What has happened to Soviet war memorials since 1989/91? An overview

From Hanover to Kamchatka, from Mudanjiang in Manchuria to Batina in Croatia, tens of thousands of monuments honour the soldiers of the Red Army who lost or risked their lives in the Second World War. They range from simple grave markers through statues of heroes or tank monuments to colossal memorial complexes. Following the upheaval of 1989/91, a wave of iconoclasm swept over this commemorative landscape, and a second wave has been rising since 2015. In both cases some monuments were relocated, while others were destroyed entirely. Yet overall, cases of old monuments being modified, or new ones built from scratch, have been at least as frequent. A number of war memorials have suffered neglect and decay, yet many have been inventoried, and quite a few renovated. While countless monuments are simply being ignored, others have become focal points for new commemorative rituals, and some of them objects of political or artistic interventions. Whom or what a memorial depicted, as well as its appearance and style, has often proven less fateful than whether or not it marked a burial site, though even that status has not always prevented removal.

Very broadly speaking, Soviet war memorials in Central Europe have become marginalised, though more often through disregard and loss of symbolic status than through physical removal. In the core republics of the former Soviet Union, by contrast, new monuments have proliferated and old ones reinterpreted, which does not mean that they have been safe from removal, deterioration or vandalism.

However, this territorial dichotomy can serve as a rough generalization at best. Upon closer examination one finds numerous unexpected exceptions and parallels. This is because local context has typically been more important than national memorial policies. In addition, these two regions do not exhaust the geography of Soviet war memorials. Consequently, this essay is not structured geographically, but instead surveys the full range of ways in which Soviet war memorials have been treated across the USSR’s entire former sphere of control and influence.1

Historical background

Outside observers have often considered war memorials to be a variety of Communist monumental propaganda. While that assessment is not entirely unfounded, they always differed from the formerly ubiquitous statues of leaders or workers. The difference was not primarily a stylistic one. Whether in Karl-Marx-Stadt, Frunze or Sofia – obelisks, bronze reliefs and figures of war heroes or grieving mothers often came from the same drawing boards, foundries and catalogues as Lenin statues or revolutionary monuments. Classical forms, figurative motifs and unambiguous symbolism were the norm in both cases, while abstraction and ambivalence were rare exceptions. Yet memorials to the Second World War (or, in Soviet and present-day Russian parlance, the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45) spoke much more directly to people’s lived experience or that of their parents’ generation. To some, the tank monuments, soldiers’ statues or simple grave markers signified victory and liberation; to others, loss and grief; and to others still, occupation, tyranny and foreign rule. Yet they also denoted more complex local events and relationships which do not fit easily into such grand narratives of collective history. Accordingly, the circumstances of their creation were complex and varied. Even Lenin or Stalin statues were not always built on instructions from Moscow: they could be initiated by local party committees or even workers at an individual plant. In the case of memorials to war heroes or victims, patrons and creators varied even more. They ranged from surviving comrades-in-arms or relatives and released prisoners of war through individual army units or factory directors all the way to district party secretaries or members of national or republican politburos. Moreover, monuments to Red Army soldiers were not limited to the Soviet Union and countries with a Soviet military presence (from China and North Korea to Bulgaria). They were also built in other countries where Soviet military units or even individual Soviet citizens had fought, including Norway, France, Italy and, most prominently up until 1947, Yugoslavia2.

These circumstances were to condition the very different treatment of war memorials after socialism. An even more important reason why war memorials have been much less frequently destroyed or removed than other types of monuments is that most of them stand atop war graves, having either been built to mark existing burial sites or accompanied by reburial. Reburial was motivated by logistics, hygiene or reverence, but also by propagandistic and geopolitical considerations: a monumental burial site in the city square is a more impressive reminder of military sacrifice, and can more easily be used for rituals of political gratitude than a remote cemetery or a ‘mere’ monument. In the first post-war years in particular, even burial spots marked with the names of the dead were often deliberately anonymised, the names of a few exemplary heroes left on display at best: in this way, memorial complexes dissolved individual lives in the glorious collective feat of the Soviet people, as it were using human remains as building materials to turn memorials into sacred places3.

The line between monuments and memorial complexes that were also burial sites and others (especially those built since the 1960s) that were not, was blurred in public perception over time. However, the distinction would prove fateful after 1989/91, if only for legal reasons. I will therefore start by sketching the legal situation.

Legal context, institutions, inventories

The most straightforward legal norms are those relating to war graves. The Geneva conventions enjoin signatory states “to protect and maintain such gravesites indefinitely”4. This means that war graves have a privileged status in countries where civilian gravesites are routinely removed once their lease has expired. One such country is Germany, where a federal Graves Law stipulates that war graves be maintained in perpetuity, yet explicitly exempts the federal budget from “expenditure on erecting and maintaining monuments, memorial halls, memorial groves, shrines of names, commemorative grounds and symbolic graves”5 and transfers to individual constituent states all responsibility for reburial and alterations: after all, the Geneva conventions mandate that gravesites be maintained, not that they be left unaltered.

In addition, starting in 1989 the Soviet Union and, since 1992, Russia as its legal successor, have concluded a number of bilateral agreements that regulate or at least address the management of gravesites and, in some cases, monuments more generally.

Thus in the German-Soviet Cooperation Treaty of November 1991, the German federal government declared “that the monuments to Soviet victims of the war and totalitarian rule erected on German soil will be respected and be under the protection of German law”6. Russia has signed specific bilateral agreements on mutually protecting war graves with a number of countries (Finland and Germany 1992, Poland 1994, Hungary 1995, Italy 1996, the Czech Republic 1999, Mongolia 2000, China 2006, Latvia 2007, Turkey 2012)7. Other agreements of this type specifically include war memorials outside of gravesites (Slovakia 1995, Romania 2005, Slovenia and Serbia 2013). In cases where there is no such treaty, the relevant authorities sometimes coordinate with Russia on the basis of national legislation. An example is Lithuania, where cultural heritage “significant to other states” enjoys special legal protection8.

It is noteworthy that signatory countries do not include any former Soviet republics—Latvia being the one exception. While its Baltic neighbours Estonia and Lithuania have not shown much interest in concluding such an agreement with Russia, in the case of the other successor states there appears to have been an assumption that the graves of, and monuments to, soldiers of the formerly joint army require no outside patron9. Thus some partnership treaties only vaguely refer to the mutual protection of “historic monuments” (Kazakhstan 1994, Kyrgyzstan 1994). It took some time before it became clear that attitudes towards Soviet war memorials can differ considerably in Ukraine, Georgia or Uzbekistan, and that they can change rather abruptly.

Most importantly, however, both the international and the national legal context remained rather vague in most cases. For example, the Russian-Serbian agreement states that the construction of new memorials is normally to be funded by the originating state, whereas maintenance is at the charge of the host state. However, it does not rule out reburial and relocation as long as the local side pays the costs, and doesn’t regulate appearance and content. Thus plenty of room is left for interpretation. In the Polish case, for example, individual municipalities habitually used to ask the Russian embassy to sign off on any relocations. Yet in 2015—in the course of the Crimean annexation crisis—the state Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites, which had previously cited the agreement as a basis for its intermediary role, declared that it did not consider such coordination to be legally required in the case of monuments that are not gravesites10. In Lithuania, the same year saw a conflict between two legal principles when a listed figure group from 1952 that included two soldiers was removed from the Green Bridge in central Vilnius. Opponents of the removal appealed to laws protecting cultural heritage, whereas proponents referred to a 2008 law banning Communist symbols—in this case the hammer-and-sickle emblem11.

Domestically, in January 1993 Russia passed a wide-ranging law titled “On perpetuating the memory of those who died defending the fatherland”. In addition to gravesite maintenance, the law includes public monuments and battlefield memorials, among other things, among forms of state-supported forms of perpetuating memory. “Gravestones, monuments, steles, obelisks, other memorial structures and objects that perpetuate the memory of the deceased” are explicitly included in the definition of gravesites. The law distributed responsibility for commemorative work among a total of seven existing bodies and one yet to be created federal agency. Specifically, сreating inventories as well as marking and maintaining war graves within Russia was primarily going to be the responsibility of local self-government, while those abroad were placed under the charge of Russia’s diplomatic missions. Yet the law failed to address funding and staffing questions, as did a further perpetuation law of April 1995. Underfinanced and lacking political autonomy, many municipalities proved unable to perform their maintenance duties, and remote monuments in particular were often left to decay. By the late 1990s, the Defence Ministry’s Military Memorial Office emerged as a vigorous central agency that also went on to coordinate the “military memorial work” of Russian embassies in eight countries12, but this did not put an end to vandalism and deterioration.

