08 December 2010

Memory at War postgraduate conference 11-12 March 2011

The Memory at War project is holding a postgraduate conference on Memory Studies in Eastern Europe on 11-12 March 2011 at the University of Cambridge.

The conference will be the first of a series of three to be held annually between the University
of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, and the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, London.

26 November 2010

Stalin ordered Katyn: Russian Duma

According to news reports, this afternoon the Russian Duma officially acknowledged that Stalin ordered the execution of approximately 22,000 unarmed Poles at sites in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine in 1940, an event known as the Katyn massacre. The full draft text of the resolution ‘Concerning the Katyn Tragedy and Its Victims’ («О Катынской трагедии и ее жертвах») does not appear to be available online at the moment. As of this evening (27.11.10), the Duma’s announcement of the resolution on its website makes no mention of Stalin or his responsibility for Katyn, employing the passive voice with reference to the fate of the victims: ‘Seventy years ago, thousands of Polish citizens were shot’ (Семьдесят лет назад были расстреляны тысячи польских граждан).

01 November 2010

A weekend of memory in Belarus

The run up to the Belarusian presidential elections, to be held on December 19th this year, has witnessed the intensification of the internal memory war in Belarus. The incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka, running for his fourth term in office after 16 years in power, has consistently promoted a vision of Belarusian nationhood which draws especially on Soviet mythology of the Great Patriotic War and “brotherhood” with Russia. The upcoming general release on November 4th of the “first joint cinematic project of the Russian-Belarusian Union State”, Brest Fortress (Brestskaya Krepost’), should be seen as official Minsk’s newest salvo in this civil memory war. In opposition to the state’s version of history, a number of political parties and grassroots movements position themselves as guardians of a historical legacy descending from the Western European, democratic traditions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Two widely-publicised opposition demonstrations were held over the weekend in Belarus to mourn the victims of Stalinist terror in 1937 and NKVD-led massacres during the Second World War.

27 October 2010

My Joy: a powerful cinematic exploration of post-Soviet traumatic memory

Traumatic memory is central to the latest film by Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa, My Joy (Schast'e moe). The film tells the darkly picaresque story of a flour deliveryman who, on a journey through rural Russia, encounters petty corruption, theft and violence. While clues such as the uniforms of the militia indicate that the film is set in Russia, it could take place almost anywhere in the rural, post-Soviet sphere. On his own website Loznitsa suggests that this is important to the film, saying ‘it is connected with the degradation and dying out of the space that speaks in the language of Platonov’s The Foundation Pit’. The local, rural dialects that form one aspect of Platonov’s language, and the culture they represent, are certainly strongly present in the film, although deeper affinities can also be found in its narrative ambiguity, journey structure and Dostoevsky-like examination of human baseness, cruelty and morality. What is most striking about the film, however, is its attitude to the past, or more specifically, how past traumas persist in the present.

15 October 2010

Echoes of the East in the West

The publication of eminent historian Timothy Snyder's new book Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin is surely a memory event of major implications, scholarly and politically, for today's eastern and western Europe alike. Shifting its focus away from the West-centric lens through which the history of World War II has traditionally been written, this book makes Eastern Europe its analytical centre of gravity as the actual geographic, moral, and political pivot of one of the most atrocious aspects of WWII – the mass killings of European civilians.

11 October 2010

Red Army monument in Poland vandalised in response to removal of Katyń cross

The conflict over the removal of the Katyń cross from outside the Presidential Palace in Warsaw has found a new manifestation in the shape of a recently constructed monument to Red Army soldiers in Ossów near Warsaw. The monument has been vandalised twice since it was built earlier this year.

22 September 2010

First Test Case for Russian Anti-Falsification Commission?

Since early September, the Russian historical community has been thrown into turmoil by the latest ‘textbook war’, this time over A History of Russia 1917-2009, 3rd ed. (Moscow: Aspekt Press, 2010), authored by Moscow State University History Faculty staff Aleksandr Barsenkov and Aleksandr Vdovin.

