Memory at War: Cultural Dynamics in Poland, Russia and Ukraine (MAW)

Project Participants

In post-communist Eastern Europe, disruptions of politics, trade, and security collide with paroxysms of suspicion that take the unusual shape of heated debates about the traumatic moments of the twentieth century. A Memory War is raging in Eastern Europe, a cultural conflict that is increasingly leading states in the region to act against their own economic and political interests. Understanding this conflict is the subject of a HERA Collaborative Research Project led by the University of Cambridge, ‘Memory at War: Cultural Dynamics in Poland, Russia, and Ukraine’ (MAW).

To understand the causes and consequences of this Memory War, the expertise of an interdisciplinary, transnational team of scholars in the humanities and social sciences needs to be brought to bear on complex cultural questions that elude the hard calculus of geopolitics. MAW mobilises the resources of five leading European universities from the United Kingdom, Norway, Finland, Estonia, and The Netherlands in order to develop a new, coherent framework for the study of memory in Eastern Europe. The working hypothesis of MAW is that the public memory of twentieth-century traumas mediates the variety of ways in which nations develop in post-socialist space. Indeed, while they all share tortured memories of World War II and Soviet socialism, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine are actualising their post-traumatic energies in remarkably different ways. By testing this hypothesis within the chronological frame of 1989-2013, the project seeks to understand the increasingly divisive relationship between Poland and Russia and between Ukraine and Russia; the renewed bonds of solidarity between Poland and Ukraine; and the internal conflicts in Ukraine.

To untangle the warring memories in the region, MAW first makes a critical contribution by developing a conceptual framework in which to study them. At the moment such a framework does not exist. The research methodologies of Memory Studies and Cultural Studies to the east of Berlin and Ljubljana are underdeveloped, and a growing division between Russianists and scholars of East/Central Europe does little to facilitate the comparative, transnational study needed today. Here the proposed MAW framework, involving a mapping of ‘memory events’, advances the boundaries of an emerging field. MAW proceeds to put this framework to use by tracing the movement of memory in and across Poland, Russia and Ukraine and by exploring its many trajectories in the spheres of new media, ‘history politics,’ international relations, and literature and film.