PoSoCoMeS WG | Memoryscapes (digital, locational, imagined) NUBS 3.07
Jul 05, 2023 13:30 - 15:00(Europe/London)
20230705T1330 20230705T1500 Europe/London 4.9. Conspiratorial Memory Online: Post-Socialist Perspective

Recent events, including the COVID pandemic, indicated a crisis of expert knowledge and the rise of conspiratorial mindsets. There are numerous dimensions of the conspiracies' proliferation. This panel is particularly focused on the political sphere where former 'marginal' groups, such as the German neo-Nazis (Adaire 2019; Levi&Rothberg 2018), European right-wing movements (Pető 2017), and American Confederate fans (Domby 2020), are gaining visibility and popularity. All such communities are rooted in discontent with their current position in society and are searching for a source of pride in their country's past. They create alternative conspiratorial narratives and antagonistic mnemonic perspectives (Bull&Hansen 2016), which are typically rooted in nostalgia for the 'stigmatized' past. Another crucial aspect is the Russian war in Ukraine, which highlights similar tensions in the region, particularly in Russia, including nostalgia for the Soviet Union, the trauma of its dissolution, and a complicated post-Soviet Holocaust memory culture.The Internet and social media have become particularly fruitful research site that gives access to conspiratorial narratives that are otherwise not very accessible. Moreover, the participatory Internet culture transforms ordinary users into co-creators of conspiratorial narratives, simplifies their spreading, and adds to such narratives' transformations. In other words, the Internet culture can amplify conspiracies.The panel aims to address conspiratorial memories in post-socialist contexts, focusing mainly on Russia and Germany. The papers on the panel deal with different memory narratives (e.g., the Holocaust and the dissolution of the USSR) in various national and political contexts and on different digital platforms (e.g., Faceb ...

NUBS 3.07 MSA Conference Newcastle 2023 conference@memorystudiesassociation.org
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Recent events, including the COVID pandemic, indicated a crisis of expert knowledge and the rise of conspiratorial mindsets. There are numerous dimensions of the conspiracies' proliferation. This panel is particularly focused on the political sphere where former 'marginal' groups, such as the German neo-Nazis (Adaire 2019; Levi&Rothberg 2018), European right-wing movements (Pető 2017), and American Confederate fans (Domby 2020), are gaining visibility and popularity. All such communities are rooted in discontent with their current position in society and are searching for a source of pride in their country's past. They create alternative conspiratorial narratives and antagonistic mnemonic perspectives (Bull&Hansen 2016), which are typically rooted in nostalgia for the 'stigmatized' past. Another crucial aspect is the Russian war in Ukraine, which highlights similar tensions in the region, particularly in Russia, including nostalgia for the Soviet Union, the trauma of its dissolution, and a complicated post-Soviet Holocaust memory culture.
The Internet and social media have become particularly fruitful research site that gives access to conspiratorial narratives that are otherwise not very accessible. Moreover, the participatory Internet culture transforms ordinary users into co-creators of conspiratorial narratives, simplifies their spreading, and adds to such narratives' transformations. In other words, the Internet culture can amplify conspiracies.
The panel aims to address conspiratorial memories in post-socialist contexts, focusing mainly on Russia and Germany. The papers on the panel deal with different memory narratives (e.g., the Holocaust and the dissolution of the USSR) in various national and political contexts and on different digital platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Telegram). The papers highlight differences in conspiratorial memories and similar tropes and agendas. They problematize issues of ressentiment and nostalgia and highlight connections to other conspiracies, such as those related to COVID-19.



