REPORT ON THE POSOCOMES STREAM
AT THE MEMORY STUDIES ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE 2019 IN MADRID
(with contributions by Zuzanna Bogumil, Gruia Badescu, Oksana Dovgopolova, Serguei Ehrlich, Daria Khlevnyuk, Biljana Markovic and Nina Weller)
The conference was a perfect occasion for scholars working on post-socialist memory to meet each other, share insights from their ongoing (collaborative) research and establish new connections. The PoSoCoMeS stream, which ran throughout the three days of conference and included twelve panels and two round tables, allowed the working group’s participants to attend each other’s sections and facilitated continuity of discussion. We were also excited by the interest expressed by conference participants who attended the PoSoCoMeS sessions and business meeting, and by the number of those who joined the group during and after the conference. We are motivated to work on enhancing these initial dialogues, particularly during the PoSoCoMeS conference in Chisinau next year (see the ‘Announcements’ section).
The following overview of the PoSoCoMeS events is organized along the thematic lines that we traced throughout the programme. We hope these brief summaries will give you an impression of the topics and approaches of the group’s current research and will map out the areas that are still lacking and those that can be elaborated, interlinked and expanded.
GLOBAL FRAMEWORKS OF POST-SOCIALIST MEMORY
The PoSoCoMeS stream opened with a pre-conference round table in the ‘authors meet critic’ format that focused on the recently published volume Replicating Atonement: Foreign Models in Commemoration of Atrocities (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) edited by Mischa Gabowitsch. The collective of contributors was represented by RALPH BUCHENHORST, LEA DAVID, MISCHA GABOWITSCH and FRANZISKA SERAPHIM, while JASNA DRAGOVIC-SOSO took on the role of a critic. The discussion focused on the book’s major contribution to critical debates regarding the transfer of Western models of transitional justice and ‘coming to terms’ with violent past, mostly based on the experience of Holocaust remembrance, through its typology that captures the ways of ‘translating’ methods across cultural-historical contexts. Mischa Gabowitsch outlined four such strategies of transfer which organize the book’s sections—named by using the metaphors of ‘springboard’, ‘yardstick’, ‘foil’ and ‘screen’. The other authors introduced their theoretical arguments and case studies which, all in different ways and with reference to various contexts—Japan’s (lack of) reckoning with its colonialism, the problems of transitional justice in the former Yugoslavia, Soviet intelligentsia’s mythologization of ‘Germany’s atonement’, Argentina grappling with the Dirty War—interrogate the ideas of a universal norm underlying practices of ‘cosmopolitan memory’. Jasna Dragovic-Soso’s comments on the book’s argument were extremely positive, with an emphasis on the necessity of re-thinking practices of transitional justice. Although the volume overall expresses pertinent critique of transitional justice procedures the way they have been conceptualized and implemented transnationally so far, it also outlines the ‘springboard’ model as a productive way of engaging withother cultural-historical context of memory (with the examples of the Canadian Truth Commission adapting practices of West Germany, South Africa and Argentina, or U.S. anti-racist activists selectively learning from the experiences of West Germans).
The panel on Memory Practices and Urban Change in Post-Dictatorial Societies, organized by Lina Klymenko, included two presentations instead of the three originally planned as the organizer was not able to attend.
The first presentation by ANN-SOPHIE SCHOEPFEL applied the concept of spatial resilience to analyzing the relationship between space and reconciliation in Cambodian society. The presentation focused on a complex relationship between public and private ways of commemorating victims. The example of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh was presented as a site of global tourism industry and related to transnational circulation of memories as an example of official, state commemoration. In opposition to this public space Schoepfel presented a quiet, private way of remembering the victims through religious rituals in Cambodia. The questions following this presentation were considering the ways in which globalized memories of the Holocaust have influenced the visual aspects of Cambodian remembering and the role religion plays in ‘quiet’ commemorations.
The second presentation was exploring the possibilities of comparative analysis of post-dictatorial memories in Ukraine and Taiwan. OLEKSII POLEGKYI showed how these two case studies, although distant in space, have many similarities which are connected to the questions of identity and postcolonial legacies. This presentation focused on the change of narrative, the appropriation of memory and discursive wars which in both cases followed political change. The discussion that followed engaged with ways in which we can constructively and successfully compare different post-colonial and post-imperial memories and how these comparisons can contribute to our field of study.
