Panel at the Memory Studies Association Conference 2017
14 Dec 2017 · 3.00 pm

Inventing a national trauma. Fictional and cinematic memory discourses as allegories of a contested present

Venue: Bella Center, Center Blvd. 5, 2300 København S (DK)
Research project(s): Affective Realism

Panel at the Memory Studies Association Conference 2017 (1416 Dec 2017), University of Copenhagen.

Chair: Nina Weller, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München


  • Roman Dubasevych (Universität Greifswald): Reinvented Past, Repressed Present. On Some Correlation Effects of Contemporary Ukrainian Memory Discourse
  • Matthias Schwartz (ZfL): »History next door«. Post-Memorial Historical Novels about the Gulag in Russia Today
  • Heike Winkel (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge): Exploring (Dis-)Location. Fictional Recollections of Forced Labour in Natascha Wodin’s »She came from Mariupol«
  • Amy Williams (Nottingham Trent University): The fictionalisation of the Kindertransports
  • Marta Koval (University of Gdansk): The Need to Remember, the Right to Forget. Patterns of Memory in Ukrainian American Emigré Fiction


Within memory studies, scholars have used a variety of approaches to investigate the different ways in which traumatic historic experiences shape, disturb, and warp individual as well as collective memories. Over the last few decades, a number of places around the world, but especially Eastern Europe, have witnessed an opposite development, whereby widely forgotten or silenced events of the first half of the 20th century have been rediscovered as an allegedly »traumatic« heritage. This reinvented past often becomes the focal point of public memory discourses and is broadly used to restage a new »populist« or »authoritarian« national identity. The »Holodomor«, the Gulag, and Katyn are all examples of symbolic catchwords of history politics that still provoke controversial debates to this day. They expose the extent to which memory discourses and practices of commemoration are deeply entwined with the production of collective belongings. It is the contested present which shapes the images and narratives of a traumatic past.

The panel takes these considerations as a starting point to analyze and contextualize several prominent literary and cinematic works from Germany, Ukraine, and Russia that focus on similar events or periods, such as the revolutions and upheavals in the aftermath of World War I, the forced labor camps, and the mass deportation of national minorities. The contributions l examine to what extent these artistic works are characterized by a certain post-memorial and post-socialist condition in a global context of multidirectional remembrance practices. Thus, the panel seeks to discuss how the categories of »trauma« and »memory« have to be reconsidered under the conditions of contemporary politics of remembrance. The purpose is to not only deliver case studies, but also to look at the specific Eastern European constellation as a subject matter that calls for reflections of the theoretical tools of memory studies in general.