Article

Marková, A., “Institutional Historical Memory and History in Post-Soviet Belarus”, in: The Journal of Belarusian Studies, Vol. 9, Issue 1, 2019, pp. 51-73.

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Abstract

Belarusian institutional historical memory (as defined by Richard Ned Lebow) and the interpretation of Belarusian national history have experienced radical shifts in the past several decades. The first shift (1990–1994) was characterized by radical rejection of the interpretational and methodological patterns of the Soviet period, resulting in the creation of a new concept of Belarusian national history and historical narrative. The second shift in the existing historical narrative and institutional memory followed rapidly. It came with the transformation from a parliamentary republic into a parliamentary-presidential (1994) and then presidential republic (1996). The second wave demonstrated a clear shift towards a methodological, theoretical approach and terminological framework typical of the historiography of the Soviet period. These changes were in response to the growing demands for ideological control of institutionalized historical research supported by the government in the same decade. One of the characteristic features of recent Belarusian state-sponsored historiography (Lyč, Chigrinov, Marcuĺ, Novik and others) is the linking of post-Soviet national initiatives to Nazi occupation and collaboration in World War II. Another typical feature is simplifying historical explanations and often using undisguised pejorative terminology. The last shift in institutional historical memory also resulted in further re-interpretations of many symbolic centres and milestones of Belarusian history (for example, the period of the first years of post-Soviet independence, the introduction of new national symbols (Pahonia coat of arms and white-red-white flag) and the interwar nationality policy of Belarusization of the 1920s.)

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This chapter combines trauma theory and postcolonial theory in the study of memory in post-war and post-Soviet Belarus. It argues that the Soviet myth of Belarus as the “Partisan Republic” displaced trauma, attempting to delimit the contours of memory but only deferring the painful process of coming to terms with the past. In addition, it examines the creation of a monolithic image of Soviet Belarusianness based on the memory of the war, i.e. the construct of the “Partisan Republic,” as a form of colonial discourse a means of imposing hegemonic identity norms on a dominated population. Both the Soviet-era resistance to this myth and the unmaking of the edifice in the post-Soviet era are analyzed in terms of postcolonial theory through discussion of the works of several Soviet and post-Soviet authors, musicians, and artists.
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The author compares and contrasts the public discourse over memory in Western Europe and North America. The greater awareness in continental Europe of memory as a political resource and site of contestation has profound implications for elite behavior and mass responses. It also has the potential to alter the dynamics by which collective and institutional memory is created, recalled, and altered.
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