The 1989 Revolutions and European Commemorative Agendas of 2009: Voids, Fallen Walls, and Memory Constructions
Department of Sociology East Carolina University Greenville, NC, USA
The year 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the 1989 European revolutions across most of the Central and Eastern regions of the continent. This year, therefore, will be one in which both the continent and the individual countries involved in those revolutions will be reflecting and commemorating. This paper assesses the terrain on which commemoration and monumentation are taking place in 2009. The destruction of monuments and landscape markers of communist regimes across the region after 1989 could be viewed as leaving a memory "void," but in contrast to Iwona Irwin-Zarecka's description of memory voids as gaps that "ought not to be," most would interpret them as gaps that "ought to be." What is filling those voids, both materially and symbolically? What artistic, governmental, educational, and activist events will mark this anniversary, and what will be their messages and moods? Informed in part by ethnographic work on memory work in Poland regarding the Solidarity movement, this paper surveys the memory terrain for the Central and Eastern Europea region regarding the changes that 1989 introduced. That terrain involves the issue of memory ownership as belonging to state or civil society, rebirths of ethnic and national heritage and resulting conflicts, the themes of unity versus disunity in the redrawing of borders and accessions to the European Union, the vulnerability of young capitalist and democratic countries in the global economic recession, and the politics of transitional justice, including lustration trials and formal apologies. This paper will be presented at the onset of an ethnography in Central and Eastern Europe to document those commemorative events; the paper will, therefore, provide the theoretical and analytical overview for this project and survey the region's anticipated events across the autumn months of 2009.