The panel Post-Socialist Idiosyncrasies special session was jointly organized by the MSA working group Human Rights and Memory and the PoSoCoMeS, and was also part of the panel stream “Critical Thinking on Human Rights and Memory”, chaired by Gruia Badescu from the University of Konstanz. The main goal of this stream was to examine tensions created by the emergence of a “proper way of remembrance” polices related to normative standards of memorialization stemming from the human rights-oriented “duty to remember”. The panel engaged with the specificities of post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe contexts and brought together discussions of the post-Soviet and post-Yugoslav space, as well as dealing with the past in former Warsaw Pact countries such as Bulgaria.
OLGA ZABALUEVA and EKATERINA MARKOVICH’s presentation “Institutionalization of Memory and False Positivism: The Sandarmokh Memorial in Russia” discussed the memorialization of a site in the Republic of Karelia, Russia, where more than seven thousand people had been executed during Stalin’s Great Purge. While Sandarmokh has become a place of commemoration due to the International Memorial NGO since the 1990s, recent claims of local historians, supported by state institutions, turned the attention to the alleged killings of Soviet prisoners of war by the Finns in 1941–1944, with extensive digging on the site to find these remains. Zabalueva and Markovich argued that the attempt to re-evaluate the commemoration of the victims of political repressions reflects the tendency of hiding the responsibility for human rights violations behind false positivism.
SVEN MILEKIĆ enquired into Croatia’s founding myth of the “Homeland War” (the war of the 1990s), which gives an important place to its soldiers, referred to as “defenders”. He argued that participating in the Croatian army activities led to the rehabilitation of extremist ideas and crimes committed in previous periods of history. By analyzing the memorial to Croatian soldier Miro Barešić and the memorial plaque commemorating members of the 1990s paramilitary unit Croatian Defence Forces (HOS), Milekić examined how the commemoration of the 1990s war veterans led to the promotion of the World War Two Ustasha fascist movement. He discussed the controversies surrounding the plaque, which included the Ustasha chant “Za dom spremni” (lit. “For the homeland prepared”) within HOS’s official coat of arms, in a place that is the location of the largest Ustasha concentration camp.
Finally, DANIELA KOLEVA examined the tension between the universalist thrust of the human rights discourse and national frameworks of remembrance through a discussion of coping with the communist past in Bulgaria, focusing on transitional justice measures and societal responses to them. Koleva showed that as a country with ‘under-standardized’ memory of communism, Bulgaria is a good case for comparison within the ‘region of memory’ that post-communist Europe has become with the EU enlargement. Her main conclusion was that it is important for the human rights abuses of the regime to be recognized, but also not reified.
The round table Memories of Socialism Compared, organized by Mischa Gabowitsch and Ksenia Robbe, brought together researchers engaging with contemporary echoes of past socialist movements and imaginations in Japan, South Africa, and Yugoslavia. The context of the inquiry was introduced by MISCHA GABOWITSCH who moderated the discussion; he mentioned that ‘socialism’ has meant very different things in different parts of the world, so memories of socialism are also very diverse. At the same time there are many common elements, and a common name, so all these different memories are articulated through their common object, which can lead both to misunderstandings and even conflicts, and to unexpected solidarities.The short interventions by the three speakers outlined the ways in which the round table’s participants approach memories of socialism or ‘socialist memories’ in their research. All presentations, strikingly, engaged with contexts of visual art and culture, which might be indicative of the spheres in which socialist imaginations are being recollected and re-appropriated today, on local, national, and global scales.
FRANZISKA SERAPHIM drew on her research into post-WWII left movements in Japan and the ways in which their voices and those of their more contemporary heirs continue challenging imperialist politics and the memories based on nationalist discourses of victimhood. She stressed the importance of comparative research into the nuances of national memory regarding, for instance, the past of colonialism, imperialism and human rights violations, with the focus on movements that challenge mainstream (often nationalist or colour-blind) ideologies. As an example of creative forms of such research, she mentioned a project she recently conducted with her students, which involved creating a map of the approaches to, and challenges of, transitional justice in selected societies from across the world.
