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SIEF2011 10th Congress: Lisbon, Portugal.
17-21 April 2011


Identity and agency in post totalitarian landscapes

Location Tower A, Piso 1, Room 103
Date and Start Time 18 Apr, 2011 at 11:30


Bernhard Tschofen (University of Zurich) email
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Short Abstract

How do people perceive and construct their social area? What is the relationship of identity and possible courses of action to the European, national and ethnic orders? Eight ethnographical and discourse-analytical case studies examine these questions in regard to various perspectives of post socialist and post totalitarian identity processes.

Long Abstract

"People make places" - and in doing so, they allude to historical spaces, common memories and perceptions of identity and belonging. How people in post socialistic and post totalitarian societies construct their identities, which strategies they develop in dealing with the past and with this how they fall back on symbolic processes of inclusion and exclusion are the core issues of this panel. It brings nine case studies together that examine--to a great extent (but not exclusively)--Eastern and South-eastern European societies, groups and places with ethnographical and discourse-analytical approaches.

The papers from this panel go beyond just the political and economic answers to the questions of the rules and effects of post totalitarian transformation processes. Their focus is rather that of an ethnographical cultural analysis whose interest is especially valid for the everyday praxis and the meaning of symbolic action in the social field. They assume that the constructions of cultural and ethnic belonging as well as the perceptions and experiences of political borders and spaces constitute themselves in negotiation processes and gain significance in symbols and performative acts. Initially the focus of the investigations is the question of real or imaginary spaces and of the meaning of the "European" in the negotiation of national identities. The group of papers therefore deals with the handling of the past and the conflicting collective memories in the justification of contemporary social orders. Additional articles are devoted to contested places in post socialist and post colonial urban cultures as well as to the role of symbols and rituals for the communities' self-perception and perception by others. Last one case studies investigate and inquire about the meaning of the experience orientated stagings of a totalitarian history.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


"Europe" as a category of Polish identity: borders and content

Author: Valentina Chubarova (Russian Academy of Sciences)  email
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Short Abstract

Idea of Europe is an important part of Polish identity. When asked strictly, most people say Europe is a geographical concept. But they also often say “Europe” meaning EU. Sometimes it is also imagined as a cultural space without clear borders: some people even doubt, whether Poland belongs to Europe.

Long Abstract

During my field research in four polish villages I tried to find out, what is the meaning of Europe as a mental category in contemporary Polish identity and where do people mark the border of Europe. There is the difference between answers people give when asked a strict question and some things they say casually.

The general answer to the question where does Europe end, was "on the Ural mountains, that's obvious!", so we name geographical content of the category as a very popular one.

But often the same people use this category meaning EU, or even Shengen zone: they speak about "entering Europe in 2004", about possibility to travel without visas "all over Europe", or about "stupid laws, that Europe introduces". Such statements indicate the importance of political/economical meaning of "Europe", which is supposed to be "just geography".

At the same time there is a third type of concepting Europe, which can be called cultural. In contrast to geographical and political ones, it has no strict criteria and therefore - no strict borders. For some people just old EU-states are real Europe, and Poland is only trying to match it. Others, on the contrary, think Europe's cultural space is wider, than EU - in fact, Ukraine and Belarus (sometimes even whole Russia) also belong to Europe. Some people even say that nowadays Europe is "all over the world".

All this is an important question of identity: if Poland has always belonged to Europe? What does it mean to be European?

WWII as a milestone of post-war identity

Author: Hanna Vasilevich (Metropolitan University in Prague )  email
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Short Abstract

Article argues that memories of the WWII remain key element for both European collective identity and Belarusian national identity, and therefore deals with the analysis of the evolution of these memories into identity formation.

Long Abstract

WWII is one of the main turning points of the 20th century's history. However, it is interpreted in different ways in different countries. The EU focuses on maintaining ever closer union, thus it treats the WWII as a dramatic event focusing on the totalitarian nature of Nazism and consequent extermination of the European Jews during the Holocaust. Hence the negative experiences of the European nations are emphasised and the EU is seen as a guarantor not to repeat this tragedy. Therefore, the collective memories of the WWII are being used to maintain a sort of common European identity.

Belarus is a different case. During the post-war Soviet time official historiography depicted Belarus as partisan republic which the first faced the most severe attack of the enemy. Having suffered considerable demographic, material and territorial losses during the WWII, Belarus did not manage to recover "nationalistically". After the proclamation of independence, and particularly from the 1994 on (when president Lukašenka was elected) rhetoric of the WWII is actively used as a core of the Belarusian state ideology, and as a consolidating factor uniting younger and older generations and thus being a milestone for Belarusian national identity.

Arguing that memories of the WWII remain key element for both European collective identity and Belarusian national identity, the article deals with the analysis of the evolution of these memories into identity formation.

The construction of the GDR and the East Germans in today's Germany

Author: Sofi Gerber (Södertörn University)  email
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Short Abstract

Radical social changes rearrange places in the past into a present discursive order. The unification of Germany has influenced the recollection of the no longer existing GDR. I examine how the rewriting of history is intertwined with the identity formation of the former GDR citizens.

