Crossing Borders: Migration, Generational Change, and Historical Narratives

Crossing Borders: Migration, Generational Change, and Historical Narratives

Félix Krawatzek, Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS), Berlin; Alina Jašina-Schäfer, Research Network “Ambivalences of the Soviet”, represented by the Nordost-Institut (IKGN e.V.)
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
12.06.2023 - 13.06.2023
Johanna Mogwitz / Félix Krawatzek / Hakob Matevosyan, Zentrum für Osteuropa- und internationale Studien (ZOiS), Berlin

How is history narrated and perceived, particularly in times of conflicts and societal crises, and how do migration and generational change affect those narratives? A two-day international workshop at the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) explored these interconnected themes. Thirteen speakers across four panels presented their studies that explored the impact of mobility and generational change on collective memories and the reconfiguration of spaces, analysing the intergenerational and interspatial fissures that have challenged established historical narratives. The workshop aimed to deepen the understanding of such complex dynamics, and offered an interdisciplinary platform to discuss paradigmatic shifts.

The first panel delved into the renegotiation of memory politics in different contexts. Topics ranged from the overlooking of Eastern histories in German collective memory culture, to the exploration of leftist generation experiences in Georgia during the 1990s, and the impact of parents’ historical views on the beliefs and values of Polish youth.

DARJA KLINGENBERG (Frankfurt/Oder) asked how memory politics have been renegotiated since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. She asserted that German collective memory culture tends to overlook Eastern histories, while also highlighting the prevalence of anti-Polish and anti-Slavic sentiments. Considering traumatic migrant histories she argued that these often stand in conflict with dominant German memory narratives. Soviet silences and diverse Cold War perspectives further make visible the need for inclusive memory work to fill gaps in history and cultural memory.

VERONIKA PFEILSCHIFFTER (Berlin/Jena) presented her research on the 1990s leftist generation in Georgia based on interviews with Georgian interlocutors. She explored their political ideologies, and ideological self-positioning. She also delved into perceptions of justice regarding the Soviet Union, socio-political memories and justice perceptions of the United National Movement as well as imaginations of justice for the future.

(Inter-)Generationality also played a role in HAKOB MATEVOSYAN’s (Berlin) presentation on family traditions and memories of Polish youth. Specifically, he addressed the question of how parents’ views on history, consistent with what is taught in school, impact the beliefs and values of youth. Building on a recent original survey among young Poles, Matevosyan and colleagues found that generally the trust of young Poles in the historical knowledge shared by their parents and by schools is high. Parents also impact on young Poles when it comes to forming political opinions. The data further highlighted that there is no simple relation between parents’ and children’s political party preference. Decoding of historical views into political views remains therefore more complex to study than the encoding of historical views onto young people.

Apart from generationality, the concept of “the other” in domestic memory presented a second focus of the discussions. Presentations examined generational change within the Russophone community in Latvia, the conspiratorial dimension of old left grassroots ideology in Russia, Polish identity shaped by historical narratives and critical debates, and the memory and identity of Russian-speaking migrants in Germany. The panellists adopted diverse methodological approaches, including ethnography, analysis of Facebook posts, focus group discussions and narrative biographical interviews.

LENA HERCBERGA (Bristol) gave the example of generational change within the Russophone community in Latvia. Within the context of long-lasting ethno protectionist politics, Hercberga highlighted the complexity of the process of young Russian speakers shifting from a pro-Soviet and pro-Russian values system towards pro-European and pro-Western values. She argued that this perceived progress and generational change is performative and often non-linear. Her analysis draws on data from ethnographic research, and observations of recent events to provide insights into the perception and performance of difference among young Russian speakers in Latvia.

DARIA KHLEVNYUK (Amsterdam) discussed how the old left grassroots ideology in Russia can be situated within the framework of illiberal memory politics, particularly with regard to its conspiratorial dimension. Her analysis of online conspiratorial memories, particularly Facebook posts related to the old left and the USSR's demise, identified various elements within the conspirational narratives. These elements provided insights into the protagonists involved, their modes of operation, the objectives of their conspiring, and the evidence they presented. Conspiratorial memory, Khlevnyuk argued, works as a mnemonic practice and explanatory in the context of larger claims, such as far-right politics or old-left ideology.