KSENIA ROBBE focused on community arts in South Africa during the late apartheid period as a locus of socialist imaginations and practices, which involved productions of art that mediated specific visual forms alluding to socialist traditions of representation and infused them with local traditions and contexts. Beyond art production as such, community arts centres functioned as spaces for inter-racial contact and for developing practices of non-racialism as well as socializing working-class young people into aesthetic work, which, in turn, resulted in developing new art forms involving their visions and experiences. While during the 1990s and the 2000s, most of these initiatives ceased to exist due to a lack of funding, more recently several projects have engaged with the centres’ archives and organized ‘remembering exhibitions’ that involved reflection and re-elaboration, particularly by younger curators, of the socialist ethos and practices of the 1970–80s oppositional art and politics.
SANDRA KRIŽIĆ ROBAN elaborated on the concept behind the exhibition Socialism and Modernity which she had co-curated at Zagreb’s Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition focused on the products of design and popular culture in Croatia from 1950–1974, with the aim to work out the connections between post-war modernization, modernism and modernity. The idea was not to provide a definite account of Croatian art and visual culture of the period, but rather to pose the question of a proper context of its interpretation, which include different historical (Cold War politics), cultural (modernist mega-culture), and socio-political (Yugoslav self-managing socialism) frameworks.
The discussion concluded with an observation that, when speaking about possibilities of cross-cultural conversations about, and comparisons of, the past and the present of socialism as a marginalized social imagination, practices of memory—that is, creative engagement with, and re-signification of, the past—can be a site where links between disparate experiences (e.g., forms of state socialism, political movements or socialist forms of community work and organization) can be staged and elaborated.
HISTORY AND MEMORY POLITICS IN LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL CONTEXTS
The pre-conference panel Memory before and after Crimea, organized by Julie Fedor, opened the stream with the highly topical question of how the theme of the Crimea had changed in memory culture and commemorative practices since the beginning of the war between Russia and Ukraine. All four papers indicated that the Crimean conflict was an important moment for new ideological turns in memory production and for shifts in commemorative practices.
In her contribution, JULIE FEDOR focused on the fact that since the beginning in 2014 of the Russian-Ukrainian war, many writers, filmmakers and historians have felt compelled to write Russia’s history anew. Books by Aleksandr Prokhanov, Genady Dubovoy and others contributed to the imaginary renovation of Russia’s past through integrating the trope of Crimea as ‘Russian place’ as a key moment for the restorative nation-building process. By obsessively creating national Russian identity, new images of who is defined as enemy appeared, which finally function as ‘defected memory’.
MISCHA GABOWITSCH’s paper presented some outcomes of his comparative research on celebration of 8 May and 9 May and the interaction between Soviet war memorials and local communities throughout the former Soviet sphere of influence.He stressed the importance of analyzing commemorative practices beyond national or state contexts. In many cases, state influence has diminished, and activism from below has increased. The same tendencies characterize international or trans-local commemorations (in Madrid or Berlin), including the ‘Immortal Regiment’ marches. These commemorative activities are possibly the largest social movement in the post-Soviet world today.
ANNA GLEW,too, stressed the fact that most war memorials in Ukraine are a result of private initiatives. Her contribution analyzedthe impactof monuments to Ukrainian soldiers killed in the Russia-Ukraine war. Noticeable changes in physical objects of historical memory, she argued, came from the combination of the state’s policies and independent actions of ordinary people. Comparison of these memorials in the Poltava region with WWII and the Soviet–Afghan War memorials shows the importance of location. Furthermore, the Donbass war memorials emphasize that the memory of the youngest war victims is at least as important as the memory of the victims of the Great Patriotic War. At the same time, these new memorials emphasize the singularity of the current war experience.
Zooming into the practices of memory in Poland, EWA OCHMANasked to what extent the Crimean crisis had an impact on current Polish political dynamics and to what extent we might be overestimating the transnational scope of memory. The Polish case represents a politically and ideologically charged dynamic of decommunization, antagonistic to Russia. One example is the controversial “Memorial law” from 2018, fuelled by the decommunization laws in Ukraine. While during the first post-socialist decades, some local communities accepted their historical topography, including Soviet monuments, now we witness practices of dismantling and redesigning monuments, the renaming of streets and squares.These changes seem to be less ideologically than politically motivated, with the fixation on local and national Polish history playing a more important role than trans-local influences of current events in Eastern Ukraine.