The situation was similar in most other successor republics. Quite a few monuments—including newly built ones—were defaced by vandals or metal thieves, others fell prey to unscrupulous building contractors or indifferent mayors13. Thus the fate of individual monuments depended on whether or not officials or local residents volunteered to protect and maintain them. One exception from this rule is Belarus, where the care of gravesites and monuments continued to be seen as a state task, regulated in great detail by a series of laws passed since 199214. In Ukraine, one of the main contentious points in the intense parliamentary debates about memory laws concerned the inclusion of special sanctions for vandalism against (some) war graves and related monuments15. Several such provisions, using the relatively vague terminology of “insult” or “desecration” (naruha) were passed between 2009 and 2014. While some of the many actual or suspended sentences handed down under the law concerned political protests (such as a group of women frying eggs over an eternal flame in Kyiv in 2010)16, others testified to the lack of effective protection measures, regardless of official ideological pronouncements: thus, in Crimea, a group of robbers dug up a mass grave of Nazi victims over a period of two years in 2010-12; the same grave was dug up again in 2015, after the start of Russian occupation17.

In addition to law-making, new inventory-making efforts were also underway. Precisely because only a fraction of war memorials and especially gravesite monuments were built on direct orders from Moscow, since the early post-war years various state agencies kept trying to create systematic surveys of existing monuments and their condition. These efforts were initially undertaken by military institutions and focused primarily on the territory of the USSR. In the mid-1960s, the growing preservationist movement started paying more thorough attention to the matter. With the help of local history museums and individual enthusiasts, detailed illustrated heritage compendia were compiled for a number of Soviet republics and regions that typically strove to include all war memorials regardless of artistic value18. Some other socialist states saw similar efforts19. Paradoxically, however, it was only after the end of the Cold War that demand for more detailed cross-border inventories rose. Thanks to the new freedom of travel, more former Soviet citizens got a chance to go on self-organised pilgrimages to war memorials abroad and to look for the graves of their fallen relatives. The increasing individualisation of war commemoration fostered an interest in specific war dead, while the gradual lifting of taboos on discussing war imprisonment brought into view the (rare) monuments that honoured them. New technology and cooperation with research institutions and state agencies abroad also made things easier.

Yet compared with late socialism, preservationist concerns have not been a primary driving force behind these inventorying efforts20. Interest in artistic aspects and the history of the monuments’ construction rarely plays a role. Instead, many of those involved have acted out of a concern with individual war dead and their places of burial, whereas others have focused on the specific object of commemoration and the present-day state of the monuments. The former approach is evident in a database commissioned by Russia’s defence ministry, titled OBD Memorial21. For the first time, this database brought together archival data on millions of Soviet soldiers and made them publicly available. Almost inadvertently, this effort also resulted in a directory of burial places. The same goes for a printed directory of Soviet war dead in Austria, which includes photos of burial sites22. Other catalogues collect photos and information on war graves and the present-day state of memorials, such as a volume on Poland from 200323 and an online database on Soviet war graves in Germany24. A similar directory for France represents a hybrid between the two types: its author lists cemeteries and monuments geographically, but also includes the names of those buried there25.

These inventories are being compiled by state agencies, scholarly institutions or individual researchers. Yet the spread of the Internet has also given rise to crowdsourced cross-country directories of war memorials. The nature of participants’ interests differs from case to case, and the extent to which historical information and sources are included in each directory varies accordingly. The largest database of this kind was set up in 2006 by a then 29-year-old bank clerk and amateur historian from Voronezh26. As of April 2018, it documents approximately 14,000 war memorials with almost 50,000 photos contributed by over 1,000 participants, though most records include only the location and a brief description, but don’t list the construction date or any other information on the history of the memorial. Another portal on war memorials is titled Memory Map27. Founded in 2015 by a Moscow-based publisher of specialised pedagogical periodicals, its primary contributors are teachers and pupils. Yet another portal has since 2012 been collecting photos of the lists of names attached to war memorials to let family members check them against published and archived lists28. Finally, a web site administered from Tatarstan collects data submitted by volunteer search units who, in addition to reporting discoveries of mortal remains and subsequent reburials, also document memorials29. Besides there are numerous regional portals and databases with varying thematic priorities30.

