Programme now available for our conference on State Socialism, Heritage Experts and Internationalism

State Socialism, Heritage Experts and Internationalism in Heritage Protection after 1945 21-22 November 2017 Location: Reed Hall, University of Exeter,...

Secret Agents and the Memory of Everyday Collaboration in Communist Eastern Europe

Professor James Mark’s co-edited volume Secret Agents and the Memory of Everyday Collaboration in Communist Eastern Europe is now available through...

Join us for our next conference on State Socialism, Heritage Experts and Internationalism in Heritage Protection after 1945

Join us in Exeter for our conference exploring the rising contributions of socialist and non-aligned actors to the development of heritage...

The Future of the Past: Why the End of Yugoslavia is Still Important

By Ljubica Spaskovska A new socialist model is emerging in the western Balkans. Can its political vocabulary transcend the ethno-national dividing...

Writing Human Rights into the History of State Socialism

By Ned Richardson-Little The collapse of the Communist Bloc in 1989-1991 is viewed as one of the great triumphs of...

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Category: Memory

Programme now available for our conference on State Socialism, Heritage Experts and Internationalism

State Socialism, Heritage Experts and Internationalism in Heritage Protection after 1945
21-22 November 2017
Location: Reed Hall, University of Exeter, UK

Join us for our conference exploring the rising contributions of socialist and non-aligned actors to the development of heritage at both domestic and international levels.

CONFERENCE SYNOPSIS

Histories of heritage usually perceive their object of study as a product of western modernity, and exclude the socialist world. Yet, understood as a cultural practice and an instrument of cultural power, and as a “right and a resource”, heritage has played important roles in managing the past and present in many societies and systems. In the postwar period, preservation became a key element of culture in socialist and non-aligned states from China, the Soviet Union, and the Eastern Bloc to Asia, Latin America and Africa. Attention paid to the peoples’ traditions and heritage became a way to manifest the superiority and historical necessity of socialist development. However, the contribution of socialist states and experts to the development of the idea of heritage is still to be fully excavated.

The conference aims to understand the rising contributions of socialist and non-aligned actors to the development of heritage at both domestic and international levels. This phenomenon was in part the result of country-specific factors – such as a reaction to rapid industrial development; the destruction of both the Second World War or wars of national liberation; and the necessity to (re)-invent national traditions on socialist terms. But it was also due the growth of a broader international consensus on international heritage protection policies – in which socialist and non-aligned states and their experts played an important role. To this end, the conference will also address the relationship between socialist conceptions of heritage and those found in the capitalist world: to what extent can we discern the convergence of Eastern and Western dynamics of heritage discourses and practices over the second half of the twentieth century? To what degree did heritage professionals from socialist states play a role in the formation of the transnational and transcultural heritage expertise? To what extent did heritage still play a role in Cold War competition? Socialist states claimed that their respect for progressive traditions and material culture distinguished their superior methods of development from that of the capitalist world. Non-Aligned countries often attempted to blend aspects of socialist and capitalist logics of cultural heritage politics.

CONFERENCE PROGRAMME

Day 1 – 21 November

08.45-09.15    Registration

09.15-09.30    Introduction

09.30-10.30   Panel 1: Transnational Circulations of Heritage Concepts and Ideas (Part 1)
Chair James Mark
Discussant Michael Falser

Nikolai Vukov (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) Ethnographising the Past, Ideologising the Present: Traditional Heritage as an Ideological Resource and International Asset in Eastern Europe after 1945

Yao Yuan (Nanjing University) International Factors in Shaping Chinese Heritage Conservation Policy

10.30-10.45    Refreshment Break

10.45-12.00    Panel 1: Transnational Circulations of Heritage Concepts and Ideas (Part 2)
Chair Corinne Geering
Discussant Nelly Bekus

Marko Spikic (University of Zagreb) Between Exceptionalism and Internationalism: Ethics and Politics of the Conservation System in People’s Republic of Croatia of the 1950s

