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The theme of this double issue of NZ, comprising numbers 127 and 128 and titled “Leningrad (1941--2019): The Wound of the Siege” is the memory of the siege of Leningrad.
The siege turns into a symbol of pain and suffering before our eyes. As the narrative of the events is being written, both its rhetoric and its ethical references grow more and more fluid: the national epic is further complicated by elements of human tragedy; the ideals of state patriotism come into a tense interaction with humanist values; a heroic discourse clashes with a human rights one. The texts collected in these issues reflect these changes and problematize them. The lack of consensus and attempts to find common ground; the discovery of points of pain that appear to have been healed by time but still continue to hurt; the search for efficient modes of dealing with these points; the emergence of memory subjects whose voices did not, for various reasons, fit the chorus of the Soviet memorial canon; the emergence of new forms of reflection on the siege – these are the main themes of the issue.
The issue begins with Alexander Kustarev's column “Socialism and War”, which describes the political nature of war socialism as a regime characterising most European countries in the interwar period.
Before turning to a conversation about memory based on the empirical material of the siege of Leningrad, we offer a number of theoretical pieces organised into two sections. The first, Political Theory and Depolitisation Practices, contains two articles. A chapter from Henry Rousso's book “Face au Passé. Essais sur la mémoire contemporaine” brings up the question of historical distance, a necessary condition for reflecting on the tragic past (particularly the Holocaust). In “The Moral Economy of Trauma”, Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman consider the complicated and dynamic role of trauma in the creation of group identity and the perception of groups with such an experience.
Two further articles are included in the next section, Culture of Politics. Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider in “Human Rights and the Clash of Memories: The Politics of Forgiveness” and Fuyuki Kurasawa in “«A Message in a Bottle»: Bearing Witness as a Mode of Transnational Practice” incorporate the issues of “difficult past”, genocide, crimes against humanity and the subsequent politics of reconciliation into the framework of the human rights discourse.
The main thematic section of the issue concerns literature as a form of reflecting on the siege experience. Tatyana Voronina's “Hunger in the Soviet Culture: The Meaning and Significance of the Leningrad Catastrophe in Socialist Realist Literature” talks about discursive boundaries imposed by socialist realism on the depiction and interpretation of the siege. Konstantin Bogdanov uses children's books about the siege of Leningrad as an example demonstrating that the socialist realist canon was not as seamless as it might appear. In their articles on the poetry of Tatyana Gnedich and Gennady Gor, Polina Barskova and Petr Safronov recreate the destructive effect of the siege experience from the traces it left on the imagery and structures of the poets' work.
The next section, “The Memory of the Siege – The Siege of Memory”, is a forum bringing together scholars from different countries – Sergei Ushakin, Ekaterina Makhotina, Mikhail Gabovich, Nikita Lomagin, Darya Khlevnyuk, Lisa Kirschenbaum, Irina Sandomirskaya – in an attempt to answer a number of questions suggested by NZ on the subjects of commemorative mechanisms and the social significance of the memory of the Leningrad tragedy.
The issue concludes with a piece by Alexander Dmitriev commemorating Sergei Yarov (1959–2015), a great St Petersburg historian who devoted much time and effort to studying the siege of Leningrad. The books featured in the New Books section are also related, in one way or another, to the issue's main theme.
The memory theme continues in this issue, which begins with the siege letters of the Leningrad philologist Konstantin Shimkevich, edited for publication by Valery Otyakovsky.
The next section focuses on visual representations of the siege. Natalia Arlauskaite in “Siege Anamorphoses” analyses optical distortions appearing in both visual and verbal depictions of the siege as inevitable consequences of the challenge that trauma poses to representation. Alexei Pavlovsky relies on the reception of Mikhail Ershov's film “The Siege” to explore the process whereby the Leningrad-centric memory of the war was formed in the Soviet cinema of the 1970s. Igor Vishnevetsky describes a typical way of representing a city under siege, one that can be found in Pavel Shillingovsky's etchings.
The Case Study section features “A Modernist Monument for a Classical City” by Vadim Bass, in which the St Petersburg historian of architecture outlines the history of post-war discussions around the idea of the perfect monumental tribute to the siege.
Another major thematic section, “Performatives of Memory”, brings up the question of siege commemoration with respect to such memory institutions as the museum and the archive. It opens with a translated chapter from “Exhibiting Atrocity: Memorial Museums and the Politics of Past Violence” by Amy Sodaro, introducing the context of such an emergent form of memory related to a “difficult past” as the memorial museum. Anastasiya Pavlovskaya in “The Siege Archive of the Leningrad Branch of the Bolshevik Party History Institute: The Gathering of Citizens' Memories in 1942–1944 and the Influence of Historical Avant-Gardism”“The Siege of Leningrad as a Difficult Past: Mournful «Anti-State» Memory and Museums”, which reflects on political implications behind different representations of the siege.
An interview with Milena Tretyakova develops largely the same theme, albeit in a different genre. Tretyakova was at the helm of a project intended to create a conceptually new siege museum, which garnered some initial support but was terminated before reaching the implementation stage.
The issue concludes with the Russian Intellectual Journals’ Review by Alexander Pisarev and Anna Vichkitova's long review of two academic volumes published by the European University Press in St Petersburg.