Manuel Menke and Anna Wagner
(co-author: Christian Schwarzenegger)

The Elite Conspiracy: How German Pasts are Weaponized against "the System"

The past is a battleground for current political agitation: Populist actors tend to strategically exploit the past to attract those who experience ontological insecurity, i.e., feel lost, overwhelmed, and disenfranchised in modern societies (Steele & Homolar, 2019) . Collective memories of supposedly better times and distorting imaginations of the past can be called up in emotionalized ways; even and especially without historical knowledge, comprehension of facts, or genuine interest in historical debate. Research found that the strategy behind such uses of the past is to create a sense of entitlement for a future restored in favor of those who the treacherous political elites deprived of their allegedly legitimate privileges (Smeekes et al., 2021) . This narrative is built on a populist conspiracy playing off the common man against the political elites to foster in- and outgroup mentalities and promise the return of the heartland, i.e., a future society catering to the supposedly disenfranchised by restoring their past privileges (Menke & Wulf, 2021; Taggart, 2004; Wohl et al., 2020) . Against this background, we link two studies we conducted in Germany. Based on qualitative content analyses of the 2019 federal election campaign of the AfD Thuringia and the Telegram communication of the anti-corona measurements movement Querdenker, we demonstrate how the elite conspiracy against (West) German politicians and the German government has become an ideological anchor for the weaponization of German pasts. Both cases demonstrate how the past was re-contextualized into counter memories against the political elites and "the system." We further demonstrate how this anchor is contingent regarding the pasts exploited; be it the 1989 peaceful revolution in the GDR the AfD presented as a role model for "overthrowing" the West German elites in elections or the resistance of figures like Sophie Scholl during Nazi Germany the Querdenker compared themselves to in their fight against Covid19 measurements. The studies demonstrate that such conspiracies quickly infest and spread in society and can have vast consequences for social cohesion, trust in democracy and on the long run cultural memory.


Maryna Sydorova and Mykola Makhortykh
(co-author: Aleksandra Urman)

Seen It All Before: Instrumentalisation of Holocaust memory in Russian Twittersphere

The rise of social media platforms has substantial implications for individual and collective remembrance. The unprecedented connectivity of platforms allows their users to reflect on the past events and instrumentalise memories to interpret the recent developments. A number of studies (e.g. Trubina, 2010; Hoskins, 2017) argues that platform affordances can empower grassroots memory practices and challenge appropriation of the past; however, the same affordances can also be used to instrumentalise memories for facilitating public mobilisation and stigmatisation of the Other (Makhortykh & Aguilar, 2020). 

In this paper, we examine the ambiguous relationship between online platforms and memories using the case of Holocaust remembrance in Russia. Despite being suppressed during the Soviet time (Dreyer, 2018), Holocaust memory currently is an important component of the WWII discourse in Russia (Rohdewald, 2008). Consequently, it is intensively appropriated both by supporters (e.g., to frame the political opponents as antisemites; Gaufman, 2015) and critics of the Kremlin (e.g., by presenting the authorities' anti-COVID measures as a form of collective persecution). Such diversity prompts our interest towards how instumentalisation of Holocaust memory evolved within Russian Twittersphere over the years, in particular, following the outburst of COVID-19 and the new phase of Russia's aggression against Ukraine in 2022. 

For this aim, we retrieve historical data for the "holocaust" query in Russian from Twitter from 2012 to 2023. Because of the large volume of data, we rely on computational methods; specifically, we use a selection of topic modelling algorithms (e.g. LDA (Blei et al., 2003) and BERTopic (Grootendorst, 2020)), and then examine their performance using a set of qualitative and quantitative metrics. Then, we apply the best performing algorithm to process the complete dataset and examine how the use of Holocaust memory in Russian Twittersphere changed over time. By doing so, we aim to make a methodological contribution (i.e. by sharing our observations on the use of computational methods for studying the large volumes of history-related data) and an empirical one (i.e., by conducting the longitudinal analysis of instrumentalisation of Holocaust memory on Twitter).