Pablo Gonzalez (University of Lisbon) A Rebel Heritage for the Cuban Revolution: Socialist Internationalism, Art and Soviet Influence

12.00-13.00    Keynote Lecture: Stephen Smith (University of Oxford) Heritage in Contention: the Soviet Union and China after 1945   

13.00-14.30    Lunch

14.30-16.00    Panel 2: International Organisations and Socialist Heritage
Chair Kate Cowcher
Discussant Nikolai Vukov  

Nelly Bekus (University of Exeter) Tracing Multiple Logics in Soviet Heritage-Making: Pan-Soviet, National and International Agencies of Cultural Power

Corinne Geering (Justus-Liebig-University Giessen) World Heritage beyond UNESCO: Soviet Approaches to World Heritage before 1988

Emanuela Grama (Carnegie Mellon University) International mediations: UNESCO visits to Romania at the end of the Cold War or heritage as a right to place

16.00-16.15    Refreshment Break

16.15-17.15     Panel 3: South East Asia and Socialist Heritage
Chair Natalia Telepneva
Discussant James Mark

Michael Falser (Heidelberg University – Université Bordeaux-Montaigne) Cold War and non-aligned heritage politics in South and South-East Asia

Alicja Gzowska (University of Warsaw) One man’s dream? Polish conservation experts in Vietnam

19.00    Drinks Reception – Devon and Exeter Institution

20.00    Conference Dinner – Rendezvous

Day 2 – 22 November

09.00 – 10.30    Panel 4: The Development of Socialist Ideas of Heritage in Africa (Part 1)
Chair Nelly Bekus
Discussant Paul Betts

Kate Cowcher (University of Maryland) Origin Myths and Incarcerations: Ethiopia’s National Museum amidst socialist revolution

Piotr Marciniak (Poznan University of Technology) From Warsaw to Faras. The Polish School of Reconstruction and Conservation of Monuments and Sites: People, Doctrine and History

Natalia Telepneva (University of Warwick) The Soviet-Somali Archaeological Expedition and the Global Struggle for the Horn of Africa

10.30-10.45    Refreshment break

10.45-11.45    Panel 4: The Development of Socialist Ideas of Heritage in Africa (Part 2)
Chair Michael Falser
Discussant Marko Spikic

Nadine Siegert (University of Bayreuth) (Re)activated heritage. State-sponsored socialist propaganda and architecture in the Luanda cityscape

Nina Díaz Fernández (University of Ljubljana) Yugoslav Experts and the Protection of Monuments in the Third world

11.45-13.00    Round Table

Paul Betts (University of Oxford)

Michael Falser (Heidelberg University – Université Bordeaux-Montaigne)

James Mark (University of Exeter)

13.00    Farewell Lunch

 

Conference Convenors:

Professor James Mark and Dr. Nelly Bekus, University of Exeter and 1989 after 1989

 

Dr. Michael Falser, Cluster of Excellence Asia and Europe in a Global Context, Heidelberg University

Dr Ezster Gantner, Herder Institute

Secret Agents and the Memory of Everyday Collaboration in Communist Eastern Europe

Professor James Mark’s co-edited volume Secret Agents and the Memory of Everyday Collaboration in Communist Eastern Europe is now available through Anthem Press.

This collection of essays addresses institutions that develop the concept of collaboration, and examines the function, social representation and history of secret police archives and institutes of national memory that create these histories of collaboration. The essays provide a comparative account of collaboration/participation across differing categories of collaborators and different social milieux throughout East-Central Europe. They also demonstrate how secret police files can be used to produce more subtle social and cultural histories of the socialist dictatorships. By interrogating the ways in which post-socialist cultures produce the idea of, and knowledge about, “collaborators,” the contributing authors provide a nuanced historical conception of “collaboration,” expanding the concept toward broader frameworks of cooperation and political participation to facilitate a better understanding of Eastern European communist regimes.

