Memory Politics of the North 1993–2023

An interplay perspective (NORMEMO)

NORMEMO spring 2022 guest lectures series - please join us!

The NORMEMO guest lectures series is devoted to uses of history and memory politics in Russia and neighboring states. The series includes some of the foremost international experts in the field as well as younger researchers.

The lectures are free and open to a general audience.

Venue: Zoom / Aase Hiorth Lervik room (N-119) Breiviklia, UiT the Arctic University of Norway


Wednesday 16 February, 14.15-16 (16.15-18 Moscow time)

Alexei Miller: 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.

Alexei Miller is Professor and Scientific Director at the Center for the Study of Cultural Memory and Symbolic Politics, European University in St. Petersburg. He has published extensively in the field of Russian memory politics, as well as on comparative imperial history, the Russian empire and socialism, and the history of concepts. His latest publications include Political Use of the Past in Russia and Abroad. A Collection of Essays, Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow 2020 (eds. Alexey Miller, Olga Malinova, Dmitry Efremenko, Alexandr Voronovici).



Friday 18 March, 9.15-11 (19.15-21 Melbourne time)

Julie Fedor: 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.

Julie Fedor is Senior Lecturer in Modern European History in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne. She has taught modern Russian history at the Universities of Birmingham, Cambridge, Melbourne and St Andrews. She is the author of Russia and the Cult of State Security: The Chekist Tradition from Lenin to Putin (Routledge 2011); co-author of Remembering Katyn (Polity 2012); co-editor of Memory and Theory in Eastern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan 2013); and contributing co-editor of Memory, Conflict and new Media: Web Wars in Post-Socialist States (Routledge 2013) and War and Memory in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (Palgrave Macmillan 2017).



Thursday 21 April, 12.15-14

Zuzanna Bogumił: 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.


 Zuzanna Bogumił, PhD, works at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Polish Academy of Sciences. Her published works include The Enemy on Display: The Second World War in Eastern European Museums (Berghahn Books 2015); A time of persecution or a time of glory? The Russian Orthodox Church’s centenary commemorations of the 1917 Revolution, Religion, State and Society, (with T. Voronina, 2020); Gulag Memories: The Rediscovery and Commemoration of Russia's Repressive Past (Berghahn Books, 2018); Milieux de mémoire in Late Modernity: Local Communities, Religion and Historical Politics (with M. Głowacka-Grajper, Peter Lang, 2019), and the co-edited volume Memory and Religion from a Postsecular Perspective (Routledge 2022).




Thursday 12 May, 14.15-16

Matthew Blackburn: 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 this talk, Matthew Blackburn will approach the challenge of including the regions in memory studies, reporting on fieldwork in contemporary Russia and 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 to memory polices, divergent nation-building trends and various types of centre-periphery relationships.

Matthew Blackburn, PhD, is a researcher at the Institute of Russian and Eurasian Studies, Uppsala University, and an Ulam Visiting Fellow at the University of Warsaw. He completed his doctoral thesis on nationalist discourses and the imagined nation in post-Soviet Russia at the University of Glasgow in 2018. His main research interests are political legitimacy, political use of memory and identity politics in Central Eastern Europe and Eurasia. His recent publications include ‘Parade, Plebiscite, Pandemic: Legitimation Efforts in Putin’s Fourth Term’ (2021); ‘The Persistence of the Civic-Ethnic Binary: Competing Visions of the Nation and Civilisation in Western, Central and Eastern Europe’ (2021); ‘Mainstream Russian Nationalism and the “State-Civilization” Identity: Perspectives from Below’, Nationalities Papers (2021); ‘Political Legitimacy in Contemporary Russia ‘from Below’: ‘Pro-Putin’ Stances, the Normative Split and Imagining Two Russias’, Russian Politics (2020); ‘Myths in the Russian Collective Memory: The Golden Era of Pre-Revolutionary Russia and the Disaster of 1917’, Scando-Slavica (2018).