28 October 2011

(De)constructing a national memory – the presence of the past in post-independence Ukrainian literature.

Також не пишу я про гуннів, про готів,
Ані про манкуртів, ні про яничарів,
Ані про Батурин, ані про Почаїв,
Ні про Калнишевського, ні про Мазепу.
Варю собі каву. Читаю газету.
Ходжу до клозету. Ходжу до театру.

I don’t write about Huns or Goths,
Nor about Mankurts nor Janissaries,
Nor about Baturyn nor Pochaiv,
Nor about Kalnyshevskyi, nor Mazepa.
I make myself coffee. I read the paper.
I go to the loo. I go to the theatre.
Oleksandr Irvanets’

Ukrainian literature has always contained within itself the imperative to remember. The very title of the foundation stone of Ukrainian literature, Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar, alludes to the traditional bard, who would record and retell significant events. The narrator in his Haidamaky thanks his forebears for passing on the heroic story of the warrior Cossacks, and fulfils the same duty himself. Time and again Shevchenko urges his readers to ‘read’ and ‘study’ their past. This is nothing unusual, of course: literature, as incorporated into nation-building projects, has always played a key role with regard to cultural memory, propagating and retelling national myths, commemorating triumph and tragedy, forging a vision of the past to be shared by the readers of a particular linguistic/ethnic community. Literature maps out the national memory, allowing consecutive generations to find their place within the nation, and their nation’s rightful, independent place in the world. This is especially significant in the Ukrainian context: the production and institutionalisation of a national history was, for most of Ukraine’s history, impossible, or at least, extremely difficult. It was left to literature to preserve the past. Hence Haidamaky, Ivan Franko’s Zakhar Berkut, Lesia Ukrainka’s Boiarynia, Bohan Lepkyi’s Mazepa, Lina Kostenko’s Marusia Churai, to give a few examples.

14 September 2011

Memory and Theory in Eastern Europe Conference Report by Simon Lewis

The “Memory and Theory in Eastern Europe” conference, which took place at King’s College, Cambridge on July 4th and 5th, gathered scholars from institutions in eight different countries, and was divided into seven panels. The last panel was followed by a round-table discussion involving all of the speakers and guests.

03 September 2011

Post-Soviet Digital Memories in the Fjords

Memory at War's Bergen team looks back on an inspiring project conference. 'Post-socialist digital memories' were the topic of a 3-day Web Wars gathering in the Norwegian fjords of 22 European/Australian media experts, (literary & cultural) historians, linguists, sociologists, political scientists, and psychologists. In what proved to be a fruitful "experimental laboratory" (Vera Zvereva) of digital research methods and approaches, participants pondered how the socialist experience is mediated online.

This blog is not the place for an exhaustive summary - but it is the place for some snapshots:

* According to London/Sydney-based media scholar Anna Reading, "the globital memory field" annihilated Roma's erasure from the (Central-)European past.
* "How" - MAW project leader Alexander Etkind asked - "to quantify the distinctions between cultural amnesia, nostalgia, and melancholia" in post-Soviet society?
* Harvard's Mapping the Russian Blogosphere project boasts ample mistakes, according to London-based linguist-cum-IT-expert Galina Nikiporets-Takigawa.
* Volodymyr Kulyk, political scientist at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, spotted "thousands of history-related groups" and "discussions that last for years" on the Ukrainian Facebook pendant Vkontakte.
* Do post-Soviet online media increase "options to emulate transnational community for the service of national goals?" cultural historian & Helsinki MAW partner Jussi Lassila mused.
* Doreen Spoerer-Wagner, political scientist at Zurich's NCCR democracy institute, spotted a "much higher conflict visibility" of the Georgian-Russian clash in online than in offline media sources.
* Future of Russian project leader and Bergen-based linguist Ingunn Lunde observed how in online comments on Soviet language culture, "the flow of memory results" in another flow: that of language.

These are, as said, mere glimpses into the digital genres and geopolitical territories that passed in review. For more elaborate reports, keep an eye on the academic journals Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie and Digital Icons - both (near-)fully available online. Two conference reviews are in the making.