The debates on the book have unfolded in fascinating and sometimes bizarre ways, and have revived public attention in the concept of ‘historical falsification’ (a catchphrase used by both sides in these debates).

07 September 2010

Summer of Memories # 2: Poland - parallel battles

The ongoing fight over whether to remove or keep the makeshift cross, erected outside Poland’s Presidential Palace in Warsaw to commemorate Lech Kaczynski, has been documented elsewhere in this blog (below). Its role in crystallizing discussions about contemporary Polish identity and, broadly defined, the politics of memory, are further highlighted by a comment piece in Gazeta Wyborcza, worth presenting here: ‘Battle of the Cross’ (‘Bitwę pod krzyzem’).

Summer of Memories # 1: Ukraine, a pruning or an overhaul?

The whiff of change – not necessarily to the good, for some democracy-watchers – has been in the air since Yanukovych’s election victory.

Various events have sparked discussion this Summer, from the visit by Security Forces to the rector of L’viv University (followed by his open letter to academics internationally), to the changing of the guard at the Institute for National Memory in Ukraine.

26 August 2010

Memory of August 1991 Coup in Russian Politics

Commemorating the anniversary of the August 1991 failed hardliner coup was a key focus of an opposition demonstration in Moscow on 22 August. The rally was held at the site of the deaths of the White House defenders killed during the August days.

Amended history textbooks for Ukraine's 11 year-olds

According to Ukrains'ka pravda, Ukraine's controversial education minister Dmytro Tabachnyk has begun to 'rewrite' history for the country's 11 year-old pupils. Comparing the 2005 and 2010 editions of the fifth-form textbook Introduction to the History of Ukraine, journalist Katerya Kapliuk has noted a number of amendments and excisions in the new editions pertaining to, inter alia, the 1932-33 Terror-Famine (Holodomor) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). A few of the most prominent deletions, according to Kapliuk:

A passage about the Battle of Kruty (1918), in which hundreds of students held off the entrance of thousands of Bolshevik troops into Kyiv;

A reference to Bolshevik violence against Ukrainian 'patriots';

A reference to Holodomor as man-made or 'artificial' [shtuchnyi];

A photo of UPA commander Roman Shukhevych, as well as an elaboration of UPA's 'two-front struggle' against Nazis and 'Soviet soldiers and partisans';

Passages about and photos of the 2004 Orange Revolution -- which, according to Ukrainian Ministry of Education official Oleksandr Udod, is too difficult for fifth-formers to understand. The full article can be read here.

Image above: Ukrains'ka pravda.

24 August 2010

Belarusian NGOs Call for 'International Katyń Initiative'

A delegation of Belarusian NGOs, visiting Katyń to mark the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism (23 August), has announced the creation of an 'International Katyń Initiative'.

10th International Katyń Motorcycle Marathon to begin this weekend

Bikers are gathering in anticipation of the start of the 10th International Katyń Motorcycle Marathon in Warsaw this Saturday.

03 August 2010

Post-Smolensk Crash Tensions in Poland

Tensions surrounding the aftermath of the Smolensk plane crash hit a peak today in Poland as crowds gathered to prevent the government from relocating a crucifix erected outside the Presidential Palace in Warsaw to commemorate the crash victims.

29 July 2010

Kosachev offers another sign of shift in official Russian position on the Soviet past

On 29 June 2010, an article by Konstantin Kosachev, Chair of the State Duma Committee for International Affairs, argued that the damage to Russia’s reputation was beginning to outweigh the advantages brought by defending the Soviet past on the international arena.

In the article, Kosachev called for a new strategy to be devised to handle issues relating to Soviet history. He suggested the formulation of a kind of ‘historical doctrine’, comprising a set of principles outlining very clearly where Russia stands with regard to the Soviet past, and couched in terms that would be easily comprehensible to Russia’s foreign partners.