Edited by Péter Apor, Sándor Horváth and James Mark, the essays are framed into three parts – Institutes, Secret Lives and Collaborating Communities and include topics such as the Stasi Records of the former GDR; memory in Latvia, Slovak and the Czech Republics; Tito and intellectuals 1945-80; entangled stories with the Former Securitate; Regional-level Party Activists in Slovakia and priest collaboration in Slovak Catholic memory after 1989.

“This excellent volume marks a genuine breakthrough in our knowledge about the everyday lives of the people who made up the secret police, of their motivations and their experiences. It challenges binary visions of the past and powerfully highlights the complexity of the term ‘collaboration.’ Ultimately, it makes a case for the human factor in the history of the repressive state.”
Ulf Brunnbauer, Director, Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies, Regensburg, Germany

Table of Contents

Frameworks: Collaboration, Cooperation, Political Participation in the Communist Regimes
(The Editors)

Part 1: Institutes

Chapter 1: A Dissident Legacy, The ‘Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records of the Former GDR’ (BStU) in United Germany
(Bernd Schaefer)

Chapter 2: In Black and White? The Discourse on Polish Post-War Society by the Institute of Polish Remembrance
(Barbara Klich-Kluczewska)

Chapter 3: The Exempt Nation: Memory of Collaborationism in Contemporary Latvia
(Leva Zake)

Chapter 4: Institutes of Memory in the Slovak and Czech Republics – What Kind of Memory?
(Martin Kovanič)

Chapter 5: Closing the Past – Opening the Future. Hungarian Victims and Perpetrators of the Communist Regime
(Péter Apor and Sándor Horváth)

Chapter 6: To Collaborate and to Punish. Democracy and Transitional Justice in Romania
(Florin Abraham)

Part 2: Secret Lives

Chapter 7: ‘Resistance through Culture’ or ‘Connivance through Culture.’ Difficulties of Interpretation; Nuances, Errors, and Manipulations
(Gabriel Andreescu)

Chapter 8: Intellectuals between Collaboration and Independence. Politics and Everyday Life in the Prague Faculty of Arts in Late Socialism
(Matěj Spurný)

Chapter 9: Tito and Intellectuals – Collaboration and Support, 1945–1980
(Josip Mihaljević)

Chapter 10: Spy in the Underground. Polish Samizdat Stories
(Paweł Sowiński)

Chapter 11: Entangled Stories. On the Meaning of Collaboration with the Former Securitate
(Cristina Petrescu)

Part 3: Collaborating Communities

Chapter 12: Finding the Ways (around). Regional-level Party Activists in Slovakia
(Marína Zavacká)

Chapter 13: ‘But Who is the Party?’ History and Historiography in the Hungarian Communist Party
(Tamás Kende)

Chapter 14: Forgetting ‘Judas’. Priest Collaboration in Slovak Catholic Memory after 1989
(Agáta Drelová)

Chapter 15: Informing as Life-Style. Unofficial Collaborators of the Hungarian and the East-German State Security (Stasi) Working in the Tourism Sector
(Krisztina Slachta)

→ Order your copy through the Anthem Press website: Secret Agents and the Memory of Everyday Collaboration in Communist Eastern Europe

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The “Children of Crisis”: Making Sense of (Post)socialism and the End of Yugoslavia

Ljubica Spaskovska’s article The “Children of Crisis”: Making Sense of (Post)socialism and the End of Yugoslavia has just been published in the Journal of East European Politics and Societies, Volume 31, Issue 3, August 2017. It forms part of a special section on the Genealogies of Memory, guest edited by Ferenc Laczó and Joanna Wawrzyniak.

