No. 29 - 07/2020:
The Instrumentalisation of the Past and Political Mobilisation

edited by Cécile Druey and Eliane Fitzé


Editorial by Cécile Druey and Eliane Fitzé
The Cultural Resources of Contemporary Anti-Fascist Resistance by Aleksandra Sekulić 

The rise of nationalism in the 1980s that led to the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s resulted in more intense processes of historical revisionism throughout the post-Yugoslav region, in the legal rehabilitation of convicted collaborators of fascism in WWII, as well as in changes in educational programmes, the media discourse and memorial politics. Further, the final phase of erasing the traces of the anti-fascist struggle and socialist Yugoslavia was followed by a relativ- isation of scientific knowledge, a delegitimisation of academia and a process of restitution of nationalised property. These changes did not occur without public reaction. Mobilising civil society as the community of memory in times of the instrumentalisation of history and memory was one of the fundamental programme orientations of the Centre for Cultural Decontamination since its establishment in 1995. In the past decade, the social processes in Serbia and throughout the post-Yugoslav region indicated the need to expand the field of struggle by integrating the issues of overall social politics, privatisation, educa- tion and memory politics, and showing their interconnection. In the examples of several activities and projects, we can see how the field of independent cul- ture still succeeded in connecting social groups and initiatives into the same struggle, and give it not only support but also important resources.

Instrumentalisation of War History in Contemporary Memory Politics in Ukraine. A Gender Perspective by Olesya Khromeychuk

The paper discusses how history is used to explain the current war in eastern Ukraine, and the implications this has for gender relations and equality in contemporary Ukrainian society. In Ukraine, historical narratives are presented in a way that emphasises that the current war is just another episode in Ukraine’s lengthy struggle for independence and statehood. The paper employs gender analysis in order to assess the construction of war heroism and assesses the impact of the growing militarisation of society in Ukraine on gender equality. By analysing uncontextualised inclusion of women’s stories in war histories the paper states that such inclusion can be instrumentalised for the purposes of militarisation, which reinforces traditional gender roles. The paper stresses the need for the inclusion of difficult stories from the past that do not fit the established narratives in order to improve our understanding of the nature of war more generally and the ongoing war in the Donbas specifically.

In Search of Ethnic Roots: Instrumentalisation of the History and Politics of Exclusion in Georgia’s Breakaway Region of Abkhazia 2003-2018 by Malkhaz Toria

The Georgian-Abkhazian armed conflict (1992-1993) forced most of the Georgian population to leave their homes in the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Those who remained or returned unofficially (about 45-65 000 returnees), namely to the Gali district, have been posing an existential challenge for the Abkhazian national project that claims ethnic ownership of Abkhazia. Abkhaz historians claim that Abkhazia never was a part of Georgia and portray the Georgian-Abkhazian relationship as a history of permanent clashes. The issue whether residents in predominantly Georgian-populated Gali should be fully incorporated into the “state” or be treated as a potential fifth column always ready to combat the “independence” of Abkhazia has been a Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the de-facto authorities for almost three decades. Gali Georgians’ political, civil and property rights, as well as the freedom of movement across the dividing line, depends on their citizenship status in this unrecognised state. The Law on Foreign Citizens categorises Gali residents as foreign citizens with a residency permit. While “legally” allowing long-term stay, the law strips the Gali population of the right to vote, to work in local ad- ministration, and to purchase property. Moreover, Abkhaz “identity engineers” and the de-facto government launched a campaign of granting citizenship to those Gali residents who agree to return to their Abkhazian ethnic roots. This new turn in the eastern policy is not only an indicator of the conflict legacy and an expression of security concerns for having nationals of ‘enemy state’ within the real or imagined boundaries but also an attempt to realize historical imag- inations about an Abkhazian ethnic space.

