Heritage Activism in Cities of Eastern Europe and Russia from 1968 to the Current

Date: September 13-14, 2018
Venue: Herder Institute, Marburg, Germany

Organizers: Olga Sezneva, Department of Sociology, University of Amsterdam, Eszter Gantner, Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe

From the works of Walter Benjamin to writings of Andreas Huyssen, cities have been recognized in their role as depositories of history and memory. Different cities performed differently in this role, of course. Issues of ‘truth’ and ‘distortion’, ‘silencing’ and ‘forgetting’ were at the forefront of public discussions during the period of 1990s’ transitions in Eastern Europe and Russia (Czaplicka, Gelazis and Ruble, 2009). As capitalist economies took root and the ‘heritage industry’ expanded, political uses of the past gave way to its commercial exploitation (Labadi & Logan, 2015; Samutina and Stepanov, 2014). Quarter-of-a-century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, socialism and its legacy are no longer debated in terms of either ‘truth’ or ‘lie’ but urban ‘atmospherics’: structures of feelings, which are spatially generated but temporally significant. Artists are often the chosen agents of these creations who put their creative practices toward the reinscription of meaning and alternative activation of urban spaces (Goebel 2015).

Our is to examine and extend the existing knowledge about the political potential of heritage in the context of the post/socialist city, in the past and present.

  • How can urban heritage and its making in the context of the city politicize, mobilize and produce opposition, including one expressed artistically?

We understand ‘heritage-making’ as an open-ended process by which urban built environment is positioned as valuable and socially and culturally significant for a group or a community across generations. The focus of the workshop, therefore, is on the tangible form primarily, or its mediated representations (as, for instance, in the case of digital reproductions). By ‘protest’ we mean practices subversive of the established political order, urban civic initiatives or outright protests. What unites these categories of action is the ethos of change, however implicit or ineffective from the point of view of achieving it.

History has taught us that under authoritarian regimes, it is often the artistic practices, including performance, that carried the political weight and expressed discontent — a role that may be relevant again for arts and artists in the current political climate of Eastern Europe and Russia. As this might be the case, trajectories of performative traditions of non-conformist art of the social period, and their possible influence on the current subversive practices form our special point of interest.

» Program of the Workshop

» download the complete call for papers

The workshop will take place on September 13 afternoon, concluding on September 14, afternoon.

Herder Institute has a limited number of travel grants to cover the participants’ commute and one night at a hotel. Participants are encouraged to seek support from their home institutions, where it is possible.



2:30 pm Welcome remarks by Peter Haslinger, Director of the Herder Institute, Eszter Gantner and Olga Sezneva, Workshop convenors

3:00-4:30 pm PANEL I: Special Session on Kaliningrad: ‘When the past is a foreign country…’
Presider: Eszter Gantner
Foreward by Olga Sezneva
Iliia Dementiev (Baltic Federal University, Department of History): ‘Stand and unfold yourself’: fi rst steps of heritage activism in the Soviet Kaliningrad
Olivier Roqueplo, count of Alava and of Laage (Sorbonne-Paris-Cité University, USPC-INALCO): The Most Paradoxical Prussianness in Russian Kaliningrad: Germanness and Borussianness in Practice. A Lack of Activism for Alternative Pasts?
Olga Sezneva (University of Amsterdam, Department of Sociology): Dispossession and its Discontents. The dynamics of remembering and forgetting in Kaliningrad

5:00-7:00 pm Screening and Round-table discussion with Anastasia Patlay, theater director, and Mareike Schönle, University of Greifswald. Moderated by Olga Sezneva
KANTGRAD Documentary performance by Teatr.Doc (Moscow, Russia)


9:30–11:00 am PANEL II: Heritage Activism
Presider: Peter Haslinger
Magdalena Konopacka (University of Gdańsk, Department of European and Comparative Law): City of Freedom. On subversion and resistance among judges during the Martial Law in Gdańsk (1981) and its present echoes
Katharina Schwinde (Stiftung Ettersberg, Weimar): Conflicting Historical Narratives: Russian Heritage Activism and the Solovetsky archipelago in the 1960s
Olha Zarechnyuk (Center for Urban History of East Central Europe, Lviv): Heritage Activism in Cities of Eastern Europe and Russia from 1968 to the Current

11:30 am–1:00 pm PANEL III: ‘Bottom up’ Heritage protection
Presider: Olga Sezneva
Naum Trajanovski (Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences; Institute for Advanced Studies Koszeg, Hungary): ‘I love GTC’ citizens’ initiative: Constructing local solidarity in the course of a major urban refurbishing
Yulia Eremenko (Saint Petersburg State University, Faculty of Sociology): Knowledge of local history as a resource of local decision-making Yulia Minutina-Lobanova (NGO ‘Living City’ Coordinator): ‘Myths and legends’ as the heritage protection instruments