Ethnicity, Memory, and Violence: Rebections on Special Problems in Soviet and East European Archives
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Ethnicity and Memory One of the greatest obstacles to understanding the history of Eastern Europe during and after the Second World War has been that the memories of the events themselves have been constructed ethnically—which is to say, each ethnic group has recorded its own version of the tragic devastation of that era. The postwar phenomena of diasporas and refugee cultures have further splintered memories and perspectives and subsequently channeled them through the prisms of the Cold War, East and West. Polish historian Piotr Wróbel has used the phrase double memory to identify the phenomenon of distinct and often contradictory accounts of divergent ethnic groups who share the same history. How, for instance, is one to reconcile the memories of Poles and Jews when remembering wartime Poland? Wringing his hands at the seemingly irreconcilable divergencies between nationalistic accounts of shared events, Wróbel wrote with despair: “Are we destined to remain forever entombed within these two diametrically opposed visions of the Second World War? Each [ethnic memory] is so different from the other that at times it is difacult to believe that they portray the same events.”1 The task of reconciliation of these disparate memories is not only daunting, but in fact guarantees that the historian ’s motives will be impugned no matter how diligent the research, or how conscientious his or her efforts to be fair. Nowhere is the gulf that separates ethnic memories wider than in the study of interethnic violence. For violence does not befall someone, it involves maleacent agency: by deanition violence implies both perpetrators and victims. While social history and historical demography offer us reliable tools to count the victims—and every ethnic group in wartime Europe has its own substantial victimologies—considerable obstacles stand in the way of identifying and comprehending the perpetrators on their own terms. Omer Bartov, among others, has identiaed the close afanity in the twentieth century between national identity and “a gloriacation of victimhood.” In his provocative social history of the origins of genocide in Germany, Bartov identiaed the complex dynamic that transformed German frustrations at the front into the search for ethnically deaned “real” enemies who had “stabbed them in the back” at home: “An enemy, that is, whose very persecution would serve to manifest the power and legitimacy of the victimizer, while simultaneously allowing the persecutor to claim the status of the ‘true’ (past, present, and potentially future) victim.”2 Dr. Paul Parin, a physician who worked alongside 466 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ Ethnicity, Memory, and Violence Rebections on Special Problems in Soviet and East European Archives Jeffrey Burds ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ “. . . memory is the most imperfect and selective vector of evidence.” —E. P. Thompson, Beyond the Frontier Tito during the partisan war in Yugoslavia during World War II, coined the term ethnopsychoanalysis to identify a special relationship between ethnic nationalism, nationalist violence, and the complex sets of experiences that go into producing a nationalist perpetrator of atrocities against an ethnically deaned enemy.3 Parin’s perceptive observations bridge the divide between perpetrators and victims by identifying a distinct process in the construction of the enemy other. Working mainly on the basis of his observations in modern Yugoslavia, Parin has emphasized the fundamental importance of the “production of an unconsciousness ” that helps to generate a “new reality”: the nationalist reality where our side is the good, just one, and their side is unjust, bad, dangerous. This projection of a distinct “image of the enemy” provides the foundation for a propaganda campaign that heats the bames of ethnic passions. The same events and images provoke diametrically opposite responses in both camps: “The continual presentation of the massacre victims incited fear, hatred, hysteria, and blood lust on both sides of the ethnic border.”4 The result is the social construction of fear,5 or what Robert Kaplan has referred to as a “region of pure memory ” where “each individual sensation and memory affects the grand movement of clashing peoples”:6 the generation of ethnically distinct, nonoverlapping accounts of shared events where “[b]oth sides have selective perceptions of the past and know almost nothing about each other. One man’s history is another man’s lie.”7 The very lack of consanguinity that precedes empathy creates a special category for ethnically deaned enemy others. A Croat fascist, Ljubo Miloš—a confessed murderer of Serbs in wartime Yugoslavia—put it best: “For my past, present, and future deeds I shall burn in hell; but at least I shall burn for Croatia.”8 Or, as a...