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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2009

9 - The power of memory


The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Milan Kundera

The breakdown of communism revealed the momentous task of trying to make sense of several decades of falsification of history and distortion of memory. ‘It's as if the regime were guilty of two crimes on a massive scale: murder and the unending assault against memory. In making a secret of history, the Kremlin made its subjects just a little more insane, a little more desperate.’ A growing body of literature, responding to the repressive nature of communism but primarily interested in the practical side of reshaping public policies and returning to ‘normal politics’, has drawn attention to how transitional justice and the politics of memory can contribute to reworking the past. Post-communist societies faced the difficult choice between public policies of retribution, disqualification, or reconciliation; in addition, in many countries, the breakdown of communism did not appear as a decisive breakthrough at all. Much of the post-communist predicament seems to consist in an apparent contradiction between simultaneous claims about the extinction of historical consciousness and persistent influence of too much memory. This dilemma calls for reassessing the temporality applied to studies of communism, democratisation, and post-communism. The recovery of the primacy of historical events as experiences of meaning-formation as pursued in the preceding chapters necessitates three considerations.

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