Daria Khlevnyuk (University of Amsterdam)

Digital conspiratorial memory of the USSR's dissolution: CIA, Zionists, and other suspects

The dissolution of the USSR and the following decade (commonly referred to as 'the 90s') were difficult for many Russians. The economic and political crisis, vast social changes, loss of work and social status, and many other transformations affected communities across the country. The genuine challenges of 'the 90s' then became a source for a complicated memory actively used by the current political regime. As Gulnaz Sharafutdinova (2020) notes, Putin and his government portray 'the 90s' as turbulent and unstable times in contrast to Putin's period of stability. These memories resonate with the Russian public: surveys show that the Russians perceive 'the 1990s' as a difficult period (FOM 2015), in interviews, adolescents regret the dissolution of the USSR due to several factors, including the economic decline, the increase in crime, and the worsening of community relations (Nikolayenko 2008:251), analysis of the Russian National Language corpus, a vast library of Russian-language texts, also shows that 'the 90s' is a highly charged emotional symbol with multiple interpretations (Bonch-Osmolovskaya 2018).
The dissatisfaction with the current regime and situation created nostalgic feelings towards the USSR as well as critical attitudes towards the narrative that its dissolution was necessary and inevitable. Consequently, we witness a rise of conspiratorial memory narratives that tie the dissolution of the USSR with external factors and internal treachery.
The paper is based on an explanatory study of conspiratorial memory narrative on the Russian language Facebook. Based on qualitative analysis of posts mentioning Gorbachev, it outlines a typology of conspiratorial plots, the interrelations of memory narratives, and common tropes.


Boris Noordenbos

Conspiratorial Memory as Participatory Propaganda: The Case of the Telegram Channel "War on Fakes."

This paper looks at Kremlin-aligned online messaging about the Russian war against Ukraine, examining discourses of memory and conspiracy in recent forms of what may be called "participatory propaganda" (Wanless & Berk). It investigates pro-war social media platforms that adopt a non-political, grassroots brand identity, while actively enlisting online crowds in the production, amplification, and disseminating of state-supported "conspiratorial memory" about Ukraine.

Specifically, the paper focuses on the project "War on Fakes ("Войнасфейками", hereafter WF), a cluster of mainly Russian-language channels on Telegram, as well as a multilingual website. WF presents itself as a reputable fact-checking resource, in the mode of Snopes or Politifact. Its stated goal is to expose and rebut supposed "fake news" in the reporting on the war. In reality, WF's "fakes" tend to be accurate reports by Western and Ukrainian outlets, as well as critical Russian platforms such as Meduza. Hijacking the fact-checking format, WF consistently echoes and reinforces the preferred propaganda narratives of official Russian channels, which in turn frequently repost WF's content. Thus, obfuscating its affiliation with Russian officialdom, WF misleadingly tries to pass itself off as neutral and ideologically unbiased, with the administrators insisting on their non-political stance and grassroots identity. Meanwhile, the 800K+ subscribers of the core channel are encouraged to suggest "fakes," to be vetted by the moderators, and they are asked to spread WFs content beyond Russian borders. Further cementing this participatory rhetoric, the moderators address the audience as "co-investigators" in the channel's mimicry of open-source intelligence work.

The paper zooms in on WFs reporting on the killing of dozens of civilians by Russian soldiers in Ukrainian city of Bucha in early spring 2022. A quantitative analysis shows that the channel's conspiracy-based narratives about "Bucha" constantly derived their rhetorical and emotional persuasiveness from mnemonic parallels, analogies, and connections, which reached beyond routine references to World War II, and included (conspiracy theories about) more recent historical events: the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003; the 2018 Syrian Air Force chemical attack in Douma; and the Russian bombing of the maternity hospital in Mariupol in March 2022. Interpellating users as active members and participants in this "fact-checking" enterprise, WF builds a "community" of propaganda, in which historical events, present-day affairs, and anticipated futures come to cohere in a self-referential network of conspiratorial memory. The paper argues that WF points to a new, invasive and cynical, form of mnemonic weaponization. 

Assistant Professor
,
Department of Communication University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Bielefeld University
University of Bern
University of Amsterdam
University of Amsterdam
Postdoctoral research
,
University of Bern
 Daria Khlevnyuk
University of Amsterdam
 Diana Popova
Research assistant/ PhD student
,
Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the University of Latvia / Latvian Academy of Culture
Lecturer
,
University of Exeter
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