and Soviet leaders. Most of these stories deconstruct themselves. Krusanov’s hero, the dictator, in an attempt to invade the world brings it to its end. Bykov’s protagonist, a Moscow historian and author of a revisionist theory of Stalinism, commits suicide.

The historicizing drive can go much deeper. Currently, the hit of high literature is Vladimir Sorokin’s Day of the Oprichnik (2006); set in 2027, it depicts the future Russia as a Chinese colony which will restore the political system of Ivan the Terrible, with its dynasty, public executions, and the omnipresent oprichniki (Ivan’s death squads). On the others side of the political spectrum, the biggest hit of the Russian media is a 70-minute long TV-show called Death of an Empire, which tells the story of the end of Byzantium. Produced in 2008 by a highly-positioned Orthodox monk, father Tikhon Shevkunov (ostensibly, the personal confessor of Putin), this documentary presents Orthodox Byzantium as the predecessor of the Russian state, a victim of Western intrigues and Jewish capital. Anachronistically, this film applies the political slang which came into popular currency during Putin’s reign (successor, agents of influence, demographic crisis, stabilization fund, internal enemy, spiritual confusion, etc.) to the early Middle Ages; worse than that, it begs the authorities to protect the great but confused Russia from repeating the fate of Byzantium.

Making Sense of It
The first memorial to the victims of the GULAG, a simple granite stone, was erected in 1989 in the cemetery of Solovetskii island by Veniamin Iofe and a group of activists from the Memorial society. [30] (Years later, the same group erected similar memorial stones in Moscow and St. Petersburg.) In 1999, at the Solovetskii cemetery, Iofe said that his stone was a “question mark which asked about the meaning of this tragedy. We wanted to understand why all these millions were sacrificed, if they were indeed sacrificed? What was the supreme value which demanded these sacrifices?”[31] In this doubt about the idea of sacrifice, Iofe echoed Giorgio Agamben’s philosophical work on the Nazi camps which was inspired by the Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi. To define the status of the victim of a “state of exception”, Agamben developed the concept of Homo Sacer, “a human victim that may be killed but not sacrificed”. [32] Only that life which has value may be sacrificed. Agamben states that since camps were permanent zones of exception from law, life in these zones could not be expressed in terms which were meaningful outside of these zones. Suspended in the luminal space between social and biological deaths, the victim’s life was “bare”; it was not subject to any legal, political, or religious order. Essentially, it was the life of an animal, of chattel. In the Soviet camps, these people were called “the soon-to-be-dead” (dokhodiagi); in Auschwitz, they were called Musselmen (muslims). Agamben noticed that victims bore witness only rarely. Survivors, not victims, write memoirs. According to Agamben, the memory of the camps is possessed only by survivors, which is almost unavoidable but not fair.[33] Addressing the Soviet rather than German camps, Nadezhda Mandelstam resolved this paradox in the same way that Agamben did decades later: “Only those who were about to perish in the camps, but accidentally survived can testify about them”.[34] She had already read Varlam Shalamov, a soon-to-be-dead who survived by chance in the GULAG and translated his experience into unique testimonies of the senseless, defenseless life of the Soviet Homo Sacer. A less known but equally remarkable example was given by Boris Sveshnikov (1927-1988), a soon-to-be-dead who was saved, like Shalamov, by a camp doctor, served the rest of his term in a camp hospital and depicted his experience in many dozens of pencil sketches and (after his release) oil paintings. Rescued by a Latvian prisoner and then by an American collector, a large part of Sveshnikov’s works is kept now in Zimmerli Museum in New Brunswick, NJ. Sveshnikov showed the details of life, work, and torture in the GULAG by using historicizing styles which refer to various Spanish, German, and Russian artists but focus on the themes of the European religious wars of the 17th century. Sveshnikov’s work, a play of mourning at a standstill, serves as a counterpart to another historicizing document of 20th-century mourning, Benjamin’s book on the Trauerspiel. One of the most impressive pieces of the collection at the Zimmerli Museum shows a soon-to-be-dead, already in the coffin but still a bit alive.

In Aleksandr Proshkin’s film The Cold Summer of 1953 (1987) presents a drama of the reawakening of the soon-to-be-dead. Two exhausted exiles of the GULAG, one a captain of military intelligence, another a civil engineer in the past, fight a gang of criminal ex-prisoners who capture a local village after their release from the camp. One exile dies in action, another kills bandits and survives to tell the story. In this violent film, the transformation of a semi-corpse into a hero of resistance is convincing; however, what actually happened to heroes of memory, such as Shalamov or Sveshnikov, feels more plausible.