The panel Memory Politics in and around Russia, organized by Alexey Miller, zoomed into the paradoxes, conflicts and (dis)continuities of memory politics in Russia set in comparison to Europe, including the East-West differences in history politics within the EU. It opened with OLGA MALINOVA’s analysis of public commemorations of the centenary of the February and October revolutions in Russia. The analysis of key symbolic strategies and narratives of the commemorations reveals the domination of the field by several ‘mnemonic warriors’. The official project to celebrate ‘conciliation and concord’ of the Reds and the Whites, however, is facilitated by the fact that almost all major mnemonic actors (with exception of the Yabloko Party) share the ‘patriotic’ and anti-Western discourse of the incumbent elite. Nevertheless, in the context of the fragmented memory regime, oppositional actors can impede a public demonstration of ‘conciliation and concord’ even without large resources, as demonstrated by the case of local opposition to the construction of the memorial to Conciliation in Crimea.
ALEXEY MILLER’s presentation, in turn, placed the discussion of Russia’s current historical politics in a broader European context. The paper outlined the dynamics of memory politics in the EU—from the shaping of ‘cosmopolitan memory’ in Western Europe during the 1990s to the 2009 declaration equating the Nazi and Communist crimes, which reflected the nationalist memory politics of Central and Eastern European countries. This contextualized Russia’s development of nationalist memory politics as having been triggered by the establishment of state institutions responsible for ‘historical memory’ in the Baltic states and Poland. The symmetrical institutions in Russia include the Ministry of Culture as well as, increasingly, the so-called NGOs funded by the state.
Analyzing the politics of memory in the Soviet Union during different periods, DMITRY V. EFREMENKO addressed the difficulty encountered by projects of forming supra-national collective memory. The discussion was furthermore enriched by a comparison to the more recent attempts at building supra-national identity in the European Union as well as the use of Soviet-style historical narratives in Post-Soviet space (Russia, Belarus and non-recognized states).
The papers in the session The Politics of Historical Symbols and Narratives: Late Soviet and Post-Soviet Evolutions were dedicated to internal, local cleavages in seemingly monolithic national memories. EVGENY MANZHURIN presented a case where such fragmentation of representations could be least expected: Soviet towns’ coats of arms. One would assume that in such matters the centralized state would control every little detail. However, as Manzhurin showed in his paper, local artists, bureaucrats, and sometimes entrepreneurs had some extent of freedom in choosing their towns’ symbols. Thus, Kyiv’s coat of arms of 1969 includes a hidden bow and arrow that refer to the Polish symbolic system.
NIKOLAY MITROKHIN also studied Ukraine, but focused on its current historical policy. He is interested in the aftermath of the Euromaidan in Ukraine in 2013 and, specifically, of the events in Odessa on May 2, 2014, where after a violent clash between pro-Maidan and anti-Maidan activists several people were burnt alive during the fire in the Trade Unions House. Mitrokhin discussed how memory of WWII was used by anti-Maidan activists online and offline and how rhetoric of the war against fascism was incorporated into youth educational programs and propaganda organized by these activists.
SERGUEY EHRLICH’s paper focused on a divided national memory in Moldova. Similar to Ukraine, the society is split into groups expressing pro-Russian and pro-Romanian attitudes. Consequently, some communities are nostalgic for the Soviet, and specifically Brezhnev’s, times, while others see the USSR as an aggressor who shaped the Moldovan identity to separate the people in Moldova from their historical ancestors—Romanians. The paper outlined the ways in which both stands of historical politics are problematic and lead to conflict and social cleavages.
The panel Memories of Revolutions and Civil Wars was devoted to the paradoxes of commemorating the 1917 Revolution’s centennial in Russia.
The first paper revealed different aspects of State–Church competition in the anniversary celebration. TATIANA VORONINA observed the dramaturgy of the mutual dependence of the Russian State and the Church during the post-Soviet period. After the collapse of state atheism, the identity-building potential of religion became evident, which resulted in the Church acting as a natural ally of the State. The presentation further mapped the complicated partnership between Putin’s State and the Church as well as their competition for authority; it also outlined ways of interpreting the Church’s role in key events of the 20th century.