Kosachev proposed that such a doctrine would, for example, draw a sharp distinction between historical evaluations of Soviet actions at the domestic level, and at the foreign policy level. The former should be the business of each individual post-Soviet state; the latter should be ‘the subject of historical analysis, but not of political initiatives’, with no unilateral revisions to be permitted.

He argued that such a strategy could help Russia to deflect East European attempts at provoking Russia into aggressive responses on the historical front, as well as protecting Russia against possible future demands for compensation for the victims of Soviet crimes.

The article is available here.

26 July 2010

Karaganov comments on Katyn and Stalinist past

On 22 July the prominent Russian politics and foreign affairs analyst Sergei Karaganov published an article in the official Russian newspaper Rossiiskaia gazeta titled ‘The Russian Katyn’, in which he called upon Russia to ‘find within herself the strength to admit that the whole of Russia is one big Katyn, strewn with the mostly nameless graves of millions of the regime’s victims’.

23 June 2010

Should Russia apologise for Holodomor?

'No,' says a (slim) majority of Russian respondents to a poll released yesterday by the Levada Centre. In response to the question 'In your view, should Russian leaders apologise to the Ukrainian people (Ukrainskomu narodu) for the "Holodomor" of the early 1930s, as they did recently to the Polish people for the tragedy of Katyn?', Russians replied:

7% Definitely yes

16% Probably yes

28% Probably no

24% Definitely no

25% Difficult to say

The poll can read another way: 48% of respondents were not opposed to the idea of an official apology to Ukrainians, with 23% either completely or somewhat supportive of one. As for Russian views of the reasons for the 'mass famine in Ukraine' in 1932-33, the responses were also remarkable:

27% hold that it was caused by 'unfavourable weather conditions';

35% hold that it was caused by 'mistakes made during the process of collectivization';

14% hold that it was caused by 'premeditated (prednamerennye) actions by Soviet authorities that sought to break the resistance of Ukrainian peasants who did not want to go to collective farms'; and

25% could not say.

The details of the Levada poll can be read here.

09 May 2010

'Не умер Сталин'

Но как тут быть, когда внутри нас
Не умер Сталин?

But how are we to live here, when inside us
Stalin is not dead?

Boris Chichibabin, 1959

The image above comes from Wednesday's match between Metallurh FC Zaporizhzhia and Chornomorets' FC Odesa. The sign, which reads 'Zaporizhzhia against Stalin,' is a response to the recent erection of a monument to Stalin by the Communist Party of Ukraine in Zaporizhzhia.

Metallurh won the match, 1:0.

05 May 2010

Stalin Monument Unveiled in Zaporizhzhia

Well, they succeeded. Today the Communist Party of Ukraine unveiled a three-metre monument to a uniformed and decorated Iosif Stalin in Zaporizhzhia, the first erected since Ukraine's independence. Video of the ceremony -- and the attendant protest -- follows below.

The weather was unusually hot in Zaporizhzhia today, and UNIAN is reporting that an elderly woman died during the unveiling ceremony. Three veterans of World War II were also hospitalized.

10 April 2010

Putin in Katyn

7 April 2010 marked a premiere – on the invitation of the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the Prime Ministers of Russia and Poland met in the Katyn forest to commemorate the more than 20,000 Polish officers shot there by Soviet forces in 1940. In his address, Putin stated “этим преступлениям не может быть никаких оправданий”. Putin’s words could be a milestone on the path towards a reappraisal of the massacre in Russia. To the present day those shot here are not officially recognised as victims of Stalin’s terror, and many Russians continue to believe in the Soviet propaganda version, according to which the Katyn massacre was committed by German occupation forces and not the NKVD.

See Putin's speech here

For a comment by Arsenii Roginsky, chairman of "Memorial" see here

Tragically, the Polish President and a number of government officials were killed this morning in a plane crash on their way to an official ceremony in Katyn.

