Therefore, the world public started
the implementation of the provisions of the Resolution
“Honoring Memory of Victims of Holodomor 1932-33 in Ukraine”, adopted
at the 34th Session of the UNESCO General Conference, the Ukrainian
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) told UKRINFORM.
THE MEMORY REMAINS: CONFERENCE HELD AT KING'S
Ukraine: Stepan Bandera
Monument, Commemoration of the Holodomor
By Anthony Johnson, RussiaProfile, Moscow, Russia, December
Memory, in itself, is a thoroughly personal matter; it is a
temporal record of our individual remembrance of the past. But memory,
as cultivated and shared by a mass of individuals, is something more
potent: it can transcend the passage of time and solidly provide the
foundations of a nation's culture and identity.
Memory, as a prevailing, instructive device in Russian and
post-Soviet society, was at the center of scholarly debate at the
two-day conference "Cultural Memory in Eastern Europe: Research Methods
in East European memory studies" (December 18 & 19) held at
King's College, University of Cambridge.
The diversity of those attending - historians, literary
critics, sociologists and anthropologists from Russia, Europe and the
United States, as well as postgraduate students and journalists - very
much corresponded to the multihued and at all times complex issue of
the session - cultural memory.
As implied by its almost indescribable yet limitless components
('culture' + 'memory'), the term "cultural memory" is evidently
connected with the idea of remembering something of cultural
importance. Times of war, trauma and social upheaval, for example, are
culturally significant; they force us out of our daily routines and
compel us to use our newly-found physical, intellectual and moral
endurance – for survival (the Holocaust being a standard example of
Alexander Etkind, the conference's organizer and a scholar
at Cambridge University, sees how the chronology of events in 20th
century Eastern Europe - for example, Russia's Great Terror, Poland's
Katyn, and Ukraine's Holodomor - provide a necessary basis for
discussion and examination of commemoration and collective trauma, and
their role in collective identity, in the new field of "East European
Etkind added that such examination comes alive through the
"actual material which memory is made of – monuments, museums, books,
legends, films, artifacts, textbooks, etc." When using materials or
objects for signifying memory, as you look at the grand stages in
history, nothing is left bereft of political - and thus, perhaps,
expedient - circumstances; a means of reshaping and recreating memory
by political actors is at work here.
The recent attempts of historical revisionism and
reconciliation of Stalin and the Stalinist period - through positive
accounts in school textbooks (Alexander Filippov’s New History of
Russia: 1945-2006: Teachers’ Handbook) and television programs (the
Name of Russia), point to the psychological notion of positive
disavowal in the face of progress, as well as the image of a stable,
patriarchal leader, as highlighted by Kevin Platt of the University of
Pennsylvania and Jana Howlett of Cambridge respectively.
This recognition of Stalin is supported by a "lack of
distinction between victims and perpetrators, [resulting in a]
self-inflicted trauma in the collective imaginary," as Platt described.
Howlett has underlined the following: in contrast to the "Body Natural"
of Stalin - one of inept, oratorical and intellectual skills - the
"Body Politic" of Stalin - through the careful editorial work within
Soviet mass media - is one of erudition and physical strength.
These assessments point to the notion of cultural memory as
‘cultural propaganda’, an almost explicit attempt by state authorities
to skim over a leader’s incongruities and dedicate themselves in
amplifying a positive yet feigned interpretation – and thus, memory –
of a leader within the public domain.
'Cultural propaganda' doesn't stop with Stalin. In the former Soviet
satellite states, namely in Poland, Estonia and Ukraine, various
ethnicities and political forces have competitively jousted for
official ascendancy through the manifestation of monuments representing
one cause or another, or their symbolic iconoclasm.
Christoph Mick, a historian at Warwick University, described
how different political regimes in post-WWII Poland promoted, through
statues and monuments, different and often conflicting causes - and
therefore, different memories.
TO STEPAN BANDERA
Mick also highlighted how, for example, the monument to
Stepan Bandera, a celebrated nationalist leader of the interwar group
Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), would be an affront to
the Polish people, whose relatives died at the hands of the OUN at the
massacre of thousands of Poles in the region of Volhynia (present-day
Ukraine) during World War II.
Maria Malksoo, a researcher at the International Center for
Defense Studies in Tallinn, views the controversy surrounding the
Bronze Soldier statue, a Soviet World War II memorial in Tallinn's city
center, as a moment when "[Estonia] and Russia seek more recognition
from Europe of the Europeanness of their [respective] efforts in WWII,
while, at the same time, denying the Europeanness of the other."
Estonians see the monument as a symbol of Soviet occupation
and repression and its removal as a gesture of liberation and espousal
of European values, while ethnic Russians see it as a marker of Soviet
victory over Nazi Germany, their claim to reside in Estonia, and their
contribution to the outcome of European history.
