Europe's post-Cold War memory
of Russia: cui bono?
Iver B. Neumann
In the course of the last ten years, a sizable chunk of territory which we used to refer to as 'Eastern Europe' has changed social, political, economic and alliance allegiances and reincarnated itself as 'central Europe'. How could this happen so quickly? Inasmuch as this shift has been imbricated in changing power relations in the area, the event calls for political analysis. In partial answer to this call, the chapter points to two mnemonic factors. First, during the 'Eastern European' years, a discourse was kept alive by dint of which this territory was also remembered as something else, namely as 'central Europe'. Thus, an alternative memory was already available to the local political elite, even as the Cold War era was coming to a halt. This memory was used in order to differentiate this territory from the former Soviet Union, and also from the Balkans. Second, if it was possible for this alternative memory of the territory as qualitatively different from the former Soviet Union to be accepted by 'the West', it was because the dominant memory of Russia in Western discourse was informed by memories of Russia as a backward country and a potential military threat. These memories emanated from periods which antedated communism, and so the fall of communism was not in and of itself enough to erase them. Central Europeans used these memories as a manipulable resource of symbolic political power in order to gain political advantages such as membership of NATO and of the European Union (EU). All this was possible because Russia is liminal to European identity itself. By making up a spatial grey area towards China and a chronological grey area towards Europe's own past, Russia is the boundary which tells us who we are and where we belong, in space as well as in time. This chapter offers an account of how elites have handled what Tim Snyder in chapter 1 calls 'national memory' or mémoire. In other words, I am dealing with collective representations of the past at the level of overall political discourse. The chapter has nothing to say about the material and communicative transmission of memory, nor does it offer anything on the individual memory of others than intellectuals and politicians.
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Publication information: Book title: Memory and Power in Post-War Europe: Studies in the Presence of the Past. Contributors: Jan-Werner Müller - Editor. Publisher: Cambridge University Press. Place of publication: Cambridge, England. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 121.
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