Another method of research was applied in FÉLIX KRAWATZEK’s (Berlin) research on Polish identity and historical narratives. Analysing focus groups, Krawatzek sought to fill a gap in research on memories from below which most commonly employs either surveys or in-depth qualitative studies as data. Having participants discuss the meaning of significant events of Polish history illustrated throughout different generations, individuals establish an emotional connection to history that intertwines their personal family background with the broader political landscape, ultimately shaping their sense of Polishness. In May 2022, critical debates related to the shared Polish-Ukrainian history had become a significant moment of controversy among individuals and revealed the deeply-seated resentments and the potential for a societal backlash. Furthermore, the impact of a discursive shift towards a more patriotic language was evident across age groups, leading to a perception of victimhood and a narrowed, purified perspective on the past.

DANIEL GEBEL (Oldenburg) delved into the realm of memory and identity among Russian-speaking migrants in Germany. Through narrative biographical interviews, he examined how these migrants recalled their everyday lives in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union and the subsequent impact on their lives in Germany. The research highlighted the participants’ contrasting perspectives on Siberia, revealing its dual significance. While cultural memory often depicts Siberia as a negative symbol of an open-air prison, many participants viewed it as a symbol of freedom. Gebel probed into the reasons behind this dual perception and explored the various dimensions of freedom that emerged in participants' narratives, shedding light on the complexities of memory and its influence on the migrants' present lives in Germany.

The third panel focused on socio-spatial transformations. Presentations explored the challenges of defining the “end of the post-Soviet” era, the experiences of a Soviet migrant community in Germany, and the transformation of the Slavic Unity festival at the Ukraine-Belarus-Russia border.

MATTHEW BLACKBURN (Oslo) explored the concept of the end of the post-Soviet era and the new challenges it poses in the transnational study of identity formation, generation and migration. He emphasised the difficulty in defining the post-Soviet period, which could encompass various dimensions, such as the post-Soviet system, post-colonial nation-building projects of the 1990s and the post-Cold War era. The presentation addressed the impact of recent global and political ruptures in the context of the new Cold War dynamics between the United States, China and Russia. Blackburn presented a new project that examines interconnected regions, including Russia's role with authoritarian states, Europe's power projection, the US focus on Asia and China, and the agency of states in the Caucasus and Central Asia. He suggested incorporating concepts such as political generations, stable discursive regimes, the socialisation of discourse, and hegemonic narratives to understand identity changes and political orders.

ALINA JAŠINA-SCHÄFER (Mainz/Oldenburg) pondered what scholarship is leaving behind when moving beyond the post-Soviet. She argued that instead of abandoning the term, it might be more constructive to ask when and where using the term might still make sense, when and where people are living with the post-Soviet. She presented her research on the small town of Künzelsau as a particular case of a Soviet migrant community in Germany. Their mode of living, which some might refer to as “not integrated” is emblematic of what Jašina-Schäfer refers to as “living with the post”. It represents a sense of displacement and isolation, a feeling of being “preserved” (zakonservirovannie) in their own world, as an experience that one is being subjected to.

Another example for a spatial transformation was provided by EKATERINA MICHAILOVA (Regensburg) who told the story of the Slavic Unity festival at the Ukraine-Belarus-Russia border. Through analysing relevant hashtags on social media she sought to describe which historical narratives have been promoted in relation to the festival and by whom. She found that since 2014 the Slavic Unity festival has transformed from being people-led to a government-led format; and that religion has come to play an important role. In this context, peace and nostalgia for the recent past and for the complete trinity became the Festival’s new themes. Michailova also pointed to the challenge of data archiving when working with social media as a data source, especially in times of conflict.

The final panel focused on migration and displacement. Presentations explored the influence of historiography and cultural memory on conflicts over ethnic autonomies, the impact of war and migration on autobiographical memories, and the role of ideological preferences in online media discourse during times of conflict. The discussions shed light on the complex dynamics of identity formation, intergenerational transmission of memory, and the shaping of narratives in the context of migration and displacement.

MALKHAZ TORIA (Tbilisi) explored how historiography, cultural memory, and the national imaginary influenced rivalries and conflicts over ethnic autonomies in Soviet Georgia from the 1950s to the late 1980s. Focusing on historical debates and memory wars between Georgian and Abkhaz/Ossetian “mnemonic communities”, his research investigated cultural mobilisations, symbolism and the role of academic organizations and cultural mobilisations in shaping identities and political rhetoric. He provided insight into the complex dynamics that contributed to the contested historical knowledge and its impact on societal relationships.

