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.

Analyzing the politics of memory in contemporary Georgia is a grand ambition. The urban landscape of memory has seen numerous changes in the names of streets. What's more, the post-totalitarian narrative on the Soviet past is channeled through the Museum of Soviet Occupation and accompanying web-site of the KGB archive administered by the Interior Ministry of Georgia. It's also important to note the school curricula reform as well as regional initiatives aimed at recognizing the "genocide" of the Circassian people in the 19th century. All these different aspects of politics of memory and commemoration have one thing in common: they are all constructed on an anti-Soviet, if not also anti-Russian narrative, where Georgia and Caucasus is constantly victimized vis-a-vis the grand oppressor (Russia).
Demolition of Memorial of Glory, Dec. 19, 2009, Kutaisi 
On 29 April Soviet Past Research Laboratory hosted a discussion on the role of historiography in remembering the Soviet past, where I had the honour to present my concerns: the central issue was chosen to be the work and function of State Commission for Studying the Historical Truth, and no wonder - the key guest speakers included its Executive Chair Mr. Sharashenidze. According to his statement, he sees no problem in the government's endeavor to narrate the last 200 years of Russian-Georgian relationships, especially considering the ambiguity and different perspectives on specific events and developments.

I doubted that removing Stalin's statue in Gori in a hasty manner, as well as blowing up the Memorial of Glory dedicated to those fallen during WW2 contributes much towards looking rationally at the Soviet past. This rather suggests that official policy is oriented towards externalizing the Soviet past, representing it as something totally alien to Georgian political thought and social life, endemic to and imported from the historical oppressor - Russia. Equally, one might suggest that to claim an ability and authority to possess the exclusively "correct" version of recent history is not only an anti-intellectual step, but a continuation of "securitized" policy on social memory. No wonder that Mr. Sharashenidze portrayed the "Baltic experience" as something worth following. Apparently, Georgia joins "newer Europe" in its contending counter-narrative which puts Auschwitz and Gulag experiences on the same level.

Image Source: Ria Novosti

Shota Khinchagashvili
PhD student of Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies (Ilia State University, Tbilisi), currently working on politics of memory in post-Rose Revolution Georgia. See more information here

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