ZUZANNA BOGUMIŁ continued by exploring the potential of micro-historical optics in researching the Russian State–Church relations during the last two decades. The example of commemoration shifts in the village of Borovskoje was used to demonstrate the peculiar features of social life in post-Soviet rural territories, where a sharp turn to the commemoration of new martyrs meant not necessarily a shift of religious feelings, but the appearance of the Church as a new (and the only) memory agent after the symbolic emptiness of the 1990s.
MARIA MATSKEVICH presented a sociological observation of the 1917 Revolution’s centennial and its place in Russia’s contemporary memory landscape. While several political agents (including the Communist party and the Orthodox Church) attempted to use the anniversary as a resource, the society remained mainly indifferent to their messages. Pointing to a difference between ‘commemoration’ and ‘celebration’, Matskevich emphasized an anti-revolutionary consensus in the Russian society today and uncovered a wide conviction that celebrations of the anniversary were inappropriate.
The panel was successful in juxtaposing different research optics. If the micro-historical optics demonstrates the institution of Church as extremely successful in utilizing the anniversary’s potential, the wide sociological prospective reveals the inefficacy of the Church’s attempts to position itself as the sole identifying agent in contemporary Russia. This effect was emphasized by the panel’s disputant Boris Kolonitsky. The multiplicity of research optics pushed the discussion on the memory agents’ nature and on the implications of selected research concepts and perspectives.
POST-SOCIALIST MEMORY IN MUSEUMS AND MONUMENTS
The idea of the panel The Hardware of Memory: New Approaches to the Materiality of Monuments was introduced by Mischa Gabowitsch with the argument that Alexander Etkind’s terms, the “hardware” and “software” of memory, and his study of the ‘software’ part with its focus on symbolism, neglects the materiality of monuments. It glosses over the constraints and unintended outcomes that result from the material monuments are made of and the process of their production. It also omits the non-symbolic ways in which material objects interact with their surroundings. Against the theoretical background of approaches such as the new materialism in historiography, pragmatic sociology, and the notion of non-human/distributed agency, this panel focuses specifically on the materiality of monuments.
MISCHA GABOWITSCH’s own paper evolved around the argument that the common term “monumental propaganda” (Lenin), meaning top-down memory politics, does not fully correlate to the Soviet reality, since many of the war memorials were constructed through local initiatives. These had resulted in a few thousand grass-roots war memorials including a few hundred monuments to the Holocaust victims. Moreover, the paper argued about the importance of studying the monuments’ building material and its potential for developing new techniques. The permanent material deficit of the Soviet society forced “recycling”, when bronze, marble and granite from old graves were reused.
ANA KRŠINIĆ-LOZICA’s focused on the strategies of Croatia’s new generation of artists to the challenges of nationalist remembrance of WWII and the destruction of many socialist era monuments during the 1990s. In her study of arthouse documentaries, she discussed how they highlight the materiality of monumental works and represent them as a part of surrounding landscapes. A non-discursive monumental turn explicitly renounces the heroic approach to the memory and induces to visitors a strong emotional reaction in the name of individual approach to the victims.
SANDRA KRIŽIĆ ROBAN’s contribution, in turn, engaged with non-material “impossible monuments”, which have appeared since the 2000s and which have predecessors in post-WWII history. Some of the “anti-monuments” constructed during the 1960s in Yugoslavia were conceived not only as places of memory, but as areas of environment protection and public recreation. The contemporary examples, mediating counter-memory of WWII, are represented by temporary installations such as The Shadow of Synagogue in Zagreb alluding to the building’s demolition by the Ustasha regime in 1941.
The first session of the two-part panel Post-Socialist Museums of Memory, organized by Daria Khlevnyuk, started with VLADISLAV STAF’s paper on the Gulag museums in Russia. Vladislav surveyed nine museums in different regions of Russia, with a focus on the history of their creation. As it turns out, the majority of these museums were ‘bottom-up’ initiatives, often started by activists with no historical education or curatorial knowledge.
This comes in sharp contrast to the local lore (kraevedcheskie) museums which were the subject of SOFIA GAVRILOVA’s paper. These museums were often initiated by the state or local administrations; they have a rather rigid construction with a number of topics that had to be addressed. There are a number of rules to such exhibitions; however, even within these rules, there are gaps. The paper compared the representation of political exiles—a topic that does not have a unified interpretation and thus is presented very differently in various museums, either focusing solely on political exiles of the pre-Soviet period or on the deportations of Stalin’s period.
