Head of the Organising Committee
Sanna Turoma
sanna.turoma [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Coordinator
Kaarina Aitamurto
kaarina.aitamurto [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Secretary
Maarit Elo-Valente
maarit.elo-valente [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Intern
Miikka Piiroinen
miikka.piiroinen [at] helsinki.fi

Conference e-mail:
fcree-aleksconf [at] helsinki.fi

The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki
phone +358-(0)50-3565 802

aleksanteri [at] helsinki.fi


Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Emil Persson (Lund University, Sweden)

The Secret Funerals in Pskov: Patriotism, Military Masculinity and Politics of (In)visibility in Russian Media Reporting on Soldiers Who Die in Ukraine

In August 2014 a small newspaper in Russian Pskov reported that soldiers were being secretly buried in a local graveyard. Despite, or perhaps because of, the official silence surrounding their deaths, much indicated that the soldiers were casualties of Russia´s "undeclared war" in Ukraine. This news story – and similar stories of secret funerals taking place in other regions – became widely circulated nationally and internationally and some days later even Russian state-television acknowledged the death of Russian soldiers in Ukraine. Deeper examining these exposures, and the responses in state-controlled media, this paper discusses the politics of "war spectacles" and how it relates to questions of belonging, nationhood and gender. Inspired by theoretical notions by Jacques Ranciere and Judith Butler, I explore which subjects and bodies appear and which do not appear in media representations of war, and what happens when things that have been rendered invisible by the state suddenly become visible? In what ways are representations – and non-representations – of war constitutive of political communities? What collective memories and notions of gender and nationhood were invoked by the story of the secret funerals, and how did these relate to official narratives? The paper argues that, as the Putin regime partly derives its legitimacy from a symbolic resurrection of patriotic masculinity and the myth of soldiers defending the homeland, the Ukraine situation poses a challenge regarding how the mediated spectacle of war is to be orchestrated. As Russia according to the official narrative is not part of the war, when Russian soldiers nonetheless die in Ukraine the state cannot easily appropriate their deaths in national mythology as "heroic sacrifices". This tension helps us understand how the Pskov exposure turned the dead body of the soldier into a politically significant site of contestation.