Conflict, Violence and Memory | Memory & Populism WG TFDC 2.16
Jul 04, 2023 11:30 - 13:00(Europe/London)
20230704T1130 20230704T1300 Europe/London 1.9. Steering Memory on/to the Right? Current Trends in Central European Politics and Media

This panel explores various forms of populist and right-wing politics of memory in Central Europe, shedding light on recent developments in Czech Republic, (eastern) Germany and Poland. The individual papers conduct in-depth case studies of memory entrepreneurs from the center to the (far) right of the political spectrum, including both state and non-state players as well as media. While drawing from diverse theoretical and methodological approaches in media studies and political science, the papers relate to each other due to their common focus on some of the concrete actors and novel means of steering public memory on and to the right. Gathering young, female researchers from western and eastern Europe as well as the United States, this panel aims to contribute to diversifying academic discourse on the politics of memory in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe and beyond.

Ilana Hartikainen

Avoiding the Fight: Memory Abnegation as a Technocratic Populist Strategy 

The propensity of populist actors and parties on both sides of the political spectrum to engage in memory wars is well documented in numerous country contexts. Memory work can be especially effective in regions like Central Eastern Europe (CEE), where the 20th century left a plethora of contested historical moments. However, siding with one interpretation of a contested moment necessarily alienates a segment of the population, a strategy that does not comport with the technocratic populist aim of remaining as centrist, and therefore as widely palatable, as possible. Using the case study of technocratic populist former Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš, this paper explores abnegation, rather than warfare, as a technocratic populist mnemonic strategy. Using a data set made up o ...

TFDC 2.16 MSA Conference Newcastle 2023 conference@memorystudiesassociation.org
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This panel explores various forms of populist and right-wing politics of memory in Central Europe, shedding light on recent developments in Czech Republic, (eastern) Germany and Poland. The individual papers conduct in-depth case studies of memory entrepreneurs from the center to the (far) right of the political spectrum, including both state and non-state players as well as media. While drawing from diverse theoretical and methodological approaches in media studies and political science, the papers relate to each other due to their common focus on some of the concrete actors and novel means of steering public memory on and to the right. Gathering young, female researchers from western and eastern Europe as well as the United States, this panel aims to contribute to diversifying academic discourse on the politics of memory in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe and beyond.



Ilana Hartikainen

Avoiding the Fight: Memory Abnegation as a Technocratic Populist Strategy 

The propensity of populist actors and parties on both sides of the political spectrum to engage in memory wars is well documented in numerous country contexts. Memory work can be especially effective in regions like Central Eastern Europe (CEE), where the 20th century left a plethora of contested historical moments. However, siding with one interpretation of a contested moment necessarily alienates a segment of the population, a strategy that does not comport with the technocratic populist aim of remaining as centrist, and therefore as widely palatable, as possible. Using the case study of technocratic populist former Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš, this paper explores abnegation, rather than warfare, as a technocratic populist mnemonic strategy. Using a data set made up of Babiš' Facebook posts from the month leading up to the October 2021 parliamentary elections and relying on a methodological framework of Laclaudian rhetorical analysis, this paper analyzes the way Babiš instrumentalized the past in his campaigning. It finds that rather than addressing the contested past moments that often appear in his rivals' posts, Babiš chose to avoid them entirely. Instead, he focused on his own political past and additionally took a catachrestical approach, attempting to create new mnemonic focal points pulled from farther back in the mythological Czech past. By linking himself to ancient Czech myth rather than the 20th century contested Czech(oslovak) past, Babiš was able to keep himself above the fray of memory warfare and maintain his technocratic populist performance of unbiased expertise. Ilana Hartikainen is a PhD Candidate in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki. Her dissertation research focuses on the role of collective memory in populist movements, based on the case study of the Czech Republic. She also has a background in history and Central and East European area studies, and she is particularly interested in the political use of history, memory, and contested historical spaces, and how all of this shows up on social media.


Rūta Kazlauskaitė 

Affective Memory Building in Poland: Embodying Past Suffering and Heroism in Virtual Reality 

The history of Poland is marked by suffering lending itself to a narrative that capitalizes on victimhood, injustice, betrayal, but also heroism and perseverance. Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has exploited these feelings in its historical policy by emphasizing Polish suffering and heroism during the Second World War and downplaying shame inducing Polish participation in the Holocaust. Museum exhibitions dealing with historical topics that may evoke feelings of powerless victimhood, shame and inferiority, thus, acquire strategic importance in the PiS agenda. The affective dynamics in the PiS vision of Polish history indicate the underlying presence of ressentiment, an emotional mechanism, which transforms the feelings of powerless victimhood, shame and inferiority into a morally superior, dignified and empowered victimhood position in relation to a difficult past (Salmela and Capelos 2021). Recently, Poland's Ministry of Culture and National Heritage has invested generously into the production of history focused cinematic virtual reality (VR) films that depict important events from the Polish historical canon. It has launched a multi annual programme "Niepodległa" ("Independent"), which funds a major project "The Virtual Theatre of History" and multiple VR films on Polish history that are shown online, in museums and public spaces around Poland. In this paper, I examine several recent VR productions on Polish history. I propose that these VR experiences function as emotion training devices that engage the bodies of visitors in order to prescribe the contours of a national emotional regime. The VR experiences enable users to embody, from a first person point of view, a thrilling and empowering story of victimhood, sacrifice and heroism. The aim of embodied and multisensory virtual experiences of historical events is to instil "prosthetic memories" (Landsberg 2004) in users. Rūta Kazlauskaitė is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki. Trained as a political scientist, she is an interdisciplinary scholar, working at the intersections of memory studies, media studies, and sociology of emotions. Her current project explores how Polish history museums and cultural institutions employ immersive digital media in affective memory politics.