New construction and reinterpretation

Based primarily in Russia, these inventorying efforts evince the continuing importance of war commemoration. By the anniversary year 1995, the Russian state began paying it renewed attention: whereas the memory of revolution and socialism harboured a potential for social discord, the memory of the war—unhitched, as it were, from communist ideology—could serve as social glue. Similarly to other countries, interest in learning about war experiences flared up among the grandchildren’s generation. Among the effects of this interest was the building of new memorials. Despite the significant variation between countries, in terms of absolute numbers the post-Soviet era has been marked less by iconoclasm than by a massive wave of new construction. Patrons and builders have added national and religious elements to the Soviet imagery and honoured new categories of war heroes and victims, but they have not fundamentally questioned the conventional repertoire.

Musée national de la Grande guerre patriotique à Minsk

The new building (2014) of the State Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Minsk.

Monumental new memorial complexes have appeared in Russia and Belarus. Most prominent among these are Victory Park in Moscow, completed in 1995 after decades of discussion and planning, and the new building of the Minsk war museum, finished in 2014; both include enormous memorial steles. In addition, continuing a late Soviet tendency, state agencies and individual patrons have commissioned monuments to war participants from specific regions, cities or enterprises. In provincial and rural regions in particular, monuments have occasionally been built (often at private initiative) to commemorate categories of victims that had previously been suppressed, ignored or neglected by state commemorative policies: prisoners of war, forced labourers, victims of the Holocaust, children or other civilian victims. In addition, existing memorials to the fallen of the Great Patriotic War have been expanded, typically by including additional monuments to the dead of the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the Chernobyl liquidators who died of radiation poisoning.

Three general tendencies can be observed in this new wave of construction. The first is individualisation: descendants independently affix the names of their relatives to previously anonymous mass graves; tens of thousands participate in volunteer search units looking for soldiers’ remains in forests and swamps in order to rebury them and usually honour them with new gravestones or other monuments. The second is a religious reinterpretation: most new monuments feature Orthodox Christian or, occasionally, Islamic, Jewish or Catholic symbols; most large new memorials include a chapel or church. For Holocaust-related sites in particular, this has meant that the hundreds of mostly grassroots memorials that had been built at or near extermination sites during the Soviet period have in large part been replaced by new, de-Sovietized monuments conforming to the Western or Israeli canon of Holocaust commemoration. This has reinforced the widely held misconception that no such monuments existed during the Soviet period31. The third tendency is nationalisation: war heroes are increasingly being defined by their ethnic or national origins, and their feats are linked to the nation’s prior exploits. In Russia, prominent examples are the Moscow monument to the defenders of the fatherland of 1995 and the new national cemetery opened in 2013: in both cases, bronze soldiers representing different historical eras are placed side by side. Dozens of towns that have been awarded the title of City of Military Glory since 2007 adorn themselves with standardised steles from the workshop of Moscow sculptor Salavat Shcherbakov that display scenes from centuries of local military history. In Kazakhstan, companies and state agencies have been funding the erection of monuments to Kazakh military heroes both domestically and in Russia. In Ukraine or Estonia, new monuments honour the nation’s dead regardless of the side on which they fought. In the Polish debate, too, the nationality of the soldiers depicted has played a role: a recurrent argument against displacing brotherhood-in-arms monuments has been that they show Polish soldiers in addition to Soviet ones32. In at least one case, a statue was painted in the colours of Poland’s national flag in order to save it from demolition or removal33.

Outside the former Soviet Union, new monuments have been built, on the one hand, as part of renovated or newly discovered burial sites; in addition to official institutions, such construction has sometimes been initiated by volunteer commemorative or preservationist associations, such as Obelisk in Berlin or Kursk in Poland. On the other hand, immigrants with a Soviet background have built new memorials inspired by Soviet traditions, e.g. in West Hollywood in 2015. Finally, memorial construction has been used to cement good relations with Russia. In the context of Russian-Israeli rapprochement, a memorial to the Red Army was built in 2012 in Netanya; in North-Eastern China, memorials have been renovated or newly built in border cities interested in attracting investment and tourism from the neighbouring country, such as Mudanjiang and Suifenhe34. Conversely, the dismantling of war memorials in the geopolitically sensitive region of Eastern Europe has drawn much more indignant responses from Russia than similar actions in e.g. neutral Uzbekistan35.

