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Stefan Berger: The memory of communism in Eastern Europe. PoSoCoMeS 2020 plenary lecture

Stefan Berger is Full Professor of Social History and Director of the Institute for Social Movements at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany. He is also executive chair of the History of the Ruhr Foundation, and an Honorary Professor at Cardiff University in the UK. He has published widely on the history of social movements, the history of historiography, the history and memory of deindustrialisation and industrial heritage, the history of nationalism and national identity. Among his most recent publications are A Cultural History of Memory (with Jeffrey K. Olick), 6 vols, Bloomsbury 2020, Constructing Industrial Pasts, Berghahn Books 2019, Writing the History of Nationalism (with Eric Storm), Bloomsbury 2019, and his most recent monograph is The Past as History: National Identity and Historical Consciousness in Modern Europe, Palgrave MacMillan 2015.

The memory of communism in Eastern Europe – antagonistic, cosmopolitan or agonistic?

The lecture will review different and sometimes strongly contrasting developments in the memory of communism across different East European post-communist states.  It will ask what post-communist states have been nostalgic for when remembering communism and what is being criticised. Which political forces have been functionalising the memory of communism in which way? The lecture will argue that antagonistic forms of memory have been dominant in the memoryscape of communism across East Central and Eastern Europe. They have combined in various ways and to different degrees with cosmopolitan memory regimes, favoured by the official memory politics of the European Union. Using theories of agonistic memory developed by Anna Cento Bull and Hans Lauge Hansen in their 2016 article in Memory Studies, the lecture will ask what potential there is for agonistic memory frames of communism in East Central and Eastern Europe and what advantages those agonistic frames would have over the dominant antagonistic and cosmopolitan ones.