OF THE HOLODOMOR
The discrepancy over memory has also influenced the
commemoration of the Holodomor, the 1932-1933 famine which struck
Soviet Ukraine and other regions of the Soviet Union.
Rory Finnin of Cambridge University argues that the
excessive, retrospective perception, a building up of a particular
vision of the Holodomor as genocide through diaries, memoirs and
historical texts of the event (supported by the Ukrainian diaspora in
North America) contrasts the nullifying or "making [the event]
invisible," as well as reducing the free speech and scholarly, public
discourse surrounding the event, thus putting pressure on reaching a
true understanding on Holodomor.
These interpretations of cultural memory as 'propaganda' are indeed
politically saturated, embedded in Soviet, Post-Soviet, or Russian
state-led ideology – implying that society and its citizens and
memories fall under the fulcrum of the "superstructure," as Cambridge
historian Chris Ward has attested at the conference. Nevertheless, to
what extent does all cultural memory fall under the political gaze?
Looking at the processes of how memory is created and transmitted puts
into question the idea of cultural memory as a universal and permanent
vehicle of ideology.
Harald Wydra, a social scientist at Cambridge, reflected
upon the notion of how generations, and their different time periods of
"social initiation" (the developmental stage in an individual's life
(from age 13 to 25) when he becomes aware of the general political
trend characteristic of that time period), each have their own memory
of the age; in Wydra's words, "your generation is defined when you
enter or are initiated into your political consciousness." And so, your
generation is "the inter-individual nature of memories," not
necessarily bound by tendencies from other generations.
Nevertheless, conventions, particularly ones from family
members, and with it, the impossibility of forgetting a traumatic
event, are transferred from generation to generation. In this way, a
cultural memory can be maintained outside of state surveillance, and
into the realm of the private domain.
In the case of Poland following World War Two, one
interpretation and meaning of the war sympathetic to the Polish
nationalist forces (Armia Krajowa) was carried on generationally, in
contrast to the meaning of the war received from the Communist
government; in other words, you can recreate and reshape a new memory,
but the old memory will still be remembered.
Naturally, many cultural artifacts evoke a humanistic sense of
nostalgia and pathos, rather than anything intrinsically political.
Jukka Gronow, a sociologist from Uppsala University, notes that the
prevalence of memory on a sensory level, in the form of nostalgia for
consumer products, has not diminished in many areas since the Soviet
period, with the popularity of, for example, Soviet cultural icons as
Sovetskoye Shampanskoye and singer Alla Pugacheva an established part
of Russian cultural life today.
Feelings of nostalgia and pathos emerge from Cambridge
anthropologist Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov's examination of how members of
the public reacted to the 2006 exhibition "Gifts to the Leaders", an
exhibition at the Kremlin Museum in Moscow showcasing over 500 gifts
specially crafted and given to the Soviet heads of state.
Ssorin-Chaikov, who developed the show along with museum
curators, collected the guestbook, and reading through the comments
left by the exhibit's visitors discovered that the show's artifacts
evoked a strong sense of remembrance, a return to childhood, nostalgia
and sentiment in the Soviet past, but not one consisting of a sense of
deference to leadership.
One comment read as follows: "The exhibition aroused
nostalgic memories [...]; this has nothing to do with leaders." In a
wholly poignant documentary, filmmaker Katya Krausova reinforces that
heartrending and humanistic power of empathy and compassion in the
ability to remember, as she films photographer Yuri Dojc journeying and
meeting Slovak Jews who survived the Holocaust. In seeing Dojc's
photographs of these survivors, the viewers are compelled to recall and
remember that these people achieved survival through the utmost trauma.
Sometimes, difficult truths can only be uttered through fiction, while
the most ineffable ones require the most fictive fiction. Dina
Khapaeva, a historian and sociologist from St. Petersburg, described
how in contemporary post-Soviet fiction, authors, such as writer Sergei
Lukyanenko of the cult fantasy novel and movie Night Watch, wish to
encapsulate "the transformation of attitudes, values, customs and
social relations" in the post-Soviet space using the most fantastical
genre - horror and science-fiction.
With all these discussions, whether it is interpreted as a tool of
state authority, or a genuine, heart-felt, personal sentiment, the
notion of cultural memory is governed by an apprehension that the
heritage of the past can disappear or be forgotten. But its fading can
be diminished through appropriate discourse and reconciliation.
Mr. E. Morgan Williams, Director
Government Affairs, Washington Office
SigmaBleyzer Private Equity Investment Group
President/CEO, U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC)
Publisher & Editor, Action Ukraine Report (AUR)