Opening Lecture by Tatiana Zhurzhenko

Memory Wars Before and After the “Ukraine Crisis”
Tatiana Zhurzhenko (Vienna)

The notion of “memory wars” in Eastern Europe has come to characterize conflicts on the 20th century’s difficult past inside and between the post-communist states. In most of them the recovery of traumatic memories met the agenda of the ruling elites seeking to demonstrate state sovereignty and re-constitute national majorities, but also to negotiate the new national identities with the European idea. The decade of “memory wars” should be understood in the context of a growing competition between two transnational projects – the EU integration and Russia-led “Eurasian” project. In 2004-2014 the narrative of the “Great Patriotic War” and the “common victory” in WWII figured as one of the core elements of Russia’s soft power in the post-Soviet space. However, explaining the Ukraine crisis as an exacerbation of “memory wars” would be an essentialization and a teleological construct. Rather, in the wake of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict antagonistic narratives were weaponized by Moscow to fuel unrest, undermine public institutions and de-legitimize the Ukrainian state. The hybrid war against Ukraine has in fact ruined Russia’s soft power in the region. Its deepening conflict with the West and its alienation from Europe may signify a new situation in which the “Great Victory” narrative symbolizes Russia’s “geopolitical solitude” (Surkov) rather than its status of a European great power. At the same time, in Eastern Europe rising nationalism and populism is inward-looking and EU-sceptic, signalling the advent of a new era of “mnemonic solipsism” which seems to succeed the decade of „memory wars”.

Tatiana Zhurzhenko was Research Director of the Ukraine in Global Dialogue and Russia in Global Dialogue programs at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna (2014-2018). She graduated in political economy (1989) and philosophy (1993) at V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University (Ukraine). Since 2005 Tatiana Zhurzhenko has been teaching at the University of Vienna. She has published widely on borders and borderland identities, memory and gender politics and feminism. Lately, she co-edited the volume War and Memory in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (Palgrave 2017).

Moderation: Professor Dr. Andrii Portnov (Frankfurt/Oder)

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