Reparative vs repetitive histories, or when the post-colonial and the post-socialist discourse meet in the realm of statue war.

Dr Andrea Pruchova Hruzova, Institute for Contemporary History, Charles University, Prague.

Postponed due to strike action. Details of new schedule TBC.

CMNH Seminar Series: Visual culture, history, and memory

All Welcome, no need to book, just turn up. Drinks from 5pm.

After three decades of living within the democratic political system, the Central European region has experienced the fight for its future political and societal inclination. The strong illiberal tendencies, consisting of the rise of populism, nationalism, racism, and conservatism, have penetrated various spheres of academic, political, cultural, and everyday life. The democracy seems to be sliding back, while the authoritarian or oligarch individual figures are reaching the prominence. Nevertheless, the opposite social forces can be also detected. There exist young political and social movements, whose interest and agenda lies in the politics of identity, social and environmental justice, and the issue of decolonization. And thus, as no surprise, the new cultural wars have unfolded across the society. And statues in public space have become one of the war fields. 

The paper provides a case study of the Czech statue war that revolves around the public debate and actions related with the commemoration of the communist past. In this specific context, it shows a particular aspect of this debate in which the post-colonial and the post-socialist discourse intersect. Which narratives of the communist past are activated if public monuments coming from the totalitarian era are on stage? Which decolonial repertoires are used by polarized social groups which protect and challenge the monuments? And how is the public debate re-framed if the local monuments are contested in the name of the social justice movements Black Lives Matter and Decolonize This Place? 

The paper is built upon a theoretical framework about how the post-colonial theory can or cannot be applied on the political and social experience of the former satellite countries of the USSR. It presents the basic lines of this discussion through work of the renowned authors like Tlostanova, Gagyi, or Sowa, but it emphasizes the specific situation in the Central European region. Therefore, it reflects upon this literature through the prism of the illiberal turn and the concepts of ethnopopulism (Vachudova 2020) and Eastern-Europeanism (Kalmar 2022). It demonstrates the different conceptual groundings of the public debate of decolonization in Western and Central Europe based on proposing the opposition between reparative (Western Europe) and repetitive (Central Europe) histories as it shows how the uneasy dealing with the totalitarian past is frequently activated in discussions about the decolonization. It does so by using various data: social media discussions, media article discussions, photographs, and oral interviews. Therefore, the paper methodologically demonstrates the use of qualitative pluri-methodological research that combines elements of digital ethnography with visual analysis while working in the field of media memory studies. All the data comes from 2018 until 2022, and thus the lecture provides an insight into the latest formations of public discussion and cultural memory in the Czech Republic and is open towards any comments, criticism and suggestions. 

Statue of Winston Churchill on a plinth in Prague. It has graffiti in red paint saying "BYL racista, Black Lives Matter"

Our seminar series this year highlights work taking place in a new research area for the Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories and focuses on global visual culture and its relationship with politics, history and cultural memory in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The seminar series brings together researchers exploring different methodological approaches to photography, film, the visual arts, and material culture to examine the social role and political relevance of images in everyday life. Through its different transdisciplinary topics and methodologies, the series draws attention to recurring themes around memory cultures and politics; decolonizing the photographic archive; popular images, overlooked traditions and alternative forms of art in relation to politics and life experience; histories of diaspora communities and identities; memories of conflict, trauma, resistance, political protest and activism; as well as spatial memories of the material environment.