John S. Osterweis Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine
George Orwell once observed: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
The contemporary politics of memory and commemoration in Eastern Europe reminds us that history is as much about today as it is about seventy years ago. Across the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, a peculiar form of historical amnesia is spreading. Since the global financial crisis began in 2008, conservative politicians in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria have pushed forward with the agenda of the Prague Declaration, a bold program that equates the crimes of Nazism with those of communism, and portrays East European countries as the hapless victims of twin totalitarianisms. New days of commemoration and monuments honor the so-called victims of communism when many of these supposed “victims” were perpetrators of heinous crimes. The timing of these new public memory initiatives is no coincidence. As capitalism began experiencing the worst global shocks since the Great Depression, political and economic elites appear to think it is more important than ever to preach about the evils of leftist alternatives.
Kristen R. Ghodsee is a Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Bowdoin College and a current Senior Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS). She has held residential research fellowships at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC; the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey; the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Anthropology and Cultural Studies in 2012. Ghodsee is the author of five books and dozens of articles on communism, postcommunism, and economic transition in Eastern Europe. Her latest book, The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe, is forthcoming with Duke University Press in 2015.