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Victory Day: sociology

In addition to the history of Soviet commemorative practices, I am also interested in post-Soviet war commemoration linked to Victory Day (May 9), the most widely celebrated military-commemorative holiday in the world today. Beyond the former Soviet republics, my research on Victory Day and related practices covers a range of countries that now have sizeable communities of people with a Soviet background, especially Germany.

In 2013 and 2015, I co-directed two large-scale collective research projects on this topic. Our teams—which included sociologists, historians, anthropologists, and others—studied Victory Day celebrations in different locations in the post-Soviet world as well as in other European countries. In addition to ethnographic observation we conducted numerous interviews with organisers and regular participants, took photos, drew maps, analyzed coverage in the press and social media, and conducted archival research. We were particularly interested in how participants interact with the material environment, especially with Soviet war memorials.

This page lists the publications that came out of these projects, in English, German, French, Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian. It also collects video and audio recordings of talks, interviews, and discussions. There is no general overview of the projects in English as yet, but I’m currently working on a book on the past and present of Soviet-style war commemoration that will, among other things, summarize our observations. To make this page easier to navigate for English speakers, English-language publications are presented in gray, and videos in English can be found by searching for three number signs (###). Publication dates are in the format most appropriate to the language of the publication, so “9.5.2015” for an article in German means it was published on May 9, 2015, not September 5.

For more background on the projects themselves, please refer to the FAQ section below and to the introductions to our two books.

  1. Books
  2. Articles, chapters, interviews
  3. Video & audio
  4. Frequently asked questions

Books:

Памятник и праздник Kriegsgedenken als Event

Памятник и праздник: этнография Дня Победы [Monument and Celebration: Ethnographies of Victory Day] / Под ред. Михаила Габовича. Санкт-Петербург: Нестор-История, 2020. – 416 с. 98 цв. илл.

Mischa Gabowitsch, Cordula Gdaniec, Ekaterina Makhotina (Hrsg.) Kriegsgedenken als Event. Der 9. Mai 2015 im postsozialistischen Europa [War Commemoration as an Event: May 9, 2015, in Post-Socialist Europe]. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2017. – 345 S. 38 Fotos, 20 Karten.

Articles, book chapters, interviews:

(All English-language publications are in gray. The final versions of articles marked with an asterisk are collected in the edited volume Памятник и праздник along with previously unpublished texts, such as my own chapter on post-migrant and transnational military commemoration in Berlin.)

Video & audio

Подкаст «Далее по тексту»: выпуск «Зачем памятнику биография?» Беседа Натальи Конрадовой с Михаилом Габовичем, 21 марта 2013 г.
Петербург Свободы. Как памятники влияют на людей? Беседа с Виктором Резунковым, май 2015 г.
Историк Екатерина Махотина. День Победы: культура памяти в России и в Германии
День Победы. Приграничная память: как и что отмечают 9 мая в России и Эстонии. Академия постдипломного педагогического образования, Санкт-Петербург, октябрь 2017 г.
Nationalismus und Geschichtspolitik in Russland. Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Konferenz “Geschichtspolitik und neuer Nationalismus im gegenwärtigen Europa”, Oktober 2017.
Erinnerungskultur und Gedenkpraktiken. Eine Begriffsschärfung, postmigrantisch illustriert. Einstein Forum, 22.6.2019
Беседа с Александром Фокиным о военной памяти и истории Дня Победы
Cordula Gdaniec: Sowjetische Kriegsgefangene in der Erinnerung an den Großen Vaterländischen Krieg
Mischa Gabowitsch: Soviet and Post-Soviet War Commemoration Reconsidered. CISR Berlin, December 2020. ###
Презентация-обсуждение сборника «Памятник и праздник: этнография Дня Победы» (СПб.: Нестор-История, 2020). Январь 2021 г.
Mischa Gabowitsch: Emotional Regimes and Commemorative Conflict. Presentation at ISA Forum Porto Alegre 2021. ###
Память о Второй мировой войне и транснациональные коммеморативные практики
Другие памяти в памяти о Великой Отечественной войне
Victory Day: Ethnographies of Post-Soviet Commemoration. May 2021. ###

Frequently asked questions

What were the project titles? Who directed them? Who funded them?

