War and Memory in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) analyzes the shaping of the commemorative space in the three post-Soviet countries that used to share commemorative practices and memorial space in general. For the reader outside of the Soviet space, “war,” which is mentioned in the title of the book, will most likely not evoke a specific historical event that the book, in fact, refers to—WWII. Moreover, for the contemporary, “non-Soviet” reader, the title will most likely refer to the present conflict between Russia and Ukraine. For readers, who are well familiar with Soviets’ past, the book will signal, first and foremost, the Second World War, the event which occupies an extensive memorial space for the majority of the post-Soviet countries and their peoples. The editors and the contributors of War and Memory in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus analyze how the memory of the war shapes the historical, political, and cultural dimensions of the three countries. While during the USSR, this memory was shared by the Soviet republics, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, each of these republics appeared to undertake their own trajectories in terms of integrating the war narratives and memory about them into their independent post-Soviet memorial programs.
The book nuances the mnemonic divergences that the three countries illustrate when they deal with how the Second World War can be and should be represented in commemorative practices of their nations. Interestingly, these divergencies are dictated to some extent by how each of these countries views their Soviet legacy. Russia presents itself as a main successor of the Soviet Union and this factor considerably shapes the way in which today’s Russia promotes the official historical narrative of WWII as one of the narratives that mobilizes and unites the Russians. While Belarus follows Russia’s steps in trying to use the war narrative to unite the Belarusians through the creation of some grand-narrative, Ukraine in many cases takes a different route. In Ukraine, there is an attempt to put the narrative and the memory of the Second World War not so much in the Soviet context, but in the European one. One of the signals in this regard is the adoption of the poppy flower emblem as a symbol of war remembrance. War and Memory in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus delves into the complexities of memory politics, which help investigate the convergences and divergences of the memorial practices that the post-Soviet countries are currently engaging with.
Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed is a PhD student in the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures.