Communist memory “hotting up” again

Felix Dzherhinsky

In 2002, Charles Maier published an article widely referred to in subsequent debates about historical memory in Europe.[2] He draws a distinction between the “hot” memory of fascist crimes, which still has not faded, and the relatively short-lived, “cold” communist memory, which unavoidably becomes dispassionate with the passing of time. Indeed, while the Holocaust remains the symbol of absolute evil in human history, the horrors of the GULAG and of Stalinist terror, despite being publicly condemned Europe-wide after the collapse of the Soviet empire, have not received comparable institutional recognition (e.g. museums, educational programmes, victim compensation). Convincing as Maier’s argument is, evidence has emerged in recent years that necessitates a revision of his thesis, at least the second part of it. After fifteen years of successful transition, culminating in the accession to the EU, it seemed that the accounts of the eastern European countries with the past had finally been closed. Yet what we observe today is that communist memory is “hotting up” again in eastern Europe. Bear in mind the “decommunization” campaign of the Kaczynskis in Poland, where the Institute of National Memory has been turned into an instrument of domestic politics; recall the controversies and political fights about communist memory in Hungary (where in September 2006 rightwing demonstrators staged a “re-run” of the anti-Soviet 1956 revolution); or look at the current conflict around the statue of the Soviet soldier in Tallinn, which caught the attention of both the European and the Russian public and has since even become an issue in EU-Russian relations.

more from Tatiana Zhurzhenko at Eurozine here.