Ljubica’s article traces certain mnemonic patterns in the ways individuals who belonged to the late-socialist Yugoslav youth elite articulated their values in the wake of Yugoslavia’s demise and the ways they make sense of the Yugoslav socialist past and their generational role a quarter of a century later. It detects narratives of loss, betrayed hopes, and a general disillusionment with politics and the state of post-socialist democracy that appear to be particularly frequent in the testimonies of the media and cultural elites. They convey a sense of discontent with the state of post-Yugoslav democracy and with the politicians—some belonging to the same generation—who embraced conservative values and a semi-authoritarian political culture. The article argues that an emerging new authoritarianism and the very process of progressive disillusionment with post-socialist politics allowed for the emergence and articulation of such alternative, noninstitutionalized individual memories that, whilst not uncritical of the Yugoslav past, tend to highlight its positive aspects.

East European Politics and Socieities, Volume 31, Issue 3, August 2017

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Conference programme available: Transnational and Global Dimensions of Justice and Memory Processes 8-9 June

Interested in transnational and global dimensions of justice and memory processes? Would you like to hear papers from three of our 1989 after 1989 academics covering topics such as transnational perspectives on the Kurapaty Memorial Site and transnational advocacy networks and corporate liability for international crimes?

The conference Transnational and Global Dimensions of Justice and Memory Processes in Europe and Latin America will be held in Paris on 8-9 June and the programme is now available.

The conference is organised by the University of Paris Nanterre, the Institut des Sciences sociales du Politiques (CNRS) and the University of Exeter, within the framework of the AHRC funded project The Criminalization of Dictatorial Pasts in Europe and Latin America in Global Perspective.

Transnational and Global Dimensions of Justice and Memory Processes in Europe and Latin America

June 8-9, 2017
Institut culturel roumain
1 rue de l’exposition, Paris

Justice and memory processes that had accompanied the “third wave of democratisation” have been the subject of a large body of academic literature. These works have commonly taken certain approaches. Some have analysed these processes within national borders or by providing comparative accounts of countries seen as discrete units, disconnected from transnational or global developments. Others, by contrast, have tried to account for the criminalization of dictatorships and conflicts in terms of the emergence of international norms based on an ethics of human rights and a “cosmopolitan memory” – often driven by a decontextualized remembrance of the Holocaust. This scholarship has however tended to overgeneralize global trends without always grasping the complexity of local attempts at dealing with the past. In the last ten years, a third approach, focusing on specific transnational entanglements, has gained ground. This emerging literature has started to analyze empirically transnational activism, exchanges of knowledge and expertise at bilateral, regional or international levels, the impact of legal and mnemonic narratives outside their countries of origin, and the role of international organizations and NGOs in dealing with mass violence.

Focusing on Europe and Latin America, this conference aims to take stock of this transnational turn in justice and memory studies and to develop a socio-historical analysis of the circulation of norms, repertoires of collective action and models adopted to deal with the legacies of authoritarian regimes and armed conflicts. It seeks to trace the interconnections and mutual influences of these processes both within Europe and Latin America and between the two regions, as well as the mobilizations of European and Latin American actors in international institutions, global NGOs, or at venues on other continents.

Conference Programme: Transnational and Global Dimensions of Justice and Memory Processes in Europe and Latin America

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Contested Nazi Victimhood after 1989

Toasting Polish Dachau

By Nelly Bekus

International Day of Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camp Inmates and its Geopolitical Implications

The date 11th of April is marked by the Russian News Agency RIA as “International Day of Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camp Inmates.” According to RIA, “The International Day of Liberation was established to commemorate the international uprising of the Buchenwald concentration camp prisoners.” The Calendar of Events project—Calendar.ru, the most comprehensive resource on “holidays and memorial days” on Russian-language Internet, refers to April 11 as International Day of Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camp Inmates in two categories: in “Great Patriotic War” and as “International Days of Observance.” There is an article on this Day of Observance in Russian Wikipedia; it refers to RIA as a main source and even mistakenly claims that it was established by the UN. Information on International Day of Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camp Inmates, however, is not to be found in other languages anywhere except the Russian international news agency Sputnik, working in foreign languages (previously known as The Voice of Russia).

