© James Lansbury

Uncommon Transitions? Memory and Forgetting between Eastern and Western Europe

Why do memories of transitions in the late 1980s and 1990s remain disconnected between Eastern and Western Europe? This NIAS talk explores the diverging interpretations and memory cultures of this turbulent time in history that have emerged in the ‘former East’ and the ‘former West’. Together with experts working on different parts of Central and Eastern Europe, we shed light on how these transitions are remembered and forgotten in the Netherlands as well as in other countries of the ‘former West’.

Despite a general idea of what happened during the collapse of the USSR and Yugoslavia, and what preceded these events, the former West still seems to have little understanding of the significant resonances and repercussions of these transformations beyond the region. However, if we think about migration from Eastern Europe since the 1990s, the crisis of democracy, and Russia’s war in Ukraine, it is hard to underestimate how the post-Cold War present of the European West has been shaped by processes in the Eastern region. This urges us to critically approach the ways in which traumas and memories of transitions have shaped Western Europe’s visions of itself and the world.

In this event, we ask both what we remember but also have forgotten about this period. Can we speak about common legacies of transitions for the East and West or will they always remain uncommon? How can we move beyond thinking of both regions as monolithic blocks? And how can cultural analysis help us to get a clearer understanding of these dilemmas?

About the speakers

Ksenia Robbe is Assistant Professor of European Culture and Literature at the University of Groningen and a NIAS fellow from September 2022 – June 2023. Robbe is an expert on Contemporary Russian literature and art. During her fellowship, she’s looking into similarities and differences between the emerging memories of post-Soviet and post-apartheid ‘transitions’ of the 1980s-90s.

Dorine Schellens is Assistant Professor at Leiden University working the fields of contemporary Russian and German literature and culture. Her research focuses on the reception of late Soviet Russian art in Europe, contemporary Russian protest art, and cultural theory. Her current research zooms in on imaginations of (alternative) futures in Russian and Eastern German literature and art. She is a steering group member of the academic solidarity network The University of New Europe which offers support to students, scholars, and cultural workers at risk due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Gulnaz Sibgatullina is an Assistant Professor for Illiberal Regimes in the Department of History, European Studies, and Religious Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her research focuses on Islam in Europe, contemporary Islamic thought, state-church relations, and minority issues in Russia.

Ana Devic is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University Business Academy Novi Sad, Serbia. She is an Associate Research Fellow with the KU Leuven LINES institute and a NIAS Fellow from February-June 2023.

Katherina Gorodynska is born in Ukraine and grew up in Germany. She works as a graphic designer, researcher and cultural programmer with focus on questions around publishing, community building and curating.

Eveliene Veen (moderator) is a historian and selection officer at NIAS. She studied history in Leiden and Berlin and is currently affiliated with the University of Münster where she conducts her PhD research. Her research focuses on contemporary German History with a specialization in Political Violence.

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