The 2013 project, titled Monument and Celebration: May 9 Celebrations and Interaction Between War Memorials and Local Communities in the Successor Countries to the Soviet Military Bloc, was directed by Mischa Gabowitsch and Elena Nikiforova, with funding from the Franco-Russian Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences and Memorial Moscow. Its results are presented in the Russian-language book Pamiatnik i prazdnik: etnografiia Dnia Pobedy (Monument and Celebration: Ethnographies of Victory Day) edited by Mischa Gabowitsch and published thanks to additional funding from the German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst.

The 2015 project, titled Victory, Liberation, Occupation: War Memorials and Celebrations for the 70th Anniversary of the End of the Second World War, was directed by Mischa Gabowitsch, Cordula Gdaniec, and Ekaterina Makhotina, with funding from the Remembrance, Responsiblity, and Future Foundation, the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship, the Munich-Regensburg Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies, and the German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst. The results are published in the German-language book Kriegsgedenken als Event: Der 9. Mai 2015 im postsozialistischen Europa (War Commemoration as an Event: May 9, 2015, in Post-Socialist Europe) edited by Mischa Gabowitsch, Cordula Gdaniec, and Ekaterina Makhotina.


How did the two projects differ from each other?

The first wave was a pilot project. Our shoestring budget did not allow us to dispatch field researchers to locations pre-selected according to a rigid set of parameters. Our team was primarily composed of researchers who had previously studied commemorative practices or had done fieldwork on other topics in the location where they now observed Victory Day celebrations. Thus our sample of cases was essentially dictated by our team’s composition rather than the other way round. At a preparatory workshop we jointly worked out a basic common framework for our research and drew up guidelines for observing, interviewing, photographing, and mapping, but in their book chapters every author wrote about the aspects of the topic that she or he was personally most interested in.
The second project had a stricter research design. The data collection methods were defined more rigidly. We concentrated on a smaller set of countries, but within each country our sample included multiple regions. We had one or several researchers in the field in each region, using a standardized set of guidelines. Their work was supervised by country coordinators, who were also the ones who wrote the chapters for the German volume. In addition, we involved numerous students in the data collection process.
Nevertheless, the second project wasn’t “better” than the first. It would be fairer to say that the two projects allowed us to shed light on different aspects of the commemorative landscape. In the 2015 project we collected more data and obtained a clearer record of certain nationwide tendencies, as well as similarities and differences between regions, in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, and Germany (as well as Moldova, which in the end didn’t make it into the resulting volume for technical reasons). Yet what makes the 2013 project valuable is the individual approach of our authors, each of whom paid attention to themes particularly characteristic of the place they studied.
In addition, the data we collected “before Crimea” and “after Crimea” allow us to note both consistent features of war commemoration and the effects of the political upheaval of 2014.

Is the German volume a translation of the Russian book, or the other way round?

The two books are NOT translations of each other. They are completely different books, NOT two different language versions of one and the same book. The 2017 German book presents the results of the project on Victory Day in 2015. The Russian book documents the project on Victory Day in 2013, but for a number of technical reasons it only came out in 2020; however, earlier drafts of many of its chapters were previously published in the journal Neprikosnovenny zapas (issue no. 101) and on the website Uroki istorii. The authors of the chapters in the two books are also different. The only exceptions, other than myself, are Ekaterina Makhotina (who wrote the chapter about Vilnius for the Russian book and co-authored the introduction to the German book) and Anna Yudkina (who wrote about the first Eternal Flame in the USSR for the Russian volume and co-authored the chapter on Russia in the German book). Except for a few paragraphs in my chapters about Berlin, the texts of the two books do not overlap.

Have the projects been completed?

As part of the two projects, we collected huge amounts of data: over 800 interviews, thousands of photos, hundreds of articles from print and online media, field notes, maps, profiles of individual monuments, etc. Only a small part of these data made it into our books and other publications. Two important aspects that particularly merit further development are cross-country comparison and the historical evolution of Victory Day, both of which are a prime focus of the book I am currently writing in English. For a number of ethical and legal reasons I cannot freely share the data we collected with those who were not part of our projects. However, I’m open to collaborative projects and welcome any questions or ideas for further analysis: just e-mail me.