Current sociological polls tell us that Russians are increasingly engaged in re-interpretations of their past.[35] Sarah H. Mendelson and Theodor P. Gerber sponsored a series of polls in Russia in 2003-2005 in which about 26% of young respondents reported that they had at least one relative who was “repressed” during the Soviet period. [36] In 2007, Dina Khapaeva and Nikolai Koposov polled standard samples in three Russian cities. They report that 63.5% correctly believe that “tens of millions of victims” suffered from “repressions”.[37][38] These numbers are impressive; Russians remember events that happened fifty or seventy years ago surprisingly well. In any modern society, it would be unusual for every fifth or fourth individual to know the specific details of what happened in her society and to her family in the 1930s or 1950s. In the absence of any educational and memorial policy on the part of the state, these results seem even more surprising. Paradoxically, scholars tend to grumble about the condition of memory in contemporary Russia. Many speculate about collective nostalgia and cultural amnesia, or notice the “cold” character of the memory of Soviet terror. [39] In my view, surveys reveal the complex attitudes of a people who retain a vivid memory of the Soviet terror but are divided in their interpretation of this memory.

Far from demonstrating an outright denial of the Soviet catastrophe, the vast majority of Russians show knowledge of their history. In their attitude towards this history, Russians are split almost evenly. It is not the historical knowledge which is at issue but its interpretation, which inevitably depends upon the schemes, theories, and myths that people receive from their scholars, artists, and politicians. Domenic La Capra distinguished between two typical responses to a trauma, the constructive “working through” and the obsessive “acting out” of the trauma.[40] I would add a third mode, “making sense” of it. In the period of terror, the power which affirms its sovereignty by creating zones of exception, denies responsibility for the abuses committed in these zones. But with the passing of time and with the scale of abuses revealed, the sovereign changes his strategy. His last resource is a sacrificial interpretation, which presents victims as sacrifices, and suicidal perpetrators as cruel but sensible strategists. Approximately half of the Russian population believes in this. They explain the Soviet terror as an exaggerated but rational response to actual problems which confronted the country. Many believe that the terror was necessary for the survival of the nation, its modernization, victory in the war, etc. If it was necessary in the past, it can be desirable in the present and possible in the future. Making sense of the catastrophic past is a performative act, “an interpretation which transforms what it interprets”.[41]

Hardware, Software, Ghostware
Looking at almost any monument in Washington, London, or St. Petersburg, one senses how the state celebrates its continuing connection with the past. These monuments are the body of the nation on display. They represent the ideal identity of the nation as a unity between the state, the people, and their common history. In a work that has become exemplary, a group of French authors led by Pierre Nora produced an eight-volume study of French monuments, Les lieux de mémoire (1984). Erecting these monuments, Nora argued, the state imprints its changing self-representations on the citizens. This is memory as pantheon: the selective representation of great personalities and events of the past.

According to the recent (August-September, 2007) exhibition in the Sakharov Museum in Moscow, there are now 1140 monuments and memorial plaques at various sites of the GULAG within the territory of the former Soviet Union: stones, crosses, obelisks, bells, bas-reliefs, and angels. There are also strange monsters, such as a concrete Leviathan, composed of multiple human faces, with a cross in place of the nose in Magadan, and the “Moloch of Totalitarianism” in Levashovo near St. Petersburg, which represents a robotic cannibal who is devouring or raping a human figure. In contrast to the artistic experience of Holocaust memorials, on the sites of the GULAG there are very few realistic monuments which depict an actual prisoner at a moment of suffering. Mourning senseless loss on such a catastrophic scale is an impossible task. Though scholars of the GULAG have theorized about this unrepresentability less than the those of the Holocaust, the heirs of the GULAG’s victims have intuitively chosen non-sacrificial monuments to commemorate their dead. In the current practice, stones and monsters comprise two types of monuments that express the political nature of life and death in the camps. Bare stones convey the memory of bare life, construed from the perspective of the victims. Monster monuments express the unimaginable quality of the experience of the “soon-to-be-dead”.