Towards Forgetting: Russia’s Account of the Stalinist Repression Before and After the Ukraine Crisis by Ekaterina V. Klimenko

Russia’s and Ukraine’s common and contested past(s) became fundamental in the development of the Ukraine crisis. Not only did the complicated history of Russia-Ukraine relations become a fertile ground for the crisis to break out. Russia’s and Ukraine’s shared and disputed past(s) appeared crucial during the crisis itself: it played a key role in the attempts of Russian political elites to legitimise and to consolidate the society’s support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military intervention in Eastern Ukraine. The fact that World War II became particularly important in this respect is widely acknowledged. However, what about the other pages of Russia’s and Ukraine’s (Soviet) past(s)? Were they also reconceptualised during the Ukraine crisis and employed in order to legitimise Russia’s involvement? Trying to answer these questions, this article focuses on Stalinist repression, and on the specific (“official”) memory of it, as was forged in Russia before the armed conflict in Ukraine broke out and as it developed during the evolution of the conflict. Questioning the concept of re-Stalinisation which is often used to analyse the memory of the repression in contemporary Russia, this article argues that in the wake of the Ukraine crisis – much like in the run-up to it – Russia is moving towards forgetting the repression. The pursuit of (national) unity – at the expense of memory of the repression – remains characteristic for Russia’s “official” account of Stalinism.

Instrumentalisation of History or Inclusive Narrative? Regional Policies and Ethnic Memories in Ukraine by Iryna Brunova-Kalisetska

The paper examines the concept of instrumentalisation of history in today’s Ukraine from the perspective of experts in history from Kiev, Southern and Eastern Ukraine. Based on interviews with historians, this instrumentalisation is described as a resource that is used by different actors and entities and cannot exclusively be attributed to the ultra-nationalist camp.Instrumentalisation is interpreted as a rather natural process. The following actors applying instrumentalisation were mentioned: individuals, families, NGOs/civil society, teachers, media, cinema/literature/art producers, academic historians, social movements, all political forces/parties, the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, presidents, any group that has its own identity. The goals of instrumentalisation can vary from identity processes to trauma healing and prevention of violence and war. Inclusiveness of the regional and ethnic memories in the experience of history teachers is analysed as an example of non-nationalistic construction of a national narrative. Three indicators for the inclusiveness of a narrative in formal history education are proposed: the search for a common narrative and for including the memory of the ethnic “other” into “our” memory,” the recognition of regional history in the national narrative, the practical realisation of inclusiveness in the form of interregional exchange of memory. It was revealed that there is space for an inclusive narrative of ethnic memories, but the usage of it depends on several factors: the teacher’s character, the access to historical sources, the possibility of cooperation with other institutions, such as NGOs, academia, museums, ethnic communities, etc.

History as a Means of Conflict and Conflict Resolution in the North Caucasus/Chechnya by Cécile Druey

Starting from the example of the post-Soviet space, this article is interested in how conflicts are caused by – or result in – tensions between groups promot- ing different types and versions of historical memory. In the neo-authoritarian, (post-) conflict setting of Chechnya, Jan Assman’s concept of cultural and communicative memory offers an interesting entry point to analyse the different types and levels of conflict, between the Chechens and Moscow, and within society in Chechnya proper. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the nationalisation of historiography in the 1990s, the new elites of Chechnya formulated local alternatives to the dominant Russian (and Soviet) narrative of the past. During the second war in Chechnya in the early 2000s, and with the strengthening of authoritarianism under the Kadyrov regime, the formerly open conflict with Moscow was again pushed underground. Ramzan Kadyrov’s instrumentalisation of history as a means to legitimise his cult of the Kadyrov family and the political choice for Moscow, that is, for Vladimir Putin, plays an important role in fuelling these grievances. Civil society, and expecially young people are an important actor in this conflict between official (or cultural) and popular (or communicative) forms of historical memory – a new conflict that is smouldering within the Chechen society, only waiting to eventually break out.

Memory and Military Conflict: Politics of History and its Societal Perception in Post-Euromaidan Ukraine by Anna Chebotarova

In this article, I focus on major trends in memory politics and the regional dynamics of collective memory in post-Euromaidan Ukraine. I argue that despite the ongoing military conflict and the radicalisation of memory politics, in its memory pluralism, the Ukrainian society preserves a potential and need for a more democratic and inclusive approach towards history and an active social dialogue around the complex issues of the past.


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The Instrumentalisation of the Past and Political Mobilisation edited by Cécile Druey and Eliane Fitzé