09 April 2010

Clash in Kyiv over 'Volyn Massacre' Exhibition

Yesterday in Kyiv a group of Ukrainians protested an exhibition at Ukrainian House organised by a 'human rights group' called 'Russophone Ukraine' (Русскоязычная Украина, a project of Party of Regions MP Vadim Kolesnichenko) and the Polish 'Society for Honouring the Memory of the Victims of the Crimes of Ukrainian Nationalists.' Video of the confrontation is embedded above. The exhibition is entitled 'The Volyn Massacre: Polish and Jewish Victims of OUN-UPA [Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army]'. An essay on the memory of the Volyn Massacre among the Ukrainian diaspora by John-Paul Himka can be read here. As with other events of this period, the historical scholarship on the massacre -- not to mention public discourse about it -- is often fraught and lacking in contextualization.

This volatile collision of Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian memories of wartime violence is the focus of our project, 'Memory at War: Cultural Dynamics in Poland, Russia, and Ukraine.'

28 March 2010

Communists Plan a Monument to Stalin in Zaporizhzhia

The Communist Party of Ukraine is reportedly planning to erect a monument to Stalin in Zaporizhzhia in time to mark Victory Day on 9 May. Although local authorities officially refused to allot land for this purpose, the CPU is going ahead regardless -- with a private plot of land. According to the historian Viktor Gudz, it is estimated that over 30,000 died in the Zaporizhzhia oblast' alone during Holodomor, the 1932-33 famine for which Stalin was responsible.

Photo: AFP

11 March 2010

Battle over Bandera (Continued)

Alexander Motyl has published an even-handed assessment of the Bandera controversy in today's Moscow Times. An excerpt:

Bandera became especially popular as the noble ideals of the 2004 Orange Revolution were progressively tarnished by the heroes of that revolution, Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The more unpopular Yushchenko became, the more he promoted Bandera and the nationalists in the hope that some of their idealistic glow would rub off on him. Unfortunately, Yushchenko’s ill-considered conferral of Hero of Ukraine status on Bandera threw a wrench into a more or less even-tempered discussion of the nationalists and their legacy. Yushchenko’s critics — among them Putin and other top Russian officials who have indirectly rehabilitated Stalin — added fuel to the fire with their irresponsible accusations of fascism. At this point, a sensible discussion is almost impossible in the highly politicized atmosphere surrounding Bandera.

The objective, even-handed accounts of Ukrainian historians, who see Bandera in all his complexity, will eventually seep into the public realm, but only after Ukrainian identity is consolidated and Ukrainian fears of a neo-imperial Russia subside. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych could promote this shift by unifying the country around a common identity and history, vigorously protecting Ukrainian interests vis-a-vis Moscow and eschewing Yushchenko’s proclivity for provocation. Europe could help by opening its doors to Ukraine, and Russia can assist by rejecting Stalinism. And we should not forget about Western historians in this equation, who can do their part by refraining from simple-minded analyses.

The full article can be read here.

03 March 2010

The First Island of the Gulag Archipelago

The prison of the Trubetskoi Bastion in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg was infamous during tsarist times. And today eager guides will lead tourists through some of the former cells and tell them about Dostoevsky, Gorky, Trotsky and Lenin's older brother, Alexander, who were all held here at some point.

Less well publicised is the fact that the Bastion was also the first political prison of the Bolshevik regime, used by the Petrograd Cheka - the organiser of the Red Terror - during the Civil War. Memoirs and eyewitness reports name the Fortress as a site of mass executions; it has always been suspected that the territory contains mass graves.

In 2009, human remains were found, for the third time since 1989, at a site earmarked for a car park. Now a group of archaeologists and staff from the Museum for the History of St Petersburg are working there; the remains are awaiting forensic analysis. However, no government funding is forthcoming for the archaeological work, nor indeed for further excavations on the territory of the Fortress.

And the issue of the car park has not been resolved either.

