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Russia's Historical Memory: Strict-Security or Hybrid?

From: Ab Imperio
2/2013
pp. 336-345 | 10.1353/imp.2013.0042

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Nikolay Koposov's A Strict-Security Memory: History and Poli tics in Russia is an interdisciplinary study of post-Soviet collective memory explored from a variety of methodological perspectives: opinion polls, historiography, legal studies, political science, and memory studies per se. Viewed as one of the long-term effects of the cultural politics of Soviet totalitarianism, the historical consciousness of contemporary Russians is presented in its evolutionary transformation as well as compared to other cases of posttotalitarian collective memory, such as those of post-Nazi Germany and post-Soviet Eastern Europe. As the book's title pointedly suggests, Russian collective memory has always been an indispensable part of the state propaganda, as if it were vigilantly guarded in a strict-security prison. Besides being an invaluable contribution to the newly emergent field of memory studies, Koposov also makes a strong political argument for the liberation of Russian cultural memory out of the shackles of political manipulation and thus publicly positions himself as a purveyor of democratic values. And yet, despite Koposov's argument that the historical memory in contemporary Russia develops under the government's "strict security" control, in this review I hope to show that the contradictory data he presents point to a rather different logic of the collective memory dynamic, which is less monolithic and more hybrid.

The book consists of six chapters, each dealing with a certain stage of the evolution of national collective memory and historiography. Chapter 1 generally introduces historical memory research as an international phenomenon that recently gained academic significance as the ex-ploration of collective memory in posttotalitarian societies. Chapter 2 traces the development of Soviet memory politics and historical consciousness from the 1920s to the 1980s. Chapter 3 delves into the dynamic of collective memory during perestroika. Chapter 4 examines yet another turn in Russian memory politics under Putin's regime. Chapter 5 explores the professional aspects of historical science and education in Russian academia as well as their fundamental role in establishing a democratic civil society. Chapter 6 provides a detailed analysis of the "Presidential Commission to Counteract Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia's Interests" created in 2009. Given the circular pattern of the book's composition (it opens and ends with the discussion of the current debates over how the Soviet past should be remembered), Koposov's study effectively demonstrates the urgent political relevance of historical memory research to the so-called memory wars as well as the state's legal attempts to authorize a more agreeable version of history.

Even though the author states that the primary focus of his investigation is the historical consciousness of contemporary Russians from the 1980s to the present (P. 12), one-third of the book is dedicated to a preliminary overview of cultural memory practices worldwide as well as the specific nature of national memory politics in Soviet times. According to Koposov, the rise of both memory studies and general interest in the past coincides with the collapse of the "grand narratives" of the future (as well as the cognitive shift from "common" names of universalism to "proper" names of ethnic particularism), which resulted in the proliferation of fragmented subaltern memories where history is largely criminalized and victimized. In this regard, the Holocaust memory as the memory of the century and "civil religion" (P. 56) has become the dominant paradigm of cultural memory in liberal democracies. In his brief excursions into posttotalitarian memory debates in Germany, France, Belgium, and postcommunist Eastern Europe, Koposov points out that cultural memory could still be the object of political manipulation, as was the case with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's legal endeavors to criminalize the denial of the Holodomor of 1932-33 as the Soviet genocide against the Ukrainian nation.

Unlike cultural memory in liberal democracies characterized as the memory of victims rather than of perpetrators, Soviet political memory served primarily for the legitimation of the totalitarian regime via systematic institutional control and mythologization of one particular vision of history, which was nevertheless repeatedly modified according to shifting ideological emphases introduced by a new Soviet leader. In Chapter 2, Koposov shows how in the 1920s history was viewed primarily as the history of...



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