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> From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-rev...@lists.h-net.org>
> Date: September 6, 2019 at 11:22:43 AM EDT
> To: h-rev...@lists.h-net.org
> Cc: H-Net Staff <revh...@mail.h-net.org>
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-Nationalism]:  Gökarıksel on Koposov,  'Memory Laws, 
> Memory Wars: The Politics of the Past in Europe and Russia'
> Reply-To: h-rev...@lists.h-net.org
> Nikolay Koposov.  Memory Laws, Memory Wars: The Politics of the Past 
> in Europe and Russia.  Cambridge  Cambridge University Press, 2017.  
> 338 pp.  $29.99 (paper), ISBN 978-1-108-41016-8.
> Reviewed by Saygun Gökarıksel (Boğaziçi University)
> Published on H-Nationalism (September, 2019)
> Commissioned by Cristian Cercel
> Nikolay Koposov's book explores the "changing forms of historical 
> consciousness and political legitimation" (p. 6) in contemporary 
> Europe and Russia through a comparative historical analysis of 
> "memory laws." These laws typically concern past tragedies like 
> genocides or "crimes against humanity," and involve their 
> memorialization and protection by criminalizing certain statements 
> about them, especially denials. This terrain of law and memory, as 
> Koposov's book cogently shows, is full of tensions. Some of them 
> result from the conflicts between different legal rights in liberal 
> democracies (freedom of speech vs. the right to human dignity and 
> public order), some from different understandings of history and 
> politics, and some from the agonistic discussions regarding the 
> efficacy of those laws, whether they can really protect human dignity 
> or prevent fascism. Koposov specifically focuses on the following 
> question: how is it that the memory laws, which were initially 
> formulated to promote or "maintain peace," have recently transformed 
> into a manipulative instrument of memory wars across Europe, 
> particularly in post-Soviet Eastern Europe (p. 9)? This is a crucial 
> question for anyone concerned with the politics of history and memory 
> in the early twenty-first century. And Koposov offers useful insights 
> into the historical conditions that make memory malleable and 
> instrumentable, especially by authoritarian nationalist politics, at 
> our current conjuncture.      
> The book is organized in six chapters, structured around the usual 
> division of Europe into Western Europe and Eastern Europe. The first 
> half of the book gives an historical overview of memory laws in those 
> regions while the second half concentrates on two national case 
> studies, Ukraine and Russia. One of the most innovative parts of this 
> book is the historical problematization of the concept of memory law. 
> The first chapter sets the main theoretical and historical context 
> for this problematization. It suggests that the following 
> interrelated developments in the 1970s and 1980s influenced the 
> emergence and dissemination of memory laws: "the end of the era of 
> class struggle, the formation of the new culture of victimhood," the 
> rise of human rights; "the democratic revolution in historiography, 
> the decay of 'master narratives,' and the rise of memory; and the 
> fall of communism, the end of the postwar social-liberal consensus, 
> and the emergence of neoliberalism, neoconservatism, and 
> ethno-populism" (p. 25). All these developments, suggests Koposov, 
> mark the end of universalistic, "history-based," "future-oriented 
> ideologies" and their displacement by an increasing preoccupation 
> with particularistic identities and event-centered memories (pp. 
> 57-59). For Koposov, this trend of fragmentation of memory makes 
> memory laws susceptible to their nationalist appropriation into 
> exclusionary identity politics. While this account of global 
> historical shifts is overall illuminating, it also has important 
> shortcomings, as I briefly discuss below, especially with regard to 
> its dubious claim about the end of class struggle and the contrast it 
> implies between class (struggle) and questions of memory and 
> subjectivity.  
> In the next chapter, Koposov offers a rich overview of the 
> development of memory laws in Western Europe, from antifascist 
> legislations of the late 1940s and early 1950s and antiracist 
> legislations of the 1960s to the Holocaust denial laws initiated in 
> West Germany (1985) and the Gayssot Act (1990) in France, commonly 
> accepted as the first memory laws. Holocaust memory and its 
> protection against far-right groups and neoconservative anticommunist 
> historical revisionism_, _suggests Koposov, have been at the center 
> of memory laws and the European Union's general approach to memory. 
> One of the most stimulating discussions of the chapter concerns the 
> implications of Holocaust-centered memory for the legal and moral 
> assessment of other genocides and mass violence (and their memories) 
> such as the Armenian Genocide and colonial violence. This issue of 
> the plurality of genocides and "multimemorism" is far from being 
> settled, Koposov underscores. Apart from national and European 
> courts, many historians, especially in France and Germany, have been 
> heatedly engaged in the public discussions on memory laws, opposing 
> the blatant political instrumentalization of history, as for instance 
> in the Mekachera law that aims to highlight the "positive effects" of 
> French colonialism (p. 121).    
> The following chapters focus on the legal strategies and 
> moral-political frameworks employed by memory laws in postsocialist 
> Eastern Europe. While tracing the sources of those laws to 
> socialist-era antifascist and antiracist legislations, Koposov also 
> underscores the key influence of the European Union's memory 
> policies, especially the criminalization of the Holocaust 
> negationism. De-communization laws of the 1990s and 2000s have had a 
> key impact on the formulation of memory laws in the region, embodying 
> the common strategy of equating communism with fascism as a criminal 
> totalitarian rule. These laws typically shift the responsibility for 
> communism to some alien forces, treating the communist period as a 
> foreign, "Russian occupation" (p. 131). This exoneration of 
> responsibility fuels the nationalist instrumentalization of memory 
> and finds supporters across the entire political spectrum, including 
> liberal and conservative nationalists.  
