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Rory Finnin Part of Landmark Grant to Study 'Memory Wars'

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On 4 June 2009, as Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko joined her counterpart Donald Tusk in Kraków to mark the twentieth anniversary of the first free elections in Poland, the Russian Ministry of Defense published an article on its website that blamed Poland for provoking World War II.

After a heated debate in Russian print and Internet media, the article disappeared from the Defense Ministry’s site. In the meantime, talk grew of yet another gas-and-debt crisis between Russia and Ukraine. On 1 September 2009, together with other European leaders, the Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian Prime Ministers met in Gdansk to commemorate the 70th anniversary of World War II. ‘Putin will fight attempts to rewrite the history of World War II during his trip to Poland,’ announced the Kremlin before the visit, while a sociological poll by GfK Polonia revealed that 76 percent of Poles would like to hear Putin ‘express regret’ about the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939.

These events, while devoid of any direct causal relationship, cannot be properly understood apart from one another. In post-communist Eastern Europe, disruptions of politics, trade, and security collide with paroxysms of suspicion that take the unusual shape of heated debates about the traumatic moments of the twentieth century. A 'memory war' is raging in Eastern Europe, a cultural conflict that is increasingly leading states in the region to act against their own economic and political interests. Understanding this conflict is the subject of a HERA Collaborative Research Project led by the University of Cambridge, ‘Memory at War: Cultural Dynamics in Poland, Russia, and Ukraine’ (MAW).

Drs Alexander Etkind and Rory Finnin have conceived of the project, which recently won a €1 million grant from the HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) Consortium. It will usher in a number of doctoral and postdoctoral researchers who will direct their research to the problems of cultural memory in Ukraine, marking an advancement in the growing Cambridge Ukrainian Studies initiative.

The project involves academics in Cambridge, Groningen, Bergen, Helsinki and Tartu and advances a new methodology to map 'memory events' across a host of literary, filmic, historical and web-based texts in real time.

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