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This book analyses contemporary war commemoration in Britain and Russia. Focusing on the political aspects of remembrance, it explores the instrumentalisation of memory for managing civil-military relations and garnering public support for conflicts. It explains the nexus between remembrance, militarisation and nationalism in modern societies.



1. Memory Politics and the Afterlives of Fallen Soldiers

A popular approach in the analysis of war commemoration associates commemorative practices with the expression of nationalism. War commemoration is perceived as an instrument that forges national identifications, unites societies and acts as an essential component in ‘the symbolic repertoire of the nation-states’ (Ashplant et al., 2000, p. 7). This approach draws its inspiration from a classic study by Maurice Halbwachs on Collective Memory (1992 [1950]). According to Halbwachs, collective memory is a social construct and ‘a social fact’ that comes into existence by the power of social groups. Halbwachs considers collective memories as ‘a part of a totality of thoughts common to a group, a group with whom we have a relation at this moment, or with whom we have had a relation on the preceding day or days’ (1992, p. 52). From his perspective, family, religious association and social class make the most important contribution to collective memory. Scholars of nationalism extrapolate his conclusions to the level of nation-states. Exploring the origin of Western nationalism, Benedict Anderson begins his book on Imagined Communities with a reflection on the Cenotaph and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in London, describing these memorials as the most ‘arresting emblems of the modern culture of nationalism’, which have been ‘sacrilege of a strange, contemporary kind!
Nataliya Danilova

2. Media Commemoration in Britain

In contemporary societies, ‘the media play an active role in shaping our understanding of the past, in “mediating” between us (as readers, viewers, listeners) and past experiences, and hence in setting the agenda for future acts of remembrance within society’ (Erll and Rigney, 2009, p. 3). The media is particularly influential in many Western countries, where ‘the legitimising, the contesting, and the waging of warfare have become shaped much more by the media “production” of warfare than any discernible “original” or “authentic” experience’ (Hoskins and O’Loughlin, 2010, p. 4). This point is particularly relevant in the context of British society, in which only a relatively small number of the population are exposed to the dangers of wars and military profession. This chapter explores the representations of British fatalities from the Falklands War through to the Gulf War, and to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The coverage of these conflicts reveals a series of shifts in war commemoration. The campaign for the Falkland Islands led to the legitimation of repatriation as a new military tradition; the Gulf War problematised the deaths of soldiers in friendly fire incidents; and the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan saw the ‘mediatisation’ of deaths and a shift towards a military service-based commemoration.
Nataliya Danilova

3. The Story of War Memorials

In Britain, First World War memorials are the most prominent and also the most studied sites of war commemoration (Berg, 1991; Winter, 1995; King, 1998; Moriarty, 1999; Connelly, 2002; Marshall, 2004; Todman, 2005, Abousnnouga and Machin, 2011a). These memorials occupy the focal point of almost every village, town and city across the UK. Their prominence in the public landscape defines their impact on identity politics. Memorials inscribe in stone political choices to ‘name’ wars, pay tribute to the fallen soldiers and explain the reason for public remembrance. In this regard, memorials represent the modes ‘in which identities are constructed and reproduced in different historical contexts’ (Bell, 2003, p. 69). The unveiling of the story of war memorials can help us to trace changes in identity politics and in the relationship between the military, the state and civil society.
Nataliya Danilova

4. Remembrance in Modern Britain: Support the Armed Forces!

Contemporary commemoration in Britain has evolved into a military service-based and decontextualised commemoration. This chapter explores how national ceremonies of remembrance adapt to this change. Originally Armistice Day was held on 11 November, but after the Second World War, the main ceremony was moved to Remembrance Day (also known as Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday nearest to the Armistice). In the middle of the 1990s, Armistice Day was brought back thanks to the efforts of the Royal British Legion (RBL). This chapter discusses the political aspects of changes in the ritual and discourse of the national days of remembrance in modern Britain.
Nataliya Danilova

