Nordic Russian and Eastern European Studies Conference
Intentions, Interactions and Paradoxes in Post-Socialist Space
24-25 May 2013 in Helsinki, Finland
Re-narrating Heroism and Suffering in Russia, Ukraine and Estonia: Dealing with post-Soviet memories of WWII
Chair and discussant: Libora Oates-Indruchova (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for European History and Public Spheres, Austria)
Jussi Lassila and Markku Kangaspuro (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland): To triumphalize the traumatic name: Stalingrad in Putin-era public discussion
Tatiana Zhurzhenko (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland): Generational Change, War Memory and the Limits of State Paternalism: Institutionalizing the Children of War in Post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine
Elena Nikiforova (Centre for Independent Social Research, St. Petersburg, Russia): Mother's Day, Day of Europe, or Victory Day? (Re)assembling WWII memory in the border city of Narva
Controversial memories of WWII remain in the center of public debates and political conflicts in Europe 20 years after the end of Cold War. With the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union the Second World War became one of the key themes of the new national narratives. This is not surprising given the war’s traumatic experience especially in this part of Europe; unprecedented human losses, the destruction of the basic infrastructure, repressions under two occupational regimes, mass murder, deportations and ethnic cleansings.
Moreover, with the collapse of the Soviet empire the grand narrative of the “Great Patriotic War” lost its hegemonic status, giving way to alternative narratives in Russia, and new narratives in the former Soviet republics and states of the former Soviet bloc. This transformation reflects the transition “from triumph to trauma” (Bernhard Giesen); a shift from the dominant narrative of heroic mass sacrifice and courage to multiple narratives of victimhood and suffering. The disintegration of the Soviet triumphalist narrative does not mean, however, that all heroes are gone. Rather, in the post-Soviet pluralistic commemorative cultures, the notion of heroism is renegotiated and appropriated by the new national elites, while mass suffering and collective victimhood is endowed with the new meaning of sacrifice for the national cause. This panel addresses the aforementioned dynamics in three specific contexts in the space of post-communist Europe; Russia, Ukraine and Estonia.
Markku Kangaspuro’s and Jussi Lassila’s paper examines the development of Stalingrad’s role in Russia’s public discussion over the last ten years including the 70th anniversary of the battle in Februrary 2013. Carrying the most triumphalist episode in the narrative of the Great Patriotic War the paper ponders to what extent the post-Soviet Stalingrad has begun to resonate with a neo-imperial historiography as part of Russia’s post-imperial history politics.
Tatiana Zhurzhenko discusses the notion of “children of war” as an emerging subject in WWII-commemorations, and evaluates various bottom-up social initiatives and top-down strategies of the political elites in Russia and Ukraine aimed at the institutionalization of the “children of war” status in post-Soviet societies.
Elena Nikiforova’s focuses on Narva, an Estonian town on the Estonian-Russian border populated predominantly by non-Estonians, and analyzes the local memory politics vis-à-vis the politics of memory pursued at the national levels. The paper shows how the boundaries between at least three national and subnational memoryscapes are renegotiated and reconfigured; those of ‘Estonia’, ‘Soviet Union/Russia’, as well as ‘Europe’.