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Ab Imperio, 4/2001 361 Chris J. CHULOS Marina VITUHNOVSKAJA SELECTIVE MEMORY AND GROUP IDENTITY IN RUSSIA AND EASTERN EUROPE (SEMINAR AT THE RENVALL INSTITUTE FOR AREA AND CULTURAL STUDIES AT THE UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI, AUGUST 31, 2001) In the past decade, interest in historical, social, and cultural memory has blossomed into a distinct subfield cutting across the disciplines. On the last day of August 2001, a seminar held at the Renvall Institute for Area and Cultural Studies at the University of Helsinki considered how groups remember their past, and what collective remembering reveals about group identity. Entitled , “Selective Memory and Group Identity in Russia and Eastern Europe,” the seminar did not aim at defining “memory” per se, except to acknowledge its partner, amnesia, or act of selectively forgetting certain aspects of the past in order to construct a more relevant myth for the present and future. As is C. J. Chulos and M. Vituhnovskaja, Selective Memory and Group Identity … 362 the nature of seminars, assumptions and conclusions occasionally differed, but in the end, four main common points emerged.1 The eleven papers presented were divided thematically, the first being “Selective Memory and Myth-Making.” In their examination of metaphors used by prominent figures of the European Union, Bo Petersson and Anders Hellstrüm of Lund University (Sweden) challenged seminar participants to consider identity formation in the European Union as relevant to Russia and Eastern Europe. In their attempts to create a common sense of Europeanness, European Union leaders share certain proclivities typical of nation-states and empires: they divide the world into two camps (we/they, friend/foe), they idealize the past in the service of present goals, they invoke familial terms to explain regional differences, and they stake future unity on territorial enlargement (to include, eventually, Eastern Europe and Russia). In the title of their paper, “Tilling Temporality: Myth-Making and Utopia in the Construction of EU Identity,” Petersson and Hellstrüm allude to the artificiality of forging new identities, a central role of history in creating group cohesion, and the ultimate failure of politicians to understand history as anything deeper than a means to immediate political goals. The heretofore failure of a common European identity, which remains too ambiguous to inspire passionate patriotism, is a key result of this ignorant use of history as a collection of symbols and myths ready to be modified for application. Ultimately, the success of European identity will be assured by the creation of stories that will convince diverse groups of people that they are similar in more ways than they are different. The idea of Europe and Europeanness, despite its ambiguity, has long served as a point of reference for elites in East Europe and Russia as they developed a sense of identity. This point was underscored in the paper of Eliisa Vähä (Tampere University, Finland). Entitled “Producing Patriots: Heroic Stories and Heroes as Makers of Soviet and Russian Identity in History Textbooks, 1950-1995,” Vähä tracked shifts in the way the October Revolution and its heroes were presented from the end of the Stalin regime until the middle of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. Along with Soviet leaders’ self-praise for liquidating illiteracy came an almost painful awareness of Russia’s different path, a fact that took on messianic importance as the idealizations of 1 The seminar was part of an Academy of Finland research project, entitled “Imperial Self and Other in Modern Russia,” which is led by Elena Hellberg-Hirn, and whose researchers have included Chris J. Chulos, Johannes Remy, Eliisa Vähä, and Marina Vituhnovskaja . Funding for the seminar was provided by the Academy of Finland and the Renvall Institute for Area and Cultural Studies at the University of Helsinki. Ab Imperio, 4/2001 363 the first Socialist Revolution served to justify a failing system and expansive imperial designs. As they edited and reshaped key events and personages to suit current ideological needs, history textbook writers honed their skills in the art of selective memory. The second thematic section, “In the Shadow of Empire,” portrayed Russian imperialism as a variation of other imperialisms in both its overarching goals and its manipulation of myths to subjugate ethnic minorities...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2164-9731
Print ISSN
2166-4072
Pages
pp. 361-365
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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