Monuments remain silent and, practically speaking, invisible unless they are discussed, questioned, interpreted; in other words, unless they interact with the current intellectual and political discourse. On the other hand, public opinions, historical debates, and literary imagery pass away with every subsequent generation or fashion if they are not embodied in and anchored by monuments, memorials, and museums. Monuments without inscriptions are mute, whereas texts without monuments are ephemeral. In culture, as in a computer, there are two forms of memory, which might be likened to hardware and software. Soft memory consists primarily of texts (including literary, historical, and other narratives), whereas hard memory consists primarily of monuments. Of course, the soft and the hard are interdependent. Museums, cemeteries, commemorative festivities, guided tours, and history textbooks are complicated systems that demonstrate multilevel interactions between the hardware (sculptures, obelisks, memorials, historical places) and the software (songs, films, guidebooks, inscriptions, historical studies) of cultural memory. It is not the mere existence of the hardware and the software but their interaction, transparency, and conduct that give cultural memory life.

As vehicles of cultural memory, texts and monuments differ in their relation to the public sphere. Representations of history in a democratic society comprise an important part of a public sphere that shares its ideals of inclusivity, free speech, and agonistic competition. Fully applicable to texts about the past (professional and popular history, historical novels, films, etc.), this vision does not work with monuments. They are monological; they usually stand on their sites with no rivals to challenge them. Rarely do they debate and compete; at a certain site of memory, there is no place for two monuments to expose two historical positions on the event. There are exceptions of course; American Civil War memorials, which in some cases feature monuments to each side of the war in close proximity, come to mind. The Habermasian public sphere is a textual domain; public monuments do not comply with its laws but instead remain outside of it.

If writing memoirs is predominantly an individual activity, constructing memorials is a collective one. Moreover, because of its large scale and public nature, it generally requires the participation of the state. By building monuments to its former leaders, the state affirms the continuity of its political tradition. By building monuments to its former enemies and victims, the state demonstrates the disruption of its historical continuity. Every such monument affirms the difference between the current state and the former one. For the state, the political revelation of its guilt is a difficult task; the memorialization of its victims is even harder. Almost all the projects of memorialization of the Soviet victims have been initiated by private persons. Without private initiative, no book and no monument in Russia would describe the terror. These initiatives are undertaken by enthusiasts of vastly different background. Among those whom I have interviewed were a physicist, a plumber, a former army officer, and a museum director. On the other hand, private individuals and voluntary associations cannot erect monuments without the collaboration of the state. Access to archives is controlled by the state (specifically the FSB, the descendant of the KGB), and this access has been diminishing throughout the last decade. Financial resources and real estate, which are required for any memorial, are usually owned by the state. Hard memory Probably is controlled by the state, while soft memory is the domain of civil society. This is probably the reason why many Russian monuments are erected not on the former sites of murder, as is true in many German cases, but near them. This pattern demonstrates not the replacement of the old regime by a new one, but rather suggests their quiet coexistence.

But even such proximate location of memory is far from being the rule in Russia. Russian memory is pervaded with “soft” texts, which rarely manifest in monumental forms. Memory without monuments is vulnerable to a cyclical, recurrent process of refutations and denials. Guilt feelings can be consoled with new voices, and even the most influential texts can be challenged by new texts. Due to unique combinations of political circumstances, German and Russian culture elaborated different forms of dealing with the past. German memory is crystallized in “hard” monuments but intellectuals often lament the lack of cultural debate that could animate them. The long construction of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin (initiated in 1999, completed in 2005) proved that this gigantic hardware initiative was capable of inspiring a public debate of similar proportions. It was not the first time that the cycles of German memory developed in this particular direction, from the hard to the soft. Russian cycles invariably develop in the opposite direction, from the soft to the hard.

However, this simple scheme, which I published a few years ago, [42] no longer entirely satisfies me. In Russian memory, I also see the proliferation of a third type or vehicle of memory, the undead. I am referring to ghosts, spirits, vampires, dolls, and other man-made and man-imagined simulacra which carry the memory of the dead. Three elements of cultural memory, its software, hardware, and ghostware, are intimately connected. Usually, ghosts live in texts; sometimes, they inhabit cemeteries and emerge from monuments. Most often, ghosts appear before the living whose dead were not properly buried. Ghosts feature interesting differences from texts and monuments. Texts are symbolic, while ghosts are iconic in the semiotic sense of these terms (as signs, ghosts possess a visual resemblance to the signified); in contrast to monuments, texts and ghosts are ephemeral; and in contrast to texts and monuments, ghosts are uncanny.