The piece of information provided by RIA serves as a starting point for hundreds of publications across the Russian and post-Soviet media that report on various remembrance events dedicated to the memory of victims of Nazi’s concentration camps taking place on this day. In Moscow, a memorial rally at Poklonnaya Hill is held at The Tragedy of the Peoples monument, erected in 1996 in the memory of former Nazi concentration camps’ inmates and constitutes an integral part of the Victory Memorial Park on Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow. Rallies are traditionally organized by the International Union of Former Juvenile Prisoners of Fascism. The Union was created in 1988 as the Union of Former Juvenile Prisoners in Soviet Union; in 1992 it was reinvented as the International Union, which provided platform for cooperation between analogous national Unions within the former Soviet space. In fact, the April 11 has been observed in those states, where national and local branches of this International Union function. Attended by former Nazi concentration camp inmates and their descendants these memorial meetings have profound public appeal due to the engagement of educational and cultural institutions and media coverage. Commemorations on the April 11 have been widely supported by local government; ceremonies are attended by top officials, with the exception of Baltic countries, where the remembrance events on the April 11 are supported by Orthodox Church instead.

Buchenwald memorial

Buchenwald Memorial

Alongside the rallies, there are traditional ceremonies of flower-laying at the monuments and memorial sites dedicated to the former Nazi camps’ prisoners held across the regions, and also concerts in memory of victims, “lessons of heroism” at schools, various dedicatory exhibitions and meetings in public libraries and museums are organized across Russia and other post-Soviet states. Governmental educational resources provide variety of supporting materials such as proposed scenario for the “lessons on heroism,” suggested literature, etc. In a way, this informational support is analogous to what can be found on the United Nations webpage with educational materials and information products recommended for the observance of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust on the January 27, established by UN in 2006. In fact, the status of April 11 in post-Soviet countries clearly creates the impression of maintaining a parallel memory on the former inmates of Nazi’s concentration camps.

Between Auschwitz and Buchenwald

The symbolism of the date—the day of liberation of Buchenwald camp on April 11, as opposed to January 27, the day of liberation of the Camp of Auschwitz chosen by UN—appears to have special meaning in commemoration of victims of Nazi regime. This symbolism goes back to the initial stage of memorial work in the early post-war years. The history of the Buchenwald’s liberation compiled by RIA agency and reproduced every year in numerous post-Soviet media on the April 11 tells the story of heroic uprising of the Buchenwald concentration camp inmates:

“65 years ago, on April 11, 1945, a red flag was hoisted over the Buchenwald camp administrative building. On that day the inmates disarmed and took prisoner more than 800 SS-men and camp guards […]

Two days later US troops reached Buchenwald.”

This concise story mentions only shortly “the red flag” raised by underground rebels and fails to mention that the resistance was organized mostly by Communists. Similarly politically neutral narration can be found on the webpage of Buchenwald Museum: “April 11. The SS flees, but before the fighting is over, inmates of the camp resistance occupy the tower and take charge of order and administration in the camp.”

Evidently, communists’ involvement in the underground resistance at Buchenwald lost its appeal in contemporary perspective. Nevertheless, immediately after the war this fact was not only recognized but also effectively used in promotion of corresponding memory narrative on the struggle of communist antifascists against Nazis. The camp was perceived as a symbol of political victims who were also heroic fighters and played essential role in memorialization of the Second World War among anti-fascist in many European countries. Buchenwald’s key role in the formation of international memory of former concentration camps’ inmates was officially confirmed in 1948, when the International Federation of Former Political Prisoners (FIAPP) declared the April 11 as “The International Day of Former Political Prisoners” and “The International Day of the Deportees.” Later it was renamed into the “Day of International Solidarity of Liberated Political Prisoners and Fighters” by the successor of FIAPP—International Federation of Resistance Fighters (FIR). In those days, April 11 was a day with profound international anti-fascist connotation, which could be proudly communicated across the East-West divide. With the beginning of Cold War and the rising tensions between the Western and Eastern blocs, the political prisoners’ organization, such as FIAPP/FIR, lost their influence in the West. Buchenwald memory and the symbolism of April 11 were gradually reduced to the communist milieu.