07 July 2011

Post-Soviet Monuments to Holocaust Victims, by Andriy Portnov

On Three Monuments to Holocaust Victims:
Reflections on Victory Day (9 May)

Andriy Portnov

There was no place for ethnically or religiously marked suffering or victims in the Soviet image of the Great Patriotic War. It is precisely for this reason that the phrase ‘peaceful Soviet citizens’ was used in referring to the millions of Jews who were murdered. The Soviet deportations on ethnic grounds and on accusation of collective ‘betrayal of the Motherland’ were an absolute taboo. Also unmentionable was the fate of Soviet POWs, millions of whom died of artificial famine in Nazi concentration camps, while hundreds of thousands more survived only to find themselves later sent to Soviet camps as ‘traitors to the Motherland’.

27 June 2011

Katyn Museum as Site of Divided Memory: Warsaw Seminar

On 22 June the Social Memory Laboratory at the Institute of Sociology, University of Warsaw, hosted a presentation by Piotr H. Kosicki (Department of History, Princeton University) A Divided Memory: A History of the Katyń Museum in Warsaw. The presentation was part of the Social Memory Laboratory’s regular ongoing seminar series.

29 May 2011

A Georgian Perspective on Memory Conflicts

It's common to say that we have the most mobile monuments in Georgia. In fact, the statement is literally true: the government erects, removes, dismantles, blows up and relocates different statues and memorials quite frequently. Having been exposed during my first lecture as a student at the Faculty of History at Tbilisi State University to the positivist myth that "history is an exact science", I would have never imagined that eleven years later, my country would prove to be a battlefield of narratives and conflicting interpretations of past events and symbols.

05 May 2011

Memory at War Lunch

On May 11, the Web Wars team hosts a project lunch at the University of Bergen. Team members Vera Zvereva (researcher), Maartje Gerretsen (filmmaker) and Ellen Rutten (project leader) will share project plans and first findings with local experts and project affiliates from both Slavonic and media studies.

Scholars or practitioners with an interest in the field(s) who happen to be able to join in are free to contact one of the WW team members -- for details, see the project's contact webpage.

05 April 2011

Sites of Forgetting II, by Andriy Portnov

Somewhat unexpectedly for me, my text about how a ‘Death Tower’ of a Nazi concentration camp for Soviet POWs was transformed into a five-star hotel in Lviv, published a week ago at the ‘History Lessons’ portal, in English translation on the 'Memory at War' collective blog, and in Ukrainian at Polit.ua, prompted a broad response. I received a great many letters and comments, and these have shaped the theme of this essay: the problem of reflecting on sites of forgetting.

21 March 2011

Historian Andriy Portnov on Sites of Forgetting in Lviv

Andriy Portnov reflects on the forgotten war-time history of a five-star hotel in central Lviv which once housed a Nazi concentration camp for Soviet POWs.

Image source: Wikipedia

01 March 2011

Old Conflicts, New Media Conference in the Making

Bergen's pendant of the Memory at War project, Web Wars, is now up and running. Currently, the WW members are busy finalizing the list of speakers for the first big WW event: the international conference Old Conflicts & New Media: Commemorating the Socialist Experience Online. Keynotes are 'Globital Memory' expert Anna Reading (London South Bank University) and Volodymyr Kulyk (Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies, Kiev).

11 February 2011

Ukraine's Monument War

Ukraine began 2011 with a war of monuments. The most significant blow of the ‘conflict’ thus far was struck on 31st December, when a monument to Stalin in Zaporizhzhia was blown up. The monument was erected by the local Communist party on the territory of its headquarters in 2010. The bust was reportedly decapitated on 28 December, before its complete destruction on New Year’s Eve. The authorities have reacted robustly to the incident, according to Dzerkalo Tyzhnia and other Ukrainian media, arresting members of nationalist organizations throughout Ukraine. The culprits are wanted on charges of terrorism.

07 February 2011

Karaganov: Russians Must Face Up to Soviet 'Suigenocide'

Sergei Karaganov delivered an extraordinary programmatic speech on the Soviet past at a meeting with President Medvedev in Yekaterinburg on 1 February 2011. In the speech, Karaganov set out his vision for reconstituting the Russian identity through a re-evaluation of the Soviet past, in a series of striking images. He argued that Russian society could not regain its self-respect until it faced up to the 'terrible sin' that was the revolution and the subsequent decades of totalitarian rule. He used the term 'suigenocide' (samogenotsid) to describe the Civil War and the Stalinist terror.

21 January 2011

Russian Media Storm over Lenin Mausoleum

Debates over what to do with Lenin's corpse were renewed this week in the lead-up to the anniversary of Lenin's death (on 21 January), after the launching of a United Russia campaign to bury Lenin and transform his mausoleum into a museum.