Memory Laws and Memory Wars in Poland, Russia and Ukraine
Jahrbuch des öffentlichen Rechts, 69, 2021. 95-117 (forthcoming).
22 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2021 Last revised: 16 Feb 2022
Date Written: March 16, 2021
While memory laws emerged in the Western European context almost three decades ago, there has been a recent proliferation of memory laws in Central and Eastern Europe in the 2010s. This emerging body of law, contrary to its origins, appears to fortify a state-sanctioned victimhood and seeks to establish a preferable narrative of history in public memory through legal means. The outlook on WWII history and the dominance of Soviet communism is a central point of contestation as CEE states construct opposing historical narratives that implicate one another in the ongoing war for remembrance. In our contribution, we focus on three CEE states as country studies, covering memory laws in Poland, Russia, and Ukraine, as well as analyzing their memory legislation in the context of memory wars. Our analysis subsequently highlights how ‘memory wars’ unfold as proxy wars for contemporary state identities. A quest for mnemonical security, states securitize the governance of memory which is hence excluded from public discourse and subjugated to restrictive permissible discourses and remembrance practices. These methods of mnemonic governance via militant memory laws thereby erode the foundational elements of liberal democracy, weaken constitutional orders as well as add fuel to nationalist tendencies, all of which have implications for democratic backsliding. Furthermore, our contribution demonstrates that memory laws in all three countries have been adopted as swords and shields amidst the mutual memory wars: (1) between Poland and Ukraine, on the one side, against Russia, on the other side, as well as (2) Poland and Ukraine between themselves, and (3) Russia and Ukraine between themselves. These diametrically opposed historical narratives, institutionalized through memory laws, thus have significant implications and can potentially deepen conflicts, historical feuds, and ethnic and national tensions.
Keywords: Memory Laws, Memory Wars, Politics of Memory, De-Communization Laws, Poland, Russia, Ukraine
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