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Elena Rozhdestvenskaya, Victoria Semenova, Irina Tartakovskaya and Krzysztof Kosela, Collective Memories in War

Abingdon, Routledge, 2016, 196 pages
Nataliya Danilova
Bibliographical reference

Elena Rozhdestvenskaya, Victoria Semenova, Irina Tartakovskaya and Krzysztof Kosela, Eds., Collective Memories in War, Abingdon, Routledge, 2016, 196 pages

Index terms

Research Fields :

Sociology
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Pipss.org is grateful to Victoria Clement who edited this book review

  • 1 U. Blacker and A. Etkind, ‘Introduction’, in U. Blacker, A. Etkind, J. Fedor Eds., Memory and Theor (...)

1Elena Rozhdestvenskaya and her co-editors conclude an introduction to their edited volume with an instructive observation on the primary function of social memory. They describe this function with the premise "that the shared memory of certain events in the past is a necessary condition for the support of a general feeling of unity at the national level, without which consensus regarding the past is in danger: without which there is no 'us'" (p. 6). True to this premise, Collective Memories in War volume brings new insights to the study of the shared – Eastern European and Russian - memories of wars, and memories of socio-political transformations experienced by these societies during the late twentieth and twenty first centuries. A focus on collective memories of Eastern Europe and Russia places this volume within a growing field of research of the regional politics of memory. In this regard, it pursues a task set by Uilleam Blacker and Alexander Etkind in Memory and Theory in Eastern Europe, by investigating the intriguing facets of memory in Eastern Europe, "a fascinating laboratory in which to study cultural memory in action"1. In agreement with Blacker and Etkind, the authors of the Collective Memories in War volume also problematise the transformative and constantly evolving nature of memory in Eastern Europe and Russia.

  • 2 A. Assmann, ‘Europe’s Divided Memory’, in U. Blacker, A. Etkind, J. Fedor Eds., Memory and Theory i (...)
  • 3 J. Fedor, A. Umland, F. Ackermann, U. Blacker, M. Galbas, Eds., Back from Afghanistan: The Experien (...)

2A key contribution of Collective Memories in War lies in the analysis of empirical findings resulting from a series of research projects, including a joint Russian-Polish project, "Historical memory as a mechanism of identification and socialization: comparing Russia and Poland" (2009-2011), three public opinion surveys on the societal attitudes relating to the politics of history in Poland (2007-2010) and a series of research projects on the consequences of the Soviet Afghan War. The whole dataset encompasses public opinion surveys, history textbooks, museums, physical and virtual memorials and biographical interviews. Aimed at exploring collective memories at various levels, this volume offers the thought-provoking interpretations of state-sanctioned visions of history, analysis of commemorative practices exercised by local communities and reflections on ideational narratives. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this cross-country study is centred on war-related historical events. The experiences of Eastern European societies Victoria Clement2017-10-09T19:54:00VC discuss the legacy of the Second World War. This focus reiterates Assmann’s observation that, "even today … we have ample evidence that the traumatic events related to that war have not vanished into the past and sunk into oblivion but continue to engage and enrage European citizens in various ways"2. Confirming this point, the contributors continue to dissect the controversies surrounding the representations of the Katyn Massacre of 1940 and the Warsaw uprising of 1944. However, a substantial part of this volume introduces a new focal point for the studies of collective memory in post-Soviet societies. In eight chapters out of fourteen chapters, contributors explore the various aspects of the commemoration of the Soviet Afghan War (1979-1989). Editors explain their choice of this conflict due to its historical importance for the Russian society, its ongoing political re-evaluation, and also by the fact that it gives researchers an opportunity to study the living – "communicative" - memory shared by participants and witnesses of this conflict (p. 4). Although the analysis of both conflicts – the Second World War and the Soviet Afghan War - allows contributors to focus on the specific aspects of the memory politics in each case, one might find the resulted composition of this volume slightly unbalanced. Perhaps a more detailed conclusion could have brought together reflections on the memories of both conflicts, and explained their importance for the Eastern European and Russian societies. Having said this, the second half of this volume is certainly of particular interest to those who study the political and societal impact of the Soviet Afghan War on the Russian society. The comparative analysis of history textbooks, exhibitions at veterans’ museums, and constructions of the militarised masculinity of Soviet Afghan War veterans and their bodily experiences would be a welcome contribution to the expanding field of studies of the legacies of the Soviet Afghan War3.

