29 October 2019

The plurality of Memories: Remarks on 4EU+ fellowship in Prague

September 2019, by Tomasz Rawski

During my one-week September fellowship in Prague (Charles University, Fakulta sociálních věd), we have touched on two significant research directions which seem to require further development in the field of memory studies. The first one was the necessity to go beyond the dominant cultural(ist) approach in memory research by putting a more serious focus on socio-economic underpinnings of collective memory. The second one was the need to go beyond the primary focus on local cultural contexts and develop a more regional approach by a return to the category of Eastern Europe.

The first issue showed up at several presentations during the ENRS-organized conference How We Remember. The Memory of Communism – Its Forms, Manifestations, Meanings, particularly at the one prepared by Valeriya Korablyova on contemporary Ukrainian memory politics regarding the communist past. By focusing mainly on the last years of the political process in Ukraine, i.e. on the 2014 Euromaidan and its aftermath, Korablyova attempted to rearticulate the central division structuring the contemporary Ukrainian memory of communism.

More precisely, on the example of the last, two-staged Leninfall - the wave of demolitions of Vladimir Lenin monuments - Korablyova showed the link between positive/negative social attitude to Lenin monuments in particular cities and social dissatisfaction with the social policy conducted by the Ukrainian state. She thus showed that deep symbolic divisions, such as the attitude towards the communist past in Ukraine, may not only arise from the symbolic sphere itself (e.g. conflicts over the direction of nation-building) but may also reflect deeply rooted social cleavages originating in the non-symbolic dimensions of social activity. This issue was raised also in discussions accompanying other presentations, e.g. the one by Mile Bjelajac on the contested memories in contemporary Serbia, where we raised the question of the potential symbolic alternative(s) produced by mass social protests against the ‘authoritarian-like’ state of Aleksandar Vučić that were also sparked by social and political cleavages.

The second issue showed up during a very inspiring conversation with Kateřina Králová when we both agreed that developing a regional approach should be a possibly large project, not limited to studies focused only on small groups of neighboring countries like the Western Balkans or the V-4. Since the community of modern historical, social and political experience is much broader and includes the countries e.g. from Ukraine and Poland to Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina, developing comparative memory research through the lens of the “Eastern Europe” category could provide us with many thought-provoking results.

I would like to thank all the excellent people from Fakulta sociálních věd, Charles University, for inviting me to Prague and the perfect organization of the fellowship. It was a great and fruitful stay. I hope to see you guys soon again!

Tomasz Rawski

University of Warsaw

4EU+ post-doc fellow in Prague