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History, Memory, and the Politics of History

The politics of historical memory are an inextricable part of the sociocultural and legislative landscape of the post-communist world. In a region dominated for most of the twentieth century by competing empires and totalitarian regimes, questions of remembrance and forgetting are at the heart of national conversations. The political repressions, war, and genocide that have befallen the region have left a thick residue and many unanswered questions. New national memory institutes have been established to grapple with them, but their answers have often proved more controversial than the questions. Old monuments have been brought down and new national heroes have been installed, only to set off crises in foreign relations. Streets and cities have been renamed, often against the will of some of their residents. Leaders wield history as a weapon against opponents in an attempt to score propaganda points, and legislatures adopt controversial memory laws defining what can and cannot be said about the past, igniting storms of international criticism. As political institutions formulate overarching national memory narratives, citizens struggle to fill in the gaps in their family histories left by the tragic events that have wracked their countries.

The Kennan Institute closely follows these discussions. From World War II to Stalin’s repressions to the Holocaust, Holodomor and other painful pressure points, these events and the contemporary politics of their interpretation have featured in Kennan Institute’s numerous conferences, discussion panels, and writings. This area of focus is led by Izabella Tabarovsky.