“History must be alive. The thing we are doing has a second name – living history”, said Sophia, a young woman from Volgograd. “Reconstruction is one half of life. From the other things the second part is formed”. Sophia is one of the “activists of memory” I interviewed during the project “Сталинград Reflexes Stalingrad: The strategies of remembrance in Russia and Germany”.
Since 2008 she is an active participant in the war-scene reconstructions in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. She started to take part as photographer but gradually she realized that she wanted “to put away her camera and ran with the others”. During the preparation for each event the participants studied the historical episode very accurately; “not every history teacher knows so much and could tell so interesting story as an ordinary ‘reconstructor’”, said Sophia. They seek to rebuild all the details, including clothes, weapons, positions of the forces – and as a rule they make the equipment by themselves. For example Sophia is proud that all the sets of her war uniform are self-produced.
Why and how did I get to know Sophia and other “memory activists”? Since 2006 in collaboration with historians from Hamburg and Bremen I focused on the problem of historical memory and its transformation from generation to generation. In 2007-2009 we as an international team of historians and students worked on the project “The Remembrance of Stalingrad in Russia and Germany”. During the project we compared the actual ways of translation of history and the official culture of remembrance in our countries. The analysis of the war expositions in the Museum-Panorama of the Stalingrad Battle and the Berlin-Karlshorst Museum shows that the national perspectives on the historical event are quite different. In Russia it was based on the worship of heroes: the remembrance of the battle has a sacral nature and looks monolithic. The German tradition to remember Stalingrad could be characterized by concealment and an attempt to be a part of the victim’s discourse. In both cases the official traditions to remember don’t take into account the perspective of the young generation. There is a one-way pass of the war history in both countries; the feedback from the youth is not present neither in the museums, nor in the media.
During the work on the project we met a lot of young people like Sophia who inspired us to make a conception of an exhibition (read here). Our idea for the focus of this exhibition is the remembrance of young people on the Stalingrad battle. We call them “the memory activists” because all of them have an independent view on and personal interest in the topic. Their activities are different: they prepare the historical reconstructions like Sophia, wear “Stalingrad-43” T-shirts, write poems, search for the remains of the killed soldiers, organize public actions etc. But all of them enrich and revive the official tradition of memory in both countries.
Our team hopes to realize the idea of the exhibition. The Berlin-Karlshorst museum is interested, now we consider the opportunities of collaboration. Because the topic of historical remembrance is many-sided, I keep thinking of the notion to develop it from a European perspective. Does a European perspective on history exist? Is European history possible? If so, how could it include the national perspectives? These and other questions will be in the focus. And I would be glad if other FutureLabers share their views on the topic and from the pool we could even form together a project idea.