Sara Tomczuk

University of Washington, Department of Sociology

Eastern Residues and Western Influences on Political Memory: An Analysis of Museums and Memorials in Prague and Bratislava

Studying the discourse surrounding monuments and memorials provides insight into the way a population collectively remembers its past. Memory discourse of recent events can then have reciprocal effects on political life. This paper analyzes Czech and Slovak memories of the communist period through physical memory sites in each nations’ capital city. In previous studies of this emerging topic, scholars explained the differences in Czech and Slovak memories by focusing only on the influence and agendas of elites, such as politicians and academics, while remaining silent on the relevant public discourse.
While the two countries share a similar and linked political history, this case study identifies differences between Czech and Slovak political memories not explained by the current literature. These include differences among the groups motivated to engage in memory politics and the ideas about who the perpetrators and victims were during the communist regime. Specific questions applied to each site include: Who are the remembered victims of communism? How are the communists portrayed? What should be remembered from this period? and Who are the memory entrepreneurs advancing these ideas?
Through these questions, I analyze the content of and discourse surrounding the memory sites and explain how they demonstrate a distinct diversion between the two citizenries’ engagements with memories of communism. These outcomes are best explained by a Slovak assumption that religion does the memory work and that a shared political memory is not really that important (related to the fact that their pre-1989 dissidence was religious in nature). Czechs rely on private and government institutions to guide political memory, generating more controversy over the projected symbols. This paper contributes to the literature initiating discussion of how memories of the communist period shape European political identities.