In GDR, Buchenwald was entitled the role of major pantheon to heroic resistance fighters and the “self-liberation” of the camp became the focus of a memorial complex (1958). Buchenwald, a site of official pilgrimage and ceremonies, stood for antifascism and to some extent was called to instil pride. Memory narrative developed on the Eastern side of the Iron Curtain, which preferred to commemorate Communist “fighters” rather than Jewish “victims.” On the other side of the Berlin Wall, the association between communist ideology and post-war antifascist discourse in communist countries resulting in the marginalization of Holocaust made it easier for Western Allies to listen to the voice of victims of racial persecution, above all Jews. For them, it was Auschwitz that became the symbol of Nazi crimes as well as collective shame and guilt.

In the context of Cold War, the politicization of memorial work on the other side of the Iron Curtain was combined with the corresponding political line. Communist states combined it with anti-Western political propaganda; the Alliance and other anti-communist organizations merged honoring of Nazism’s victims with the pursuit of their own political agenda: comparing Stalinism with Nazism did more than condemn Communism; it also downplayed the uniqueness of the Nazis’ regime.

It was at that time, in 1950, when also the term “victims of fascism” was discarded by Philipp Auerbach for its communist connotations and proposed to replace it with “victims of Nazism.” Since then, the previously common enemy was even to be named by former Allies differently.

After 1989: An Unsuccessful Memory Unification

The Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 brought a hope that the memory of World War II could provide a solid ground for overcoming Cold War’s divisive legacy. In the 1990s it seemed fairly possible that integration of the “Western” and the “Eastern” perspectives into a common paradigm of remembering could become one of the building bricks in a new European home.

Some changes in the memory politics of the post-Soviet Russia and CIS countries have, indeed, occurred. The memory of Jewish genocide was given more consideration as a part of war story in the territory of former Soviet Union than previously. The real unification of European and post-Soviet memory spaces, however, has never been achieved. Instead, political transition in former socialist states and the reconfiguration of EU borders resulted in a formation of new symbolic mapping of memory.

In the European history of remembering the victims of the Second World War, the focus on Holocaust was transformed, as Aleida Assmann noted, “into a transgenerational and transnational memory.” Shared memories of Holocaust were capable of uniting European countries in commemorating its victims and teaching next generation of Europeans the history lesson, becoming a foundation myth for united Europe and a moral yardstick for new member states since 2005. Commemoration of the Holocaust victims came to be one of unifying rites called to manifest the common efforts in creation of Europe as a remembering community. In 2005, European Holocaust Memorial Day across the EU was established on January 27. The same year and for the same date the General Assembly of UN established annual International Day of Commemoration in Memory of Victims of the Holocaust. Even though in some calendars of several former socialist states one can still find “Day of International Solidarity of Liberated Political Prisoners and Fighters” mentioned with the reference to Buchenwald liberation, no commemorative activity has ever been reported on this day outside post-Soviet space.

Many post-Soviet countries also join UN commemorations of the Holocaust victims. None of them, however, has the Commemoration Day included into the official calendar of observance days. In Russia and other post-Soviet countries this day has been observed by Jewish national organizations, foreign diplomatic missions and has, as a rule, semi-official status. Several attempts have been made to include commemoration of Holocaust into the official calendar of Russian state which has considerable Jewish community: in 2001, by the foundation “Holocaust”; in 2008 by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia; in 2012 by the Russian Jewish Congress; in 2013 by a Russian opposition party “Just Russia.” None of these initiatives, however, has been successful.