5. Media Commemoration in Russia

The recognition of the media’s power in shaping public attitudes towards wars is not sufficient for an understanding of the Russian experience of media commemoration of military fatalities. Our analysis cannot claim any accuracy without taking into account a series of groundbreaking political, economic and societal transformations experienced by the country from the early 1980s onwards. This chapter situates the analysis of the Russian military fatalities within the wider political context and traces changes in the media coverage from the Soviet Afghan War (1979–89) through the first Chechen conflict (1994–6) to the second conflict in Chechnya (1999–2009).
Nataliya Danilova

6. War Memorials in Russia

The collapse of the Soviet Union has facilitated a ‘memory boom’ of previously neglected or ‘forgotten’ experiences across Eastern Europe. According to Blaker and Etkind, ‘the transition from the long socialist decades of secrecy and servility to the neoliberal twenty-first century with its mobility crises, and corruption, has made East European memory challenging, even explosive’ (2013, p. 4). This ‘explosive’ nature of memory expresses itself through the contestation of narratives and interpretations of past experiences, from the Stalinist Terror in Russia to the experience of the Soviet domination and the ‘double — Soviet and German — genocide’ of Eastern European societies. Blaker and Etkind also argue that, unlike Western societies, which tend to ‘fix troublesome memories in stone’, in Eastern Europe and Russia, ‘memoirs, novels, films, and fast-moving public debates about the past have outpaced and overshadowed monuments, memorials, and museums’ (2013, p. 5). Our analysis of war memorialisation challenges this observation. The experience of the Soviet Afghan War and the Chechen conflicts resulted in hundreds of new war memorials scattered across all the regions of Russia. In the context of the limited and highly selective media commemoration, local memorials become the main vehicles for the remembrance of fallen soldiers.
Nataliya Danilova

7. Remembering War: Celebrating Russianness

In the UK, rising social diversity within British society, combined with new security threats, facilitated a discussion about the nature of British national identity; in Russia, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 triggered a search for a national identity for a country which happened to have none (Urban, 1998; Tolz, 1998, 2004; Lieven, 1999). The dissolution of the Soviet state gave rise to a swift decline in the self-esteem of the Russian population. In the early 1990s, ‘Russians had a very negative view of themselves’ and responded to public opinion surveys with answers such as ‘we are worse than everybody in in the world’ and ‘we bring only negative things to the world’ (Lamelle, 2009, p. 154). To find a new national identity for Russian society was a mammoth task. This undertaking required Russia ‘to be its own successor, to create a new identity based on the denial of the Soviet past … to fall into emptiness and start its history from a blank slate’ (Morozov, 2009, p. 429; cited in Shevel, 2011, p. 181). At the level of political discourse, experts observed a move from ‘civic rossiiskii nation-building in 1992 … towards a more ethnic and imperial conceptualisation of the new Russian state as a homeland for the Russians and Russian-speakers throughout the former USSR’ (Shevel, 2011, p. 190). However, during the 1990s, the search for a national identity was constantly plagued by contradictory policy agendas, contradictory movements between civil and ethnic conceptualisations of Russian identity, and an inability of the authorities to develop a functional policy implementation mechanism for national identity building.
Nataliya Danilova

8. From Remembrance to Militarisation

According to the American sociologist Barry Schwarz, commemoration is ‘a register of sacred history’ and an embodiment of ‘our deepest and most fundamental values’ (1982, p. 377). The paradox of contemporary commemoration lies in the obsessive desire of both societies, Britain and Russia, to ‘forget’ and ignore the ambivalent causes of modern conflicts. Both societies search for a solution for the two interconnected dilemmas ‘of how to honour the participant without reference to the cause’ and ‘of how to ignore the cause without denying the participant’ (Wagner-Pacifici and Schwarz, 1991, p. 404). Surprisingly, both societies shy away from conceptualising modern warfare and opt for separating war’s confusing causes from its participants. This symbolic separation allows for the powerful illusion of remembrance without politics.
Nataliya Danilova


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