Click here for a detailed article

For the history of the Bolshevik prison in the Fortress click here

16 February 2010

Battle over Bandera

On 22 January, in one of his last acts as President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko declared Stepan Bandera, leader of the wartime Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, a 'Hero of Ukraine.' The bestowal of the honour upon this controversial historical figure -- national freedom fighter according to some, terrorist and Nazi collaborator according to others -- has provoked fallout at home and in Poland and Russia. (For more on Bandera in our contemporary context, see David Marples's Heroes and Villians: Creating National History in Contemporary Ukraine.) Yesterday Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, in a sit-down with President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbaev, commented directly on these developments, characterising Yushchenko's decision as 'essentially spit[ting] in the face of his political sponsors' (по сути, «плюнуло в лицо» своим политическим спонсорам). He proceeded to say that he hoped that 'this difficult period in the life of the Ukrainian people, brothers to us all, has passed' (этот тяжелый период в жизни братского нам всем украинского народа позади; emphasis mine).

Incoming Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, while he disagrees with Yushchenko's decision, has indicated that he will not revoke Bandera's 'hero' status. In a press conference today, Yushchenko in effect responded to both Putin and Yanukovych by saying that 'without Bandera, there would be no Yanukovych. Yanukovych would not have become president of an independent country' (Якби не було Бандери, не було б Януковича. Янукович би не став президентом незалежної країни).

The photos of strikingly similar representations of Bandera and Lenin in the collage above are taken from Gazeta.ua.

24 January 2010

German-Polish Reconciliation

Władysław Bartoszewski has just published his new book O Niemcach i Polakach. Wspomnienia. Nadzieje. Prognozy (with the help of Rafał Rogulski and Jan Rydel, Cracow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2010) potentially roughly translated into About Germans and Poles. Memories. Hopes. Prospects. Few people have such credentials to write about Polish-German contacts as this survivor of Auschwitz, veteran of the Warsaw Uprising and activist in the underground Council to Aid Jews during the Second World War and later professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in the 1980s, Poland’s foreign minister in 1995 and currently the Polish government’s representative for Polish-German relations. His book traces the evolution of the interactions between the two nations from the war, through the visits to Poland of East German activists of Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste (an organisation confronting the legacy of Nazism) and the West German aid to the Polish Solidarity movement, to the Polish-German cooperation after 1989. As reviews of the book suggest, Bartoszewski confirms in it his reputation as a perceptive observer and great story-teller. One can find few more insightful pictures of how much changed between Poland and Germany in the last seventy years. A review of the book can be found here.

06 January 2010

Poles and Jews during the Second World War

The passing year brought further contributions to the discussions about the attitudes of Catholic Poles towards the Jews during the Second World War, perhaps the most complex and controversial topic in modern Polish history and one of the most painful and politically charged aspects of collective memory in the country. After the most thoroughly researched Polish study of the Warsaw Ghetto (Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, Getto warszawskie: przewodnik po nieistniejącym mieście, 1st edn. Warsaw, 2001) became available in English owing to the translation by Emma Harris for Yale University Press (The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City, New Haven, 2009), its co-author, Barbara Engelking, the director of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research, together with Dariusz Libionka, the director of the Research Department of the Majdanek State Museum, turned her attention to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Their book Żydzi w powstańczej Warszawie (Warsaw, 2009) explores the place of Jews and Polish freedom fighters’ attitudes towards them during the doomed attempt of the Polish Home Army to liberate Warsaw from the Nazis before its capture by the Red Army. As the authors explain in an interview with the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, their aim was to show “the entire spectrum of [Polish] responses” to the Jews (“My staramy się pokazać całe spektrum postaw”). They conclude that during “the last battle for free Poland, nobody had time for the Jews” (“Rozgrywała się ostatnia bitwa o wolną Polskę, nikt nie miał głowy do Żydów”). The interview can be found here on the website of Gazeta Wyborcza.