Generally Russia has discovered international war memory as an instrument of geopolitics and source of power vis-à-vis not only Russian-speaking groups but also political minorities that continue to view the Soviet Union as Europe’s saviour and a symbol of friendship between the peoples36. From Lithuania to Israel, funding for the maintenance or new construction of funerary monuments or larger memorials has come from Russia.

Moreover, Russia has tried to take advantage of the new vitality of war memory. In post-socialist times, grassroots initiatives have often taken up and adapted previously mandatory commemorative rituals involving memorials. In Western Europe, “collective action”, in Manfred Hettling’s apt observation on Germany, is often limited to a memorial’s “(often conflict-ridden) planning and construction, not its subsequent use”37. Not so for monuments to Soviet soldiers: on commemorative and other dates they are decorated with flowers, ribbons, photos and poems, renovated in a joint self-organised effort, turned into focal points of pilgrimages, parades and political demonstrations and given widely used nicknames. Even though the majority of these practices have developed from below, since approximately the mid-2000s Russia has liked to present itself as a patron of such events38.

While Russian state agencies regularly stress the unifying, supra-national dimension of war memory, they also use it justify the present-day policies of the Russian Federation. This connection, in turn, boosts those who have long seen monuments to Soviet soldiers as symbols of Russian occupation and therefore campaign to raze or dismantle them.

Destruction, removal, modification

The most spectacular, and most tragic, act of destruction of a Soviet war memorial took place on 19 December 2009 in Georgia. As part of the decentralisation of political institutions, a new parliament was going to be built in Kutaisi, then the country’s second-biggest city. To make way for it and as a gesture of symbolic de-Sovietisation, President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered Kutaisi’s Monument of Military Glory to be blown up. The botched detonation sent debris of the 40 metre reinforced steel structure flying hundreds of metres through the air, killing a woman and her eight-year-old daughter and injuring several other people, some of them severely39.

Interpreting the monument as a symbol of Soviet occupation was dubious: after all it was a work by two artists from Tbilisi (Otar Kalandarishvili and Merab Berdzenishvili) that used motifs from Georgian folklore to commemorate the war dead from the republic. It could only be destroyed in the first place because it was a memorial, but not a burial site. Even so, for a long time this case remained exceptional.

Detonations and demolitions of individual war memorials had taken place in the Soviet Union as early as the late 1950s and early 1960s: specifically those that commemorated the victory of 1945 in the shape of monumental Stalin statues. The victory monument in Erevan, the capital of Armenia, is one example: the 16.5 metre statue gazing towards Turkey from atop a 33 metre pedestal was dismantled in 1962 and later replaced with a statue of Mother Armenia. In the 1960s, countless early war memorials—typically simple concrete obelisks lined with granite slabs--were destroyed in order to be replaced with somewhat more elaborate monuments. In addition there were repeated attacks by individuals—for example in Estonia, Poland or East Germany—on monuments to Soviet soldiers and war memorials that they saw as symbols of Russian occupation40.

Since 1989 there have also been spontaneous attacks of this kind and acts of vandalism; yet most war memorials were initially spared from state-orchestrated removal, let alone destruction. Be it in Riga or Lviv, Budapest or Brno: while statues of Dzerzhinsky or Lenin were often systematically dismantled, there were far fewer removals of war memorials and only occasional instances of complete destruction (though in those cases the decision could be enforced against the will of army members and Russian residents, as happened in Klaipėda in Lithuania)41. Memorials selected for removal were typically statues of individual figures from the pantheon of Soviet war heroes—or else tank monuments.

The main exception to this rule was Poland, where in the post-war years numerous monuments of gratitude to the Red Army had been erected in central locations that already served as burial sites. Even as soldiers’ mortal remains were transferred to cemeteries, the monuments often remained at the original sites, and more were built42. By 1993, of the nearly 500 monuments of this kind, 130 were removed from public spaces and often replaced with freedom monuments, though this happened at local initiative rather than by directive from Warsaw. Accordingly, Poland saw significant regional and local variation both in policies regarding such monuments and in residents’ attitudes to their removal43.