Decades ago, the Russian-American scholar Roman Jakobson examined Pushkin’s poems (The Bronze Horseman, The Stone Guest, etc.) in which a statue turns into a specter to deprive a human character of his mind or life; Jakobson stated that this “sculptural myth” was a central theme of a great Russian poet.[43] A contrasting idea was formulated more recently by another Russian-American scholar, Mikhail Yampolsky, who believes that a monument creates a “mystical protective zone” which stops the flow of time in its vicinity.[44] These two ideas work well together. Precisely because monuments freeze history, their moments of dynamism produce hauntological results. The mystical or hallucinatory resurgence of monuments, as in Pushkin’s poems, is uncanny; the real and practical events that happen to monuments, such as their removal, destruction, vandalism, or renaming, also provoke strong responses in the observers. In 2002, unknown vandals wrote on the Solovetskii stone in St. Petersburg in red oil, “Too few were shot.” The activists of the Memorial Society converted this situation into a media event, in which the local TV showed young men and women climbing all over the stone and lovingly washing it with sponges. In April 2007, the Estonian government moved the Bronze Soldier (a memorial statue honoring Soviet World War II war dead) from the central square of Tallinn to a cemetery; this move caused street riots and a successful cyber-attack on the governmental lines of communication; Estonians blamed Russian “political technologists” for coming to Tallinn to organize these street riots and Russian hackers for launching the cyber-attacks. In less dramatic circumstances, the Moscow municipal government wished to move the Solovetskii stone, an important Russian memorial to the victims of the GULAG, from one part of the Lubyanskaya square, where it stands now, to another part; the Memorial Society organized a series of public events which, in April 2008, convinced the government to leave the stone in peace.

The recent film “4” (script by Vladimir Sorokin, directed by Ilia Khryzhanovskii, 2005) illustrates the spectral dynamics of a post-catastrophic memory that produces the undead, cherishes them, and, in rare acts of heroism, buries them. The central character, a Moscow prostitute, travels deep into the countryside to attend the funeral of her sister. Her sister had lived in a community of abandoned females who manufacture dolls made of bread. These women use their yeasty dolls as substitutes for partners; they play, drink alcohol, and have sex with these dolls. Creating a world of eerie simulacra, the dolls must be buried. In a climactic moment, the only vital character, the prostitute, burns the bread corpses on the grave of her sister in a gesture of despair and triumph. EXPLAIN

The most popular Russian film of the decade, Night Watch and its sequel, Day Watch (2004-2006) demonstrate the post-Soviet infatuation with magic in a deliberately abstract, a-historical context. Based on the trilogy by Sergei Lukianenko, a psychiatrist from Kazakhstan who is one of the most popular post-Soviet authors, these films present an enormous taxonomy of immortal creatures. Vampires and other supernatural beasts live in Russia and rule it. Humans in this world are entirely deprived of self-control and political life. As in a camp, these Muscovites are reduced to bare life, essentially the position of the vampires’ cattle (vampires in this film prefer human blood but, when frustrated, drink pigs’ blood as well). Actual politics are deployed by creatures of a higher order than vampires and humans. These creatures are immortal and powerful but otherwise look like humans. Like Americans, they are divided into two equally powerful parties, an achievement which has never been accomplished by Muscovites. The origins of their conflict are projected in one episode into medieval Europe, in another episode into the Asia of Genghis Khan. As in “historical debates” between contemporary Russian intellectuals, the roots of the current problems are presented as lost and found in the most distant time and spaces, but not in current or recent Russian politics. There is not a word in this movie about Stalin or the Soviets. The contemporary commoners, all of whom are potential victims of vampires, are juxtaposed against those noble warriors whose moments of glory and sources of conflicts are all in the past. What matters is not happening here and now; it all happened in the past. The past, which is imagined as grand and foreign, determines the actual, dismal present. While the contemporary rulers are of alien and metaphysical origins, the vampires are local and eartlhy. Curiously, the most important of these vampires is played by the only actor in this young, all-star cast who was famous in the Soviet era, Valerii Zolotukhin. Vampires represent, as always, the unburied dead, and the remarkable face of Zolotukhin reflects a free play of Soviet shadows.[45]