  • 4 A. Assmann, “Transnational Memories.” European Review 22 (4), 2014, pp. 546-556.
  • 5 G. Mink, L. Neumayer, Eds., History, Memory and Politics in Central and Eastern Europe, Palgrave Ma (...)
  • 6 T.G. Ashplant, G. Dawson, M. Roper, “The Politics of War Memory and Commemoration: Contexts, Struct (...)
  • 7 S. Oushakine, The Patriotism of Despair: Nation, War and Loss in Russia, Cornell University Press, (...)
  • 8 G. Mink, L. Neumayer, “Introduction”, G. Mink, L. Neumayer, Eds., History, Memory and Politics in C (...)

3Without a doubt, the Collective Memories in War volume expands our knowledge of empirical manifestations of war-related memories in Eastern European societies, yet its contributions also reflect an urgent need for dialogue between scholars of memory studies. For example, how can we relate discussions of rhetoric changes in history textbooks in Ukraine, Poland or Russia to the popular concept of "transnational memory?"4 Can we draw any parallels between the evolving politics of memory in Russia, and shifting "memory games" and "memory regimes" in post-communist Europe?5 How can we further distinguish between the concepts of social memory and war memory?6 The difference between these concepts is mentioned in the introduction without much detail (p. 3). Finally, can we explain the representations of the Soviet Afghan War in local museums and narrative constructions in the biographical interviews of the Soviet Afghan War veterans, with the influential concept of "patriotism of despair" developed by Sergei Oushakine in relation to the commemoration of the Chechen conflicts in Russia?7 These questions drive the contemporary scholarly debate in the studies of the political manifestations of memory, but they also indicate that "memory issues are abundant in contemporary European societies and take many shapes"8. The Collective Memories in War volume offers us another chance to engage with the ever-changing and frequently puzzling phenomenon.

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Notes

1 U. Blacker and A. Etkind, ‘Introduction’, in U. Blacker, A. Etkind, J. Fedor Eds., Memory and Theory in Eastern Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pp. 1-21, p. 10.

2 A. Assmann, ‘Europe’s Divided Memory’, in U. Blacker, A. Etkind, J. Fedor Eds., Memory and Theory in Eastern Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pp. 25-41, p. 26.

3 J. Fedor, A. Umland, F. Ackermann, U. Blacker, M. Galbas, Eds., Back from Afghanistan: The Experience of Soviet Afghan War Veterans; Martyrdom and Memory in Eastern Europe, Double Special Issue, Journal of Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, Vol. 1-2, 2015, Ibid.

4 A. Assmann, “Transnational Memories.” European Review 22 (4), 2014, pp. 546-556.

5 G. Mink, L. Neumayer, Eds., History, Memory and Politics in Central and Eastern Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

6 T.G. Ashplant, G. Dawson, M. Roper, “The Politics of War Memory and Commemoration: Contexts, Structures and Dynamics.” In T.G. Ashplant, G. Dawson, M. Roper, Eds., The Politics of War Memory and Commemoration, Routledge, 2000, pp. 3-85.

7 S. Oushakine, The Patriotism of Despair: Nation, War and Loss in Russia, Cornell University Press, 2009.

8 G. Mink, L. Neumayer, “Introduction”, G. Mink, L. Neumayer, Eds., History, Memory and Politics in Central and Eastern Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pp.1-20, p.1.

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References

Electronic reference

Nataliya Danilova, « Elena Rozhdestvenskaya, Victoria Semenova, Irina Tartakovskaya and Krzysztof Kosela, Collective Memories in War », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 18 | 2017, Online since 15 October 2017, connection on 26 May 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/pipss/4279

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About the author

Nataliya Danilova

University of Aberdeen

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Copyright

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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