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Post‐totalitarian national identity: public memory in Germany and Russia

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Through a comparative analysis of Germany and Russia, this paper explores how participation in the memorialization process affects and reflects national identity formation in post-totalitarian societies. These post-totalitarian societies face the common problem of re-presenting their national character as civic and democratic, in great part because their national identities were closely bound to oppressive regimes. Through a comparison of three memorial sites—Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial in Germany, and Lubianka Square and the Park of Arts in Russia—we argue that even where dramatic reductions in state power and the opening of civil society have occurred, a simple elite–public dichotomy cannot adequately capture the nature of participation in the process of memory re-formation. Rather, mutual interactions among multiple publics and elites, differing in kind and intensity across contexts, combine to form a complex pastiche of public memory that both interprets a nation's past and suggests desirable models for its future. The domination of a ‘Western' style of memorialization in former East Germany illustrates how even relatively open debates can lead to the exclusion of certain representations of the nation. Nonetheless, Germany has had comparatively vigorous public debates about memorializing its totalitarian periods. In contrast, Russian elite groups have typically circumvented or manipulated participation in the memorialization process, reflecting both a reluctance to deal with Russia's totalitarian past and a emerging national identity less civic and democratic than in Germany.

Keywords: Germany; Russia; monuments and memorials; politics of memory; public memory

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA 2: Department of Political Science, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2T7, Canada 3: Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX, UK

Publication date: September 1, 2004

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