Kinga Polynczuk 

Alenius Anti Russian conspiracy theories and the cultural memory of Russian imperialism in the Polish 'identity journalism' 

This paper analyses the entanglements of anti Russian conspiracy theories with the cultural memory of Russian imperialism in the Polish 'identity journalism', practised by the media closely aligned with the current illiberal populist Law and Justice government. 'Identity journalism' is an emic term invented by right wing journalists in Poland to describe journalism bent on constructing conservative identities that stakes no claims to factuality, neutrality, or objectivity. Theoretically, this paper proposes that the identity journalism's drive towards consolidating conservative communities is realised through the entwined usage of cultural memory and conspiracy theories, which view history as premeditated by powerful secret forces. As explanatory devices, conspiracy theories draw on cultural memory to connect alleged conspiracies to past traumas and to devise apocalyptic scenarios for the future. Empirically, the paper zooms in on the digital born identity journalistic news portal, wPolityce.pl. Taking the full scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 as a moment when Russian imperialism became an internationally legible explanatory perspective, this paper investigates how the cultural memory of Russian imperialism from the eighteenth century on is woven into the recent coverage of events seen as concocted by Russia behind the scenes, such as the 2010 Smoleńsk plane crash and the Polish Belarusian border crisis that began in 2021. This, the paper argues, serves to legitimise the illiberal politics of the PiS government. The instrumentalisation of Russian imperialism for domestic uses and the concomitant positing thereof as the hidden force in a conspiracy theory of history, however, inadvertently trivialises the threat it poses, whose realness is evident in the war on Ukraine. Kinga Polynczuk Alenius is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki. From November 2022, she is a Marie Sklodowska Curie PASIFIC Cofund Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences, where she works on the project titled 'Mediated re/making of democratic imagination in Poland'. Kinga's articles have been published in major academic journals across disciplines, including 'Journalism', 'Nations and Nationalism', and 'History & Memory'.


Sabine Volk 

A Nationalist Wende 2.0 and dobra zmiana: Fractured Memory Regimes and Far right Mnemonic Warriors in Germany and Poland 

Against the backdrop of far right claims to the ideational legacy of the East German 'Peaceful Revolution', this contribution argues that politics of memory in Germany have moved from a largely conflict free memory regime in 2009 2010 to a conflict ridden memory regime in 2019 2020, and ascribes this development to the rise of the far right 'Alternative for Germany' (AfD). Drawing from actor centered theory on the politics of memory to explain the conflict over the ownership of public memories of the transformation in Germany, it approaches AfD as a 'mnemonic warrior' whose fundamentalist vision of the past caused a 'fractured memory regime' in Germany. Methodologically, this contribution builds upon the research strategy of the paired comparison of Germany with its eastern neighbor Poland under the far right 'Law and Justice' (PiS) government, thus analyzing the German memory regime and its mnemonic warrior AfD through the comparative lens of Poland as both a precursor and a 'most different system'. Based on the qualitative interpretive analysis of public commemoration events and political discourse in both countries in 2019 and 2020, it finds that the mnemonic warriors AfD and PiS cause fractures in the respective memory regimes due to their exclusive and excluding interpretation of the events in 1989 as instances of national (re )awakening jeopardized by 'anti nationalist' liberal elites. Spelling out the parallels between the mnemonic strategies of PiS and AfD despite different context conditions, the analysis hints towards the further rise of the far right in Germany. Sabine Volk is a doctoral researcher at the Chair for Political Science with a Focus on Comparative Government at the University of Passau, Germany, and a fellow at the University of Helsinki's Hub on Emotions, Populism and Polarisation, Finland. Focusing on the far right and populism in eastern Germany, her work has been published in journals and edited volumes, including German Politics, European Politics and Society, and Journal for Genocide Research. 

Doctoral researcher
,
University of Helsinki
Postdoctoral researcher
,
University of Helsinki
MSCA Fellow/Assistant Professor
,
Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences
Doctoral researcher
,
University of Passau
 Susannah Eckersley
Senior Lecturer & Head of Research, Media, Culture, Heritage
,
Newcastle University
 Sarah Grandke
PhD candidate
,
University of Regensburg
PhD Student
,
Aarhus University
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