War Commemoration As a Transnational Social Movement in Post-Migrant Societies: A Case Study from Berlin

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 17:55
Oral Presentation
Mischa GABOWITSCH, Einstein Forum, Germany
By looking at war commemoration, this paper focuses on a type of collective action that is not easily classified as justice-seeking, violence-espousing, or identitarian. Nevertheless commemorative movements have been remarkably prominent in some parts of the world in recent years, sharing certain features with more conventional social movements.

Many movements maintain the memory of significant events in social movement history, or those commemorating martyrs for a cause. In such cases, commemoration lends greater emotional salience to that cause. In other cases, commemoration itself becomes a movement's central cause.

Migration, caused by events ranging from the Armenian genocide through repression in e.g. Latin American or Middle Eastern countries to the Soviet collapse, has created transnational commemorative movements and post-migrant societies where different cultures of commemoration mix and clash. Drawing on several years of fieldwork, this paper looks at a case study from Berlin: a small initiative that campaigns to transform the famous Soviet war memorial in Treptower Park by individualizing soldiers who were deliberately buried in an anonymous mass grave, as well as renovating other war graves in the region. The initiative was created by a blue collar worker born in Tajikistan and involves both local and international participants, recruited either through family and friendship networks or through contacts with the massive volunteer search and reburial movement that looks for the remains of World War II soldiers in former Soviet countries. In the process, the initiative has developed both conflictual and collaborative relationships with state institutions ranging from municipal administrations to embassies of post-Soviet countries.

The paper analyzes the Berlin initiative itself and embeds it in a broader reflection on transnational commemorative movements. In addition to local fieldwork, it draws on data from a multi-year, multi-sited collaborative study of war commemoration in eleven post-socialist countries.