Long Abstract

Post socialist transformations offer a great opportunity to examine how individual memories are intertwined with present discourses about the past. The paper discusses how radical social changes are also retrospective in that they rearrange places in the past into a present discursive order. This is certainly true for the no longer existing East German state. The demise of the German Democratic Republic has caused radical changes in all parts of everyday life for its former citizens. These transformations also influence the recollection of life under socialism. Since the unification of Germany, dominant discourses about the GDR are to a great extent formed by West Germans who have not themselves experienced "real existing socialism". Big parts of everyday life have been considered controlled by the socialist regime and therefore ideologically contaminated.

At the core of the analysis stands how the rewriting of history influences identity formation. Through life story interviews, I examine how persons grown up in the GDR handle, resist and contribute to the politicization of their childhood. What is possible to say about the GDR in today's Germany? Which memories are being left out when telling your life story? Which themes are impossible to avoid and how are they related to the individuals own experiences? How does the recollection of the GDR position the East Germans in relation to their West German compatriots? Which continuities and discontinuities are articulated in the construction of Eastern Germany?

Urban space, veterans and the memory of the Portuguese colonial war

Author: Robert Stock (University of Konstanz)  email
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Short Abstract

The aim of the paper is to show how specific social groups use contested urban spaces to impose their vision of the past. This issue is of particular importance in post-dictatorial societies. In Portugal, it also enables to discuss memory politics related to decolonisation.

Long Abstract

The aim of the paper is to show how specific social groups use the contested urban space to impose their vision of the past. This issue is of particular importance in post-dictatorial societies. In Portugal, it also enables to discuss memory politics of veterans associations related to decolonisation.

The Portuguese Estado Novo was abolished by the Revolution on 25th of April 1974. The colonial wars in Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique that had started in 1961 were also ended and power was subsequently handed over to the independence movements.

It is often said, that speaking publicly about the colonial war in Portugal was (and still is) a taboo. That this is only a partial truth is shown by the example of the Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar. Opened in 1994 by President Mário Soares, the monument represents the power of veterans associations to seek for official recognition and to construct places for commemorating collective events.

Besides this particular example, there are other places, parks and buildings in Lisbon were social actors articulate their memory politics regarding the legacy of the Estado Novo.

Consequently, the purpose of the presentation is not only to explore the memory politics related to the Portuguese colonial war inscribed into urban space but also situate them within other efforts and controversies that intend to come to terms with the past.

What's in a name? Politics and counter-politics of (re)naming Belgrade's streets in 2000s

Author: Srdjan Radovic (Institute of Ethnography SASA, Belgrade)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will discuss ideological politics of official street and public space (re)naming in Serbia in 2000s, as well as political, artistic and other pursuits of countering that process or actions of alternative naming of those same significant urban places.

Long Abstract

With the onset of political overturn in Serbia in 2000, processes of the ideological reconfiguration of public places was simultaneously being put in motion. One of the easiest and most prominent means of this endeavor was naming and renaming of urban space, primarily of streets and squares, usually by designation of streets (but also of various public institutions) with the novel commemorative fund of historical public figures and their names, which replaced the dominant political and historical pantheon of the precedient period. This undertaking was especially prominent in Serbia's capital Belgrade. Such process was opposed several times by certain political parties and groups which organized street-actions of counter-naming Belgrade's thoroughfares. The power-play and identity politics of such proceedings will be analyzed. This paper will also discuss practices beginning as early as 2001, mostly by focussing on actions of the Spomenik group, Biro movement, Illegal Confectioners artist group, and ad-hoc gathering of political, NGO and artist groups in 2009, which carried out unofficial street-renaming actions and performances, and revitalized or reinterpreted old monuments/memorials, or discussed and proposed new ones. By (re)naming certain urban spaces, hegemonic political coalitions are trying to construct significant symbolic places, while oppositional counter-actions are seeking to overtake those same places and reinterpret them. This paper will sum up and inquire into Ideological politics of official renaming and artistic and political counter-politics and actions of opposition or alternative renaming, and discuss means of doing so.

Creating Soviet in Denmark: live action role-playing as a place for vacations and/or temporary belonging in uneasy places

Author: Erika Lundell (Ethnology)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper investigates improvised theatre without audience (live action role-playing) and a Danish roleplay where 30 young Europeans during 48 hours enacted a fictional 1960s USSR. Are these games a place for vacation, a “safe” way of creating/visiting uneasy places and reach historical Others?

Long Abstract

This paper empirically investigates Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) by the example of a play that was articulated as a military camp in USSR. The participants enacted soldiers in a contra-factive Europe where Hitler never lost WW2. Soviet as place was created in a hangar in Denmark with the help of Soviet flags, songs and other "Soviet props".

LARP can be seen as a vacation, a creation of a place where boundaries of time, space and belonging are re/defined. It can also be seen as a place for temporary belonging, where participants creates a place for belonging to "a kind of Soviet" - shaped as an uneasy place in its harsh military life - but still desired as a place for experience.

This paper is part of an ongoing PhD project in Ethnology called 'Embodied Fiction -performing bodies in fictionalized worlds'. This project investigates LARP with analyses drawn from in depth interviews and field studies in mainly Latvia, Sweden and Denmark. It discusses how bodies are performed, transformed and understood in the seemingly double matrixes of what is emically labeled as "fiction" and "reality".

Questions raised in the paper are: Can these games be seen as a "safe" way of creating/visiting uneasy places? Can this be analyzed as melancholic acts of reaching out for a disappeared/historical Other? The questions are connected to issues of power as the paper discuss by whom and where these vacations are possible to make. How are these temporally belongings created, upheld and understood?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.