The day of 27th of January has been widely commemorated by national and religious Jewish organizations of Russia, often with the participation of Russian top officials. The president of Russia often takes part in these observances, but the mode and the context of such commemoration clearly marks the space of the Holocaust memory as a matter of one of Russia’s religious and national minorities. In 2010, Dmitry Medvedev, the then President of Russia, sent his greetings to participants in the ceremonies commemorating the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. In his address, Medvedev urged not forget that along with six million people that “were killed simply because of their ethnicity, simply for being Jewish,” there were other victims, too, because “according to the Nazis’ plan, at least a third of the population in the occupied territories was to follow their fate.” This attention to “other victims” of Nazi’s genocide in Medvedev’s address, as well as keeping the status of International Holocaust Remembrance Day as a matter of one of Russian Federation’s national minorities reveal an unarticulated intention to keep the weight of the “Jewish aspect” in the post-Soviet memory of the Second World War under controlled balance. It displays the post-Soviet determination to prevent total re-writing of the Soviet-originated narrative of the history of Second World War and the re-casting the memory on its victims in accordance with “Western” mode. And while Jewish communities in Russia join worldwide commemoration of January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in the calendar of Russian state, January 27 is also marked as a date commemorating the end of Leningrad siege (established in 1995).

Reshaping a Divided Victimhood

Surely, in contemporary conditions the division lines in the memory sphere work differently. Disregarding Holocaust in post-Soviet countries proves to be both impossible and unreasonable and Jewish communities across the former Soviet space observe the Memory of Holocaust on January 27. Emphasis on Holocaust, however, conveys implicit meaning of being “Western interpretation” of Nazi’s victimhood. And revitalization of public commemorations on April 11 in post-Soviet states clearly demonstrates that the once envisaged “unification” of divided victimhood is not going to be achieved by one-sided acceptance of the “Western” memory perspective by the former “East”. Along with the “Europeanization of the memory boom” denoted by rising significance of Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the official memory politics in post-Soviet countries sought to establish alternative commemoration which would meet the needs and wishes of the majority of former Soviet people. April 11 was assigned this role of the post-Soviet parallel to the European Commemoration of Holocaust which allows to maintain “other” perspective on the “victimhood of fascism” alongside the memory of Holocaust. Buchenwald as a symbolic alternative came almost naturally to fit this new memory practice demand. Buchenwald camp was widely known to the Soviet people. Due to a popular patriotic song “Buchenwald alarm bells,” it was part of the official canon of the Soviet cultural war memory.

April 11 reiterates in many respects the idea of commemoration of Holocaust victims—but it avoids stressing the ethnic genocide of Jews or any other particular ethnic group. Every publication on commemoration of the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camp Inmates speaks, instead, about 5 million of Soviet people among 19 million of Nazi camps’ prisoners; in some cases, 6 million of Jewish victims are mentioned, too.

On the one hand, recalling the memory of the Soviet victims among prisoners of Nazi’s concentration camps in public commemorations and rituals held on the April 11 can be read as the efforts to maintain post-Soviet space as a “remembering community.” On the other hand, persistent emphasis on the international status of this day is also telling. Nations that once belonged to USSR today represent international community aspiring to be an actor on the geopolitical memory arena. At the same time, talking about any long-established history of April 11 as an International Day of observance refers to the “internationalism” characteristic for post-war political anti-fascism and resistance fighters. And while communist ideology that once constituted the core of that movement became irrelevant and marginal, its internationalist appeal remains meaningful. Bridging these two aspects in the commemorative practices on April 11 makes possible the prevention of the post-Soviet space of commemoration of victims from segregation and isolation, at least symbolically.

This relatively new memorial date can be interpreted as a signifier in the geopolitics of memory coming to replace political ideologies, which constituted inseparable feature of the memorial work in the Cold War realm. It shows how geopolitical entities have been re-constituted and united anew, while the process of re-shaping memories attendant upon the end of Cold War remains embedded in the divisions of the past.

Original is published by Aspen Review

http://www.aspeninstitute.cz/en/article/3-2015-contested-nazi-victimhood-after-1989/

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