Past for the Eyes: East European Representations of Communism in Cinema and Museums after 1989

By Oksana Sarkisova; Péter Apor | Go to book overview

Containing Fascism

History in Post-Communist Baltic Occupation and Genocide Museums1

JAMES MARK

Since the collapse of Communism, three major museums dealing with the recent past have been established in the capital cities of the Baltic states. Two of these—the Museum of Occupations (Tallinn, Estonia, established in 2003) and The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia (Riga, 1993)— linked the Nazi and Soviet periods together to present a history of continuous national subjugation and suffering at the hands of foreign powers, lasting from 1940 to 1991. The third—the Museum of Genocide Victims (Vilnius, Lithuania, 1992)—dealt solely with the terrors of the communist period, despite being placed in a building with a “double past” of both Soviet and Nazi persecution.2

These museums focused on national suffering, terror and occupation. However, it was the terrors of Communism, rather than those of Fascism, which took centre stage. This in part reflected the longer-lasting and more recent nature of communist influence in the region: the Baltic states were incorporated twice into the Soviet Union—in 1940–41, and then between 1944 and 1991; Nazi occupation was restricted to the years 1941–44. However, it also reflected the choices of those who founded these institutions. In the main, these were groups who had suffered under Communism rather than Fascism; the Occupation Museum (Tallinn) was mainly funded by an exile, Dr. Olga Kistler-Ritso, who had fled in the face of Red Army advances in 1944,3 and is run by Heiki Ahonen, a prominent anti-

1 I would like to thank both the British Academy for the small research grant which al-
lowed me to carry out the primary research for this article, and the museum curators, di-
rectors and press officers who generously gave me interviews and guided tours around
their museums and assistance in uncovering material connected with their sites. My
thanks also to Meike Wulf for her comments and suggestions

2 All research at the museums themselves was carried out in the summer of 2005. All
information on displays is correct as of this date.

3 In addition to this, her father was killed by the Soviet regime.

-335-

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