ANNA TOPOLSKA also discussed the intersection of bottom-up and top-down memory initiatives on the basis of her case, the memorials of WWII in Poznan. The study showed that the top-down projects bear strong traces of communist aesthetics and ideology, while bottom-up memorials are more focused on the commemorated people and emphasize martyrdom.
The second partwas opened by TAMAS KENDEwith the paper “From places of memory to places of commemoration/representation”. He discussed the way in which the old and the new museologies understand the role of the museums. He used the case of the Hungarian museum House of Terror to show the limits of the museums following the rules of the new museology and to defend the old museology’s approach to displaying the past.
The theoretical reflection on museums was continued by ANDREI ZAVADSKI, who proposed the concept of “mnemonic counterpublics”—counterpublics that emerge around shared feelings of exclusion with regard to particular ways of remembering a fragment of the past. He analysed the memories of the Russian 1990s actualized by the Boris Yeltsin Museum in Yekaterinburg. According to him, the museum represents the decade in a way that differs sharply from the official narrative, thus giving rise to a mnemonic counterpublic. However, because the museum (and the Yeltsin Center in general) was founded and is largely funded by the state, which makes it vulnerable to the authorities’ political will, the mnemonic counterpublic in question can be regarded as co-opted by the regime.
OKSANA DOVGOPOLOVA’s paper provided an extensive overview of WWII museums in Ukraine. She has shown that differences occur not so much between private and national museums, but in the ways in which the museums approach the past. This difference is especially visible in how these museums define and present victims. A broader goal of the paper was to show which museums represent the past that was tabooed during the Soviet times.
DARIA KHLEVNYUK’s presentation continued the discussion of victimhood by focusing on the way in which Stalin’s repressions are displayed in Russian museums. She engaged in particular with definitions of the subject in museums’ narratives. As there is a tension between the victim and hero topoi in these exhibitions, there has emerged a new type of the subject: ‘a hero-victim’.
In his commentary to the panel, Daniel Levy continued the theoretical reflection on the way the post-Socialist museums construct the past. He stressed that museums are a complex phenomenon which is continually changing. They are products of the influence of different discourses (global, national, local) which influence these museums differently, depending on which memory regime (democratic or authoritarian) the museums function in.
MEMORY AND CULTURAL IMAGINATIONS IN LITERATURE AND FILM
Several panels of the stream inquired into the role of literature, film and other media representations in (re)shaping memories of historical turning points. The panel Post-Socialist Transitions through Children’s Eyes, organized by Ksenia Robbe, brought into dialogue research on recent novels, films and exhibitions from the former Yugoslavia, Romania and Russia, whose narratives are framed through children’s perspectives. The papers analyzed the diverse (and often contradictory) functions of these perspectives and the effects they produce, from ideological manipulation to the creation of more complex visions of the past and the future.
BILJANA MARKOVIĆ’s presentation explored the configurations of child narrator’s voice in post-Yugoslav literature by emigrant writers, contrasting it to childhood perspectives in earlier, socialist Yugoslav writing. Where during the post-WWII period, childhood perspectives served to shape a community and direct it towards a better future, post-socialist memory re-mediates this gaze and creates a safe distance from the ideological practices and from the trauma of the Balkan wars. Michael Rothberg’s concept of implicated narrator was demonstrated as being useful in elucidating this perspective.
The paper by ANDREEA MIRONESCU and SIMONA MITROIU zoomed onto auto-fictional texts by Romanian authors, written in the late 1990s and the 2000s, to consider the narrative and ideological implications of using a child(-like) perspective. Drawing on Boris Buden’s consideration of ‘childhood’ as political metaphor in narratives of Eastern European ‘transition’, the authors ask whether post-socialist fiction re-appropriates the space of childhood in similarly political ways. Against the possible scenario of evading responsibility, they argue that the novels in focus involve critical engagement with the pastby challenging the Romanian readership and its relative reluctance to accept a shared historic responsibility.
