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Europe-Asia Studies

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Remembrance, History, and Justice. Coming

to Terms with Traumatic Pasts in Democratic

Jelena Đureinović

To cite this article: Jelena Đureinović (2017) Remembrance, History, and Justice. Coming to
Terms with Traumatic Pasts in Democratic Societies, Europe-Asia Studies, 69:5, 846-847, DOI:

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Published online: 26 Jul 2017.

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Download by: [Australian Catholic University] Date: 26 July 2017, At: 05:58

Vladimir Tismaneanu & Bogdan C. Iacob (eds), Remembrance, History, and Justice. Coming to Terms
with Traumatic Pasts in Democratic Societies. Budapest & New York, NY: Central European
University Press, 2015, 508pp., ₤30.00/€39.00/$45.00 p/b.

societies and politics from a local to a global scale. This is the starting point of this edited volume,
which seeks to examine the experience and relevance of interactions between history, memory and
justice—most notably in the form of dealing with the authoritarian past—for the present and future of
democracy. The volume is divided into four sections that encompass three main themes: the public use
of history; politics of memory; and transitional justice. To overcome a Eurocentric approach, the volume
covers a wide geographical scope from very interdisciplinary perspectives. The idea that ties together the
diversity of the contributions, covering the areas ‘from Europe to South Asia and from Russia to South
Africa’ (p. 17), is the concept of post-authoritarian democracies and the urge to overcome ‘the burdens
of authoritarian pasts’ (p. 1). Framed in such general terms, the conceptualisation of the volume allows
the drawing of parallels between post-war Germany and a variety of countries with a non-democratic
past or an authoritarian present, such as Cuba. The model of working through the past is a key theme
here: based on its experience with both its Nazi and communist pasts, Germany represents an ‘imperfect
but incredibly important model for reckoning with the demons of the twentieth century’ (p. 3).
The edited volume brings together prominent scholars of history, political science, international
relations, conflict resolution and transitional justice studies. Structured into four sections, the volume
combines country-specific case studies with comparative and transnational perspectives. The book’s focus
is largely placed on Eastern Europe, with chapters on Russia, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, Moldova,
Bulgaria and Lithuania. These are complemented by contributions on Latin America, South Africa,
the Middle East, East Asia and Japan. Part 1 focuses on the relationship between memory politics and
democratisation, covering a very wide comparative geographical scope—Europe and East Asia (Daniel
Chirot), Latin America, Palestine (Jeffrey Herf), and post-communist Romania and Europe (Alexandru
Gussi). The second section, with chapters by Vladimir Tismaneanu, David Brandenberger and Jan-Werner
Müller, engages with history in the public, examining state-sanctioned initiatives and their effects in
Romania, Russia and Germany. Part 3 delves into more specific case studies of mechanisms of settling
accounts with the past, placing particular analytical emphasis on trials. The book’s concluding section
looks at competing narratives and debates in Poland (John Connolly), Lithuania (Leonidas Donskis),
Romania (Bogdan Iacob) and Bulgaria (Nikolai Vukov). The introduction and the chapters discussed
below reflect the volume as a whole; it has to be noted that the book does not however have ‘a unitary
argument or a communion of standpoints among various authors’ (p. 6), but represents a set of diverse
and complementary interpretations.
In the introduction, the editors refer to a recent transnational trend, namely that which can be related
to the understanding that ‘long-term, state-endorsed amnesia ultimately subverts and even delegitimizes
post-dictatorial democracies’ (p. 2). This presupposition has been central to memory politics in national
and international contexts over the past two and a half decades. The idealistic and normative approach
positions the volume in the wider context of the dominant tendency in the fields such as memory studies,
which often closely relate, but ultimately do not belong entirely to, the transitional justice paradigm.
Such an approach centres on the uncritical appraisal of the victory of the liberal democracy model in
former authoritarian societies, perceiving overcoming the traumatic past through top-down institutional
frameworks as crucial for the consolidation of liberal democracy.
The tone of the book is set by the opening chapter, which reproduces a lecture delivered by Timothy
Snyder. Following the arguments central to his previous work, most importantly to Bloodlands, the
first part of Snyder’s chapter offers an overview of the period from 1933 to 1945 as the greatest period
of deliberate killings. Furthermore, Snyder provides a critical summary of politics of memory in both

Western and Eastern Europe, finishing with a list of recommendations for European states on how to
make memory policies less unsatisfactory. For Snyder, the fact that there was the overlap of both Nazi
and communist rule in the ‘bloodlands’ serves as a reason to justify the problematic memory politics in
these states after 1989. Snyder finishes in controversial fashion by arguing for dropping ‘the taboo on
comparing Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union’ (p. 42). This taboo, which is based on the equation of
the two regimes in question, continues to pervade the commemoration policies across EU states, while
influencing key academic publications, including the volume reviewed here.
In their contribution on the delayed emergence of memory, Eusebio Mujal-León and Eric Langenbacher
compare Germany with Spain, Chile and Argentina, and add some considerations on Cuba. They develop
a detailed model explaining how memory emerges in some post-authoritarian countries and not in others,
and why it does so at a specific juncture. The chapter is theoretically based on the concepts of memory
and collective memory. As opposed to that, memory is approached from the top-down perspective,
neglecting the plurality of memories and mnemonic agents that exist in each society. This theoretical
misconception could be avoided by replacing the concepts of collective memory and delayed emergence
of memory with official memory politics and coming to terms with the past that would link to the
chapter more accurately. The chapter makes a clear distinction between the ‘unfree’ exclusivist and ‘free’
pluralistic political systems and memory regimes. While the legitimacy of exclusivist memory regimes
depends on a specific interpretation of history, the presence of multiple memories is only allowed in
liberal democracies (p. 80). By arguing this, the authors ignore the existence of legal and institutional
frameworks in the states labelled post-authoritarian in this volume, that not only promote a very specific
interpretation of the past, but also often criminalise the interpretations opposing the dominant narratives.
The approach to the use of memory politics in relation to legitimacy in post-authoritarian democracies
that is not critical enough is the issue of the volume as a whole.
Although the aim of the volume is to examine post-authoritarian democracies with a globalised
approach, it is evident that dealing with the communist past in Central and Eastern Europe dominates the
contributions’ focus. Other ‘traumatic pasts’ are addressed in a number of chapters, but are more often
used as a point of reference or comparison. Depicting the Prague memorial to victims of communism
on the book cover is therefore a very telling choice. The volume lacks a conclusion that would bring
the numerous contributions closer together, drawing on the aims set in the introduction, providing an
outlook and really globalising the volume. Nevertheless, because of the high number of interdisciplinary
contributions covering a very wide geographical scope, this edited volume represents a set of case
studies that are a valuable source for those interested in the ways the societies facing transition address
their recent pasts.

JELENA ĐUREINOVIĆ, PhD Candidate and Lecturer, Department of Eastern European History, Justus
Liebig University, Giessen, Germany. Email: ĐUREINOVIĆ © 2017

Pål Kolstø & Helge Blakkisrud (eds), The New Russian Nationalism. Imperialism, Ethnicity and
Authoritarianism 2000–2015. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016, 436pp., £75.00 h/b.

in Russian politics. Nationalism entered the mainstream of Russian political life in 2014, with the
annexation of Crimea and the subsequent invasion of Ukraine. The book marks the culmination of
a survey project that, throughout 2013, researched public attitudes to nationalism in three different