> The chapters on Ukraine and Russia highlight even more boldly the way 
> memory laws have become a field of struggle structured around the 
> nation-state and larger geopolitical relations in Eastern Europe. The 
> discussion of the Russian case shows vividly the instrumentalization 
> of memory laws as part of neo-imperial, authoritarian, and 
> nationalist strategies, especially under Putin. Ukraine has been a 
> central focus of Russia's memory wars (together with Poland, Latvia, 
> Lithuania, and Estonia). The Russian expansionism toward Ukraine (its 
> recent annexation of Crimea) decisively shapes the memory politics in 
> the country, especially the debates around fascism, Europeanization, 
> and Ukrainian nationhood. But Russia's policy toward Ukraine is also 
> an integral part of the internal political struggles in Russia. 
> Fueling nationalist sentiments through the war in Ukraine helps Putin 
> repress his opponents. In the same vein, antifascism in Russia, 
> Koposov shows, has largely become a nation-state ideology and a 
> keyword used by Putin to demonize his enemies inside and outside of 
> the country. World War II, what Stalin called the "Great Patriotic 
> War," is revived to articulate this antifascism and invent the 
> national origins of post-Soviet Russia. Putin's memory laws aim to 
> establish the "cult of war" and protect the memory of the Stalin 
> regime against the memory of its victims. It nationalizes the USSR as 
> an imperial Russian power while purifying Soviet history of its 
> communist component. Only the failures of the USSR and Soviet state 
> violence are attributed to communism, which is treated as a foreign 
> thing.  
> Yet, this nationalist instrumentalization of memory laws, Koposov 
> rightly suggests, should not be understood as some kind of Eastern 
> European anomaly or perversion. Rather, it reveals already existing 
> tensions within the memory laws, which Koposov discerns in the broad 
> historical shifts mentioned above--the decline of master narratives, 
> the end of the era of class struggle, the "crisis of global history" 
> (p. 49), and the rise of memory and particularistic identity politics 
> based on victimhood. This discussion is certainly useful and gives a 
> suggestive context for further research. But it also needs to be 
> complemented and even challenged on certain points. Indeed, the book 
> overall falls into the usual division between culture and political 
> economy. The reader learns little about the material conditions of 
> memory laws and wars, their social worlds, and the antagonisms 
> underlying them, beyond party-political struggles. Whose memories and 
> which memories are nationalized or institutionalized by the law, and 
> which ones are not? I suspect that the book's relative obliviousness 
> about these issues partly results from its hurried assumption about 
> the so-called end of the era of class struggle (do class relations of 
> power cease to exist in memory laws and wars?), which then disables a 
> richer understanding of the social-material dynamics fueling 
> nationalist memory wars.[1] Instead, further research on memory laws 
> might benefit from employing a more expansive and relational notion 
> of class that takes class as a social-historical formation that is in 
> the making and intimately related to questions of memory, 
> subjectivity, and the law (e.g., Raymond Williams, E. P. Thompson) 
> and to gendered, racialized, and other social forms of inequality and 
> oppression.[2]   
> Moreover, future research might delve further into the uneven 
> historical relations of power and domination between and within 
> Western and Eastern Europe. These centuries-long relations decisively 
> prepare the symbolic and material ground for the instrumentalization 
> of memory to bolster national sovereignty, for instance, in Eastern 
> Europe vis-à-vis the European Union. Finally, Koposov's focus on 
> Europe might be complemented with research on memory laws and 
> politics in other parts of the world, especially in the global South. 
> By engaging more directly with long-standing colonial and capitalist 
> structures of power, their legacies and contemporary articulations, 
> this research might bring a fresh perspective on the memory laws and 
> wars surging across the world today.  
> Notes 
> [1]. The advent of neoliberalism and the "political failure of the 
> Left" and organized labor in the 1970s does not mean the "end of the 
> age of class struggle," as Nikolay Koposov claims (pp. 55). For 
> instance, in David Harvey's _A Brief History of Neoliberalism 
> _(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), to which Koposov refers (p. 
> 53), considers neoliberalism precisely as a ruling-class project to 
> reproduce its class domination through a set of political economic 
> policies and ideological strategies including the "deregulation" and 
> financialization of economy, flexibilization of labor, cuts in public 
> service, and the promotion of the free market as the model for 
> subjectivity.   
> [2]. Raymond Williams, _Marxism and Literature _(Oxford: Oxford 
> University Press, 1978); E. P. Thompson, _The Making of the English 
> Working Class _(New York: Vintage, 1968). See also Don Kalb, 
> _Expanding Class: Power and Everyday Politics in Industrial 
> Communities, The Netherlands 1850-1950 _(Durham, NC: Duke University 
> Press, 1998); and Gerald Sider and Gavin Smith, eds., _Between 
> History and Histories: The Making of Silences and Commemorations 
> _(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997) for suggestive 
> explorations of the intersection of class, memory, and history. See 
> Tithi Bhattacharya, ed., _Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping 
> Class, Recentering Oppression _(London: Pluto, 2017) for a fruitful 
> analysis of class with the gendered and sexualized forms of 
> oppression. 
> Citation: Saygun Gökarıksel. Review of Koposov, Nikolay, _Memory 
> Laws, Memory Wars: The Politics of the Past in Europe and Russia_. 
> H-Nationalism, H-Net Reviews. September, 2019.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54461
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 
> License.
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