Soviet War Memorials and Victory Day

(LATEST: My research note on counting visitors to the Treptower Park Soviet war memorial on 9 May 2014. And my essay on Soviet war memorials, originally written in Russian and published in a special issue of Chto Delat’ in German and English. Please note that the portions of the essay devoted to monuments on the territory of the USSR, as well as the footnotes, didn’t make it into the limited space of the publication.)


This research project examines the celebration of 8 and 9 May and the interaction between Soviet war memorials and local communities throughout the former Soviet sphere of influence. It is structured as an interdisciplinary research network that involves sociologists, historians, political scientists and photographers, all of whom have expertise and a long-standing interest in the commemoration of the Second World War in general and Soviet war memorials in particular, as well as specialist knowledge of individual regions. On and around 8 and 9 May 2013, approximately 50 project participants (including student assistants) were involved in a pilot study that has produced 300+ interviews, thousands of photos, field notes, and maps of ceremonies and festivities in Berlin, Galich (Kostromskaia oblast, Russia), Grozny, Kharkiv, Kutaisi, Minsk, Moscow, Nizhnii Novgorod, Riga, Rostov-on-Don, Saint Petersburg, Petushki, Sevastopol, Sochi, Sofia, Sortavala, Tallinn, Tbilisi, Tiraspol, the village of Pervomaysky near Tula, Tver, Vienna and Vilnius. The purpose of this pilot project was to gather a large amount of data following a shared set of guidelines, enabling for the first time a transnational comparative study of the local political, emotional, and spatial significance of Soviet war memorials and Victory Day celebrations for local communities across different cities and countries. Results will be published in the form of an edited volume containing both local case studies and a number of comparative and theoretical pieces. The hope is to find follow-up funding for a larger and more systematic study in the anniversary year of 2015. (The first stage of the project received support from Memorial Moscow and the French-Russian Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences.)

The project is co-ordinated by Mischa Gabowitsch at the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany (who is working on a Collective Biography of Soviet War Memorials with funding from the Hamburg Foundation for Science and Culture) and Elena Nikiforova at the Centre for Independent Social Research in Saint Petersburg, who is working on a project titled “The Cultural Politics of Memory in the Estonian-Russian Border Zone”.

Here is a podcast interview in Russian with Mischa Gabowitsch on the history of Soviet war memorials and the project. You can also access it on Radio Svoboda’s web site.