The issue was guest-edited by Alexander Etkind (European University Institute, Florence) and Dirk Uffelmann (University of Passau) in collaboration with the Digital Icons editorial team who prepared the book review section of the issue.
The special issue aims to explore how cultural memory – a subject of much productive research in recent decades – is going online. The articles focus on online memory in several Slavonic languages – Russian, Polish, Ukrainian and Bosnian / Croatian / Serbian – which, taken together, constitute a large part of the rapidly developing internet of Eastern Europe and Northern Eurasia. Though politically, various parts of this vast area are moving increasingly farther away from each other, culturally, mnemonically and especially electronically, they are all interconnected. In the virtual space of the internet, different Slavonic areas and cultures, from Siberia to the Balkans, interact more profoundly than they do in the ‘real world’ of economics and politics. Different Slavonic countries, as well as various communities within these countries, are engaged in ‘memory wars’, which debate, from different or even antagonistic perspectives, such historical subjects as memories of the two world wars, the socialist past, the Soviet terror and the post-socialist ordeals.
Our double purpose is to investigate the current state of Slavonic online memories and to establish a new methodology of internet research that could be applied to this part of the virtual world and, possibly, to its other parts as well. We call this emerging methodology ‘digital mnemonics’. We distinguish between three types of ‘memory formations’: sites of memory, memory events and memory models. Since Pierre Nora’s large-scale study of French memory, it has become common practice to analyse public memory via sites of memory – monuments, memorials and museums. Yet digital technologies have largely de-territorialised cultural memory. Modern memory is generally structured by time rather than space. Its temporal units are memory events, which we define as acts of revisiting the past that create ruptures with its established cultural meanings. Memory events unfold in many cultural genres: from funerals to historical debates, from museum openings to court proceedings, from the erection or destruction of a monument to the launch of a website. These events are simultaneously acts and products of memory. They have their authors and agents – initiators and enthusiasts of memory – who lead the production of these collective events in ways that are not much different from those that film directors use to make films.
Memory also has its promoters, as surely as it has its censors and foes. As Dirk Uffelmann illustrates in his article (12.1), cultural memory shapes interdependent constellations with various cultural genres, which retain memories of their own and therefore are concurrently able to express and produce important artistic, cultural and political memories. Unfolding in various genres and often combining them, memory events are secondary to the historical events that they interpret, usually taking place years or even decades later. Sometimes, a memory event attains the significance of a historical event, therefore blurring the distinction between the two. But there are important differences: historical events tend to be singular, while memory events rarely are. Memory events tend to repeat themselves in new, creative, but recognizable forms, which circulate in cultural space and reverberate in time.
Memory events and memory models have been used by all participants in revolutionary transformations, friends and foes alike. During the Ukrainian revolution of 2013-2014, its Russian enemies consistently called the Ukrainian activists ‘the Banderists’, as if they were instructed by the Ukrainian nationalist activist Stepan Bandera, who had died many decades earlier. The use and abuse of this memory model has been the subject of a sophisticated quantitative study by Rolf Fredheim, Gernot Howanitz and Mykola Makhortykh (12.2). This research appears highly relevant now that the Ukrainian revolution has been largely accomplished (even though the study was designed and completed well before the Russian counter-revolutionaries consistently misinterpreted the revolutionary events on Maidan Square in Kiev in terms of their chosen ‘Banderist’ memory model).
The current deterioration of political relations between the Western world and Russia has been characterised as ‘The New Cold War’, the subject of Elizaveta Gaufman and Katarzyna Walasek’s article in this cluster (12.3). After the 2010 crash of the Polish presidential airplane on its way to mourn the victims of the Katyn massacre, some mourners talked about ‘Katyn 2’. In another effort to conceptualise and operationalise this new area of studies, Marijeta Božović, Bogdan Trifunović and Aleksandar Bošković (12.4) present here a study of memory models that the arrest of Ratko Mladić actualised online in various cultural genres of the internet, from analytical blogs to video-clips and satirical cartoons. Finally, in the article by Hanna Stähle and Mariëlle Wijermars on the blog by the Russian political activist Aleksei Naval’nyi (12.5), we see an all-important political dilemma of memory unfolding into a complex, methodologically ground-breaking study: are memory models true and relevant for political activism in an oppressive society, or does the excessive use of the past distract the political protest from its current, necessarily present-ist objectives?
Alexander Etkind and Dirk Uffelmann
Florence & Passau, October 2014