ALENA ZELENSKAIA (Munich) discussed how the Russian war in Ukraine and ensuing migration impacted on the autobiographical memories of elderly Ukrainian refugees in Germany. The research aimed to understand how the Soviet legacy is displaced in these memories and how they are processed and transmitted between generations. Utilising narrative biographical interviews, Zelenskaia found that the term Soviet was largely absent and that participants exhibited diverse attitudes concerning the transmission of knowledge to their children and grandchildren, and their visions for Ukraine's future. Zelenskaia’s paper further allowed discussing ethical challenges in conducting narrative interviews in conflict, such as the potential emotional toll it may have on refugees.

OLENA ZINENKO (Kharkiv/Frankfurt/Oder) examined how ideological preferences are evident in online and social media discourses in times of war. She questioned how these preferences relate to the past, present and future, as intentionally portrayed in the messages repertoire. The study centred on the cultural public events that Ukrainians collectively "celebrated" digitally in the initial three months of the war: the Eurovision Song Contest, Easter and Reconciliation/Victory Day. To this end, comments on Ukrainian and Russian language publications in online media and social networks in Germany were analysed. Different emotional valuations of these events and varying temporal outlooks exemplified how ideological stances influenced the portrayal of events during the war, shedding light on the complex interplay of memories and emotions in shaping online discourses.

The Workshop explored the impact of migration and generational change on historical narratives in times of conflict and societal crises. Discussions revealed the crucial role of memory politics in shaping historical understandings, with overlooked histories, and traumatic migrant experiences standing in conflict with dominant narratives. Generationality emerged as a significant factor impacting beliefs, values, and political opinions, and the concept of “the other” played a key role in domestic memory. Methodological approaches revealed generational shifts and identity transformations, emphasising the need for inclusive memory work. Socio-spatial transformations showcased the complexities of identity formation, and the panel on migration and displacement highlighted the influence of historiography and cultural memory on conflicts and autobiographical memories. Overall, the workshop emphasised the significance of multidisciplinary approaches to historical memory in times of ongoing change and upheaval.

Conference overview:

Generational Memories and Change

Chair: Félix Krawatzek

Darja Klingenberg (European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder): Reframing, Adapting and Uncovering. Post-Soviet Jewish Memory Cultures in a German Migrant Society

Veronika Pfeilschifter (ZOiS, Berlin): Political Ideologies, Socio-Political Memories and Imaginaries of (In-)justice: Critical Perspectives From the 90s Leftist Generation in Georgia

Hakob Matevosyan (ZOiS, Berlin): Intergenerational Political Identifications: Family Traditions and Memories of Youth

The Other in Domestic Memory

Chair: Alina Jašina-Schäfer

Lena Hercberga (University of Bristol): ‘Homo Sovieticus’ still alive? Performing Dual Mentality Among Young Russian Speakers in Latvia

Daria Khlevnyuk (University of Amsterdam): Digital Conspirational Memory of the USSR’s Dissolution: CIA, Zionists, and Other Suspects

Félix Krawatzek (ZOiS, Berlin): Memory from below and the Making of a National Space

Daniel Gebel (Federal Institute for Culture and History of the Germans in Eastern Europe, BKGE, Oldenburg): Longing for the ‘Space of Exile’. Siberia and Central Asia in Collective and Individual Memory‘

Socio-Spatial Transformations

Chair: Hakob Matevosyan

Matthew Blackburn (Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Oslo): The End of the “post-Soviet”: New Challenges in the Transnational Study of Identity Formation, Generation and Migration

Alina Jašina-Schäfer (University of Mainz / Federal Institute for Culture and History of the Germans in Eastern Europe, BKGE, Oldenburg): The Weight of Another Place and Time: Migration and Post-Socialist Imaginations in Germany

Ekaterina Mikhailova (Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies, IOS, Regensburg): Subverting the “Slavic Unity”: A Story of a Hijacked Festival at the Ukraine-Belarus-Russia Border

Migration and Displacement

Chair: Hakob Matevosyan

Malkhaz Toria (Ilia State University, Tbilisi): Memories of Critical Events after Forced Displacement: Life Stories of IDP “Memory Specialists”

Alena Zelenskaia (University of Munich): Memories About the Soviet After 2022: How Elderly Ukrainian Refugees in Germany Remember the Past

Olena Zinenko (Kharkiv National University / European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder): Streaming Online Memories in Times of War: The Ukrainian Discourse in Social Media