Oleg Reut 2023

University of Eastern Finland

Victory Day during the Continuing War: When the cemetery becomes political [v]

The title of the paper refers to the book When the Cemetery Becomes Political which raises the question: How can a cemetery – a place for the dead – evolve into a space that cultivates a political dynamic? This question gains increased significance in times of war when new graves emerge daily, the pain of war is often very physical and place-based: the experience of suffering is tied to matter and to place, both as tragedy unfolds and long after. In Russia, this year’s Victory Day (9 May) occurred under quite unique circumstances. Across the country, parades and public gatherings to honour the Soviet contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II were cancelled, with the authorities citing security concerns. The national Immortal Regiment spectacle, in which millions of Russians across the country and abroad join President Vladimir Putin and other officials in marching with photographs of their relatives who gave their lives or otherwise contributed to the Soviet war effort in World War II, was called off. Cemeteries transformed into places of political interaction. Applying the Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (EVL) model (Hirschman) to two case studies, the paper analyses the act of laying flowers on a grave and memorial as a means to shape the ways in which people relate to a difficult past. Cemeteries can be considered as an application of Hirschman’s EVL scheme and as scenes where places of commemoration serve as a safety valve for visitors, allowing them to renounce their discontent and their potential to articulate protest. The paper focuses on two city cemeteries in Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Republic of Karelia, a North-Western region of the Russian Federation. One of them features a monument devoted to the victims of Finnish concentration camps, while the other serves as a site for the memorial to the victims of political repression.


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