These films convey a static, irresolvable melancholy which risks slipping into paranoia. If Russia were shepherded by vampires, this is the worldview that they would disseminate among their human chattel. In the battle between light and dark forces, what is at stake is probably not the right to license vampires’ bloodsucking activities, as the Night Watch suggests. Inverting the film’s metaphor, the only means of preventing the reproduction of vampires is to bury, acknowledge, and remember the dead. Following Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin, and Jacques Derrida, some scholars in Sociology and Cultural Studies insist that “to study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it” and that “the task of the reader… is not to exorcise these ghosts but rather to learn to think through what they have given us to consider”.[46] As Freud stated in his famous essay, The Uncanny (1919), there is nothing new or extraordinary in ghosts. In his definition, the uncanny is “something which is secretly familiar, which has undergone repression and then returned from it”. Freud emphasized the particular way of rendering the uncanny experience that later scholars would call “metonymic”. These stories feature “dismembered limbs, a severed head, a hand cut off at the wrist,” [47] and other corporeal metonymies. The experience of the uncanny depends on the lost and found members of human bodies, which are sometimes autonomous and sometimes incorporated into other, now monstrous, bodies. When a living or revenant part represents the perished whole, it feels uncanny. The past is large, integrated, and self-sufficient, like the USSR; what returns from it is dispersed, fragmented, and scary. Freud’s formulas defined the uncanny as a particular form of memory, one which is intimately connected to fear. The higher the energy of forgetting, the stronger is the horror of remembering. The combination of memory and fear is, precisely, the uncanny.

In Tengis Abuldze’s film Repentance (1984), which is now a Soviet classic, the daughter of a victim digs up the corpse of the dictator. She goes under trial but does not repent: she would do it 300 times again, she declares. It is not the corpse of the dictator which is uncanny in this film but the living dictator, as he is remembered or imagined by his former subjects. As in Sophocles’ Antigone, the perpetually moving corpse begets new tragedies; in this case, it is the suicide of the grandson of the dictator.[48] However, the ethical message of the film, the responsibility of the corpse, and the right of revenge on the part of the living, was rarely disputed. In the recent film The Living (2006, directed by Aleksandr Veledinskii[49]), a Russian soldier of the Chechen War, Kir, is rescued by his comrades who die in action. On his way home from the war, Kir murders his officer and betrays his bride. He does not care; he is possessed by the ghosts of his lost comrades, who come to him alive though other people do not see them. When Kir and his ghostly companions travel to Moscow, what they (and the viewers) actually see is the burial monument to Stalin near the Kremlin Wall. The movie ends with Kir’s visit to an abandoned cemetery where he hopes to find his friends buried like heroes. While trying to find these graves, Kir dies; immediately, he joins the company of his ghostly fellows. The multiple tricks that the undead play with the living in this film force the viewer to suspect that the soldier was probably dead from the very beginning; perhaps all or a large part of what we see actually happened to his ghost.

These two films, Repentance and The Living, mark the start and the possible end of the post-Soviet transition. In the 1980s, it seemed that the most important goal was to punish the dead dictator and in this way, to restore justice posthumously; twenty years later, the living are still struggling with the authorities but their unburied dead are friends, not foes. The early post-catastrophic culture attributed the actual problems of the present to the dead corpses of the past. Now this culture is more eager to respond to the present. There are enemies who are alive and deserve death, but there are also friends who are dead and need to be buried. Both films play on the uncanny effects of communication between the living and the dead; but while Repentance celebrated the change of generations, the trial of memory, and historical time, The Living deconstructs the meaning of death in an obsessive way that makes time cyclical and history irrelevant. Still hopeful for the future, Repentance argued for a new ethical order which would include dead corpses in its scope. Self-censoring any sign of hope, The Living shows the ghostly nature of post-catastrophic consciousness, which obscures the very difference between the living and the dead. The post-Soviet trial of the dead turns into the New Russian mingling with the dead. For a long time, specters have been haunting this space that survived communism. While the living and the undead are growing more accustomed to each other, they develop uneasy friendships in which one can find a hint of hope. As Derrida urged, we must “learn to live with ghosts… To live otherwise, and better. No, not better, but more justly… If I am getting ready to speak at length about ghosts, … it is in the name of justice“.[50]

Footnotes to the text appear in the article published in Constellations 16:1. Photograph by Christian Toennesen.