The same goes for most other East and Central European countries. Hungary, often cited as a case of early de-communisation of public space, can serve as another example. In 1993, after a controversial debate, Budapest’s municipal General Assembly decided to open a statue park on the outskirts of the city. In addition to other statues from the capital city, this came to house some Red Army monuments, most notably perhaps the Soviet soldier standing at the foot of the Liberty Statue on Gellért Hill. However, the Assembly’s decision only concerned Budapest itself. Even there, the large Red Army Monument on Liberty Square has survived acts of vandalism, calls for removal, and counter-monuments. In the case of the monument to Hungary’s own Red Army (of 1919) in Budapest, a referendum was even held in which residents voted against removal44. Outside of the capital, removal was also far from systematic, as evidenced by the Soviet tank monument in Hortobágy in Eastern Hungary.

In Lithuania, most war-related statuary not marking a grave site did succumb to a wave of spontaneous iconoclasm in 1990-91, but again this was not due a central government decision. Many statues were eventually relocated to Grūtas Park, opened in 2001. Among other war memorials, they include several statues of Lithuanian partisan Marytė Melnikaitė and of military commanders associated with the period before 1941. In addition, however, it also includes stones removed from Soviet war graves45.

« La mère de Kryžkalnis »

The “Mother of Kryžkalnis” by Lithuanian sculptor Bronius Vyšniauskas (1972).

Originally a monument to the Soviet soldier-liberators, the statue is now displayed

in a deliberately incongruous setting in the recreational and sculpture park in Grūtas.

Other monuments singled out for removal in a number of countries have concerned people known as political leaders in addition to their military role. One example is the three-quarter view bust of Soviet-Polish General Rokossowski, originally on display in Legnica in Lower Silesia, which ended up in the garden of a private Red Army museum in the nearby village of Uniejowice. For tank monuments the decisive question was usually whether they were part of a protected war grave complex—as in the Tiergarten Memorial in Berlin—or not. Thus in the East German town of Wittenberg a tank monument was erected in 1973 in front of the famous All Saints’ Church associated with Martin Luther, yet this was done at the initiative of the local Socialist Unity Party leadership, not the Soviet army, and placed next to a Soviet war cemetery, but not inside it. This made it easy to remove it, in January 1990. In Central Europe, tank monuments and other war memorials were often removed from their pedestals by the withdrawing Soviet forces—be it to protect them from vandalism or because they were addressed to the USSR’s own soldiers in the first place and were part of the barracks’ inventory.

Acts of removal have continued throughout the post-socialist period. In most cases these have been initiated by local actors and justified with reference to local circumstances. The typical rationale has been a desire to find a more appropriate site for commemoration. Thus in addition to gravesite monuments being moved out of town centres in the course of acts of reburial, non-funerary statues have also been moved to cemeteries, one example being the statue of Soviet war hero Alexander Matrosov in the East German city of Halle. In other cases, monuments have been removed from its original location and placed in front of a military museum, as happened in Dresden with a memorial which originally stood in a major city square that had even briefly been renamed Red Army Square46. A reverse development has occurred in a number of places in Russia and Belarus, where new monuments have often been erected in the post-Soviet period in more central, easier to reach locations.

Where memorials had served as mere wreath dumps detached from their surroundings, acts of removal have often remained uncontroversial. Conflicts arose especially where monuments were alive: be it as focal points of new political or commemorative rituals or reinterpreted and put to new uses: as touristic resources, as landmarks for orientation or as improvised skate parks.

The best-known example of a politically motivated conflict was the one surrounding the removal of the Tallinn Bronze Soldier from its original location in the city centre to a military cemetery in April 2007. With this decision, the Estonian central government intervened in an existing controversy. The commemorative rituals surrounding Victory Day (9 May) had been growing in popularity as Russian-speaking residents rediscovered the monument as a site of collective self-identification. In response, Estonian nationalists were interpreting it as a symbol of occupation and holding counterdemonstrations in front of it. The government’s attempt to resolve the conflict in technocratic fashion by removing the controversial monument added fuel to the flames, resulting in several days of clashes that left one person dead47. In turn, the conflict in Estonia fanned renewed debates about monuments in other countries48.

Numerous examples of the second type of conflict can be found in Poland, where endeavours by Warsaw politicians to have monuments of gratitude or brotherhood-in-arms removed have often met with resistance from local administrations and residents. Thus Legnica, which had housed the headquarters of the Soviet army in Poland, had started using its own central brotherhood monument to market itself as Little Moscow, spurred by the success of a film of the same name49--reason