Memory Politics of the North 1993–2023

An interplay perspective (NORMEMO)

NORMEMO guest lectures


Dr. Jade McGlynn: Memory diplomacy: Russian history as soft power?

In this lecture, Dr. Jade McGlynn talks on contemporary Russian memory diplomacy and discusses its role as a form of soft power in Russian foreign policy. The lecture provides a brief theorisation of memory diplomacy as an analytical concept, placing it within the context of Russian memory politics over the last decade. This is followed by a discussion of the various types of memory diplomacy that can be discerned in Russian policy towards other states, as well as a discussion of recipient regime types and how this impacts the application of memory diplomacy. 


Anton Weiss-Wendt (Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minorty Studies): Putin's Regime Hijacking the Holocaust: History Politics as an Element of Soft Power
Since recently, Russia has emerged as a major player in the field of Holocaust remembrance. Putin's regime has been construing an alternative, popular Holocaust narrative, complete with own commemoration dates, NGOs, motion pictures, and exhibitions. The regime has also incorporated the Holocaust into foreign policy, making it essentially an instrument of soft power. The Holocaust is now a part of the Russian history politics, coordinated at the highest government level. In this lecture, Anton Weiss-Wendt discusses the present Russian discourse on the Holocaust and traces its roots back in time, discussing also postwar Soviet official discourse on genocide. 


Håvard Bækken (Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies): Merging wars: The wartime exploitation of the Great Patriotic War in Russian military patriotic clubs 

This presentation will examine the exploitation of war memories within military patriotic youth clubs in the Russian High North. The activities and shared material posted on local social media accounts suggest a widespread practice of symbolically merging the warfare in Ukraine with the Great Patriotic War (GPW). The “war merging tools” include brief statements, symbol use, visual imagery and contextualization. Rarely referring to historical events except at a great level of abstraction, war merging instead appeal to internalized narratives and emotional attachment to the GPW. The practice dominates the military patriotic clubs coverage of the ongoing war, and most declarations of support of Russian troops is filtered through its quasi-historical lens. In lack of actual information, many Russian children may thus experience the ongoing war primarily though state-approved symbols of historical origin. 

George Soroka (Harvard University): Russia and the Rest. Imperial versus National Memory in the Post-Communist Space

Memory has increasingly been legislated and securitized in recent years throughout the post-communist world. At the same time, its trans-border aspect has been emphasized more and more, as evinced in the civilizational rhetoric regarding history surrounding Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Grounded both theoretically and empirically, this talk explores the main dimensions of how Russian "imperial" memory has manifest in the post-communist region and how it has been countered by the proliferation of "national" memories among Moscow's former subalterns. 

Matthew Blackburn (University of Warsaw): Imagined communities of centre and periphery: Regional memory, nation-building and sub-national variation in the Russian Federation

It is commonly accepted that nation-building and national identity narratives have been of foundational importance to the political stability and legitimacy of post-Soviet states. A key problem in the study of memory politics in a country the size of Russia is the level of subnational variation. Kremlin-centred analyses of a state-curated “useable past” rarely consider how memory politics are operationalised in Russia’s diverse regions. In his talk, Matthew Blackburn will approach the challenge of including the regions in memory studies, reporting on fieldwork in contemporary Russia exploring the basic divergences in interview data on identity and WWII memory between European Russian cities (Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, St. Petersburg) and a Siberian city (Novosibirsk). The lecture also includes methodological reflections on how to study subnational variation across Russia with regards memory polices, divergent nation-building trends and various types of centre-periphery relationships.

Zuzanna Bogumił (Polish Academy of Sciences): The Solovetsky Palimpsest - On obscuring and retrieving traces of memory

Apart from huge territories not exposed to direct human activity, there are many places in Russia, which have undergone intensive transformations becoming landscape palimpsests with traces of different historical periods. Sometimes these sites may become chronotopes of memory or symbolic domain controlled by certain groups. In result, neutral palimpsest became a space of emotional conflicts, cooperations, negotiations or separations between different pasts. The Solovetsky Islands with their clearly outlined space by the sea, history dating back to the Middle Ages, and huge cultural, political and social transformations provoked by the acceleration of history in the 20th century, which provoked a few total exchanges of the island inhabitants, serve as a great example of the palimpsest memory landscape. During her lecture, Zuzanna Bogumil will discuss how in the post-Soviet times different groups through different space transformations and commemorative processes try to bring out or hide aspects of the Solovetsky past. The lecture will focus on vernacular commemorative activities, however, as different groups perceive Solovki as integral part of wider national, religious or global memory regimes, the lecture will also discuss how Solovki imagined in different narratives affect the real local transformations of the landscape.

Julie Fedor (University of Melbourne): Mythmaking around the Figure of the Russian Volunteer Combatant in the Donbas (2014–present)

In Spring-Summer 2014, thousands of Russian citizens flowed across the border into Ukraine to take up arms in the war unfolding in the Donbas region. Their motivations, profiles and backgrounds were heterogeneous; but in the sympathetic media commentary, they were grouped together under the label “volunteers” (dobrovol’tsy), a heavily loaded term underlining both their lack of official connection to the Russian state and the righteous nature of their mission. These events sparked renewed attention to the history of Russian volunteering in foreign wars, a topic which has been taken up enthusiastically by various sets of actors who have perceived in this phenomenon opportunities to advance their own interests and ideological projects. In this lecture, Fedor explores a range of texts produced in 2014–15 depicting and discussing the figure of the volunteer fighter, placing these in the context of an ongoing quest for a new symbolic vocabulary to represent the changing and often ambiguous and complex shape of contemporary Russian warfare. She shows how the conveniently elastic trope of the volunteer and historical narratives of Russian exceptionalism based on this trope are used to frame and justify recent and current wars, providing both a camouflage for military intervention abroad, and evidence of grassroots popular support for aggressive Russian foreign policy.

Alexei Miller (European University in St. Petersburg): Memory politics in Russia in the 21st century - actors, topics, tendencies

 The talk will provide an overview of developments in the sphere of memory politics with focus on growing institutionalization, systematization and securitization of political use of the past in Russia during the last 20 years. Main attention will be devoted to the most recent years. Some predictions about the tendencies of memory politics in Russia will be offered at the end of the lecture.