KSENIA ROBBE’s paper, then, focused on Russophone novels and films of the last few years by emerging women writers and directors, which recollect and re-frame literary and film imaginations of the transitional period in Russia. While not avoiding portrayals of destitution and trauma effects, along the lines of perestroika and 1990s productions, these works employ autobiographical childhood perspectives to re-imagine and, using Eve Sedgewick and Marianne Hirsch’s term, ‘repair’ connections between generations. These narratives are gendered (positing women’s perspectives) and perform ‘everyday’ aesthetics and lyrical styles, which distinguishes them from recent mass-cultural projects of re-branding the 1990s.
The panel concluded with MAJA VODOPIVEC’s critical reading of the recently opened War Childhood Museum in Sarajevo. Having developed from the semi-biographical book War Childhood: Sarajevo 1992–1995 (2012), which did not include any accounts of the war childhood on the ‘other side’ of the conflict, by using ‘new museum’ practices, the project created a space for counter-hegemonic memory and a dialogue between different sidesofsimilar experiences. Though striving towards dialogue, the exhibition, however, still shows cracks of exclusive identities in its methods of selection and narrating the conflict.
Through these case studies, the panel explored the dynamics of trauma and repair, innocence and responsibility, disruption and connectivity that characterize memories of the transition across Eastern Europe, and started a discussion about how these dynamics can be analyzed.
The theme of De/Fictionalizing the Past: The Role of Literature and Film in Post-Socialist Memory Cultures interconnected the work of two panels organized by Nina Weller and Matthias Schwarz. The discussion focused on identifying the literary and film devices and narrative modes used to remember the past in post-socialist fiction. The key themes included translation between the global, the national and the local, and remediation of memories as they ‘travel’ from page to screen and from earlier novels and films to more recent ones, and generational dynamics of memory.
JUSTYNA TABASZEWSKA’s paper inquired into the writing of ‘alternative histories’ in post-1989 Polish literature, focusing on their elaborations of ‘futures past’ which, following Brian Massumi, often serve as an affective justification of (violent) actions in the present. Drawing on the example of the novel Victorious Republic, which narrates a story of Poland’s Soviet colonization after WWI and its independence movement during the 1980s, it charted the ways in which such works attempt to fill in the ideological void since the 1990s.
ENEKEN LAANES followed by presenting her research on literary and film productions that deal with local socialist experience but address primarily an international audience. The paper proposed to examine such adaptation to transnational forms of commemoration in terms of translating and, using Lawrence Venuti’s terms, examined instances of ‘domesticating’ and ‘foreignizing’ translation, while also considering how the translated narratives are then re-territorialized in local/national reception.
NEVENA DAKOVIĆ’s reading of trans-medial adaptations of a diary written during WWII focused on the related questions of reshaping local histories and experiences into transnational/ cosmopolitan frameworks of memory. Her case study examined the use of multidirectional memory in recent productions based on the diary of Diana Budisavljević, an Austrian humanitarian who led a major relief operation to save Serbian women and children from concentration camps, to show how they fit the earlier story into the current political contexts of remembering the Balkan wars.
The question of configurations of cosmopolitan memory was further engaged by SIMON LEWIS in a paper that, however, traced the emergence of transnational imagination within the Polish-Belarusian “contact zone”. It read the first Polish novel to feature a Belarusian protagonist, Ignacy Karpowicz’s Sonka, with the focus on the text’s metafictional reflection on the (im)possibilities of conveying the voice of a colonized ‘subaltern’ in a colonizer’s language and through the perspective of a culturally privileged narrator.
NINA WELLER’s continued the discussion of memories of WWII involving the war’s traumatic after-effects as expressed in contemporary Belarusian film and writing. Her paper inquired into the continuities and differences of writing/filming the trauma of the burnt down villageof Khatyn across the Soviet and post-Soviet generations of Belarusian writers and film-makers. The observed shifts in the “generations of postmemory” include the focus on perpetrators whose representations involve more nuance, but also in some cases entail “normalization” of perpetrator positionality and homogenization of perpetrators and victims’ experiences.
IOANA LUCA’s presentation charted the dynamics of post-socialist Romanian life writing, particularly as represented by omnibus collections published since the early 2000s. It identified and examined a shift from decisively apolitical revivals of everyday life in the earlier collections, which are continued in some of the recent publications, towards attempts of creating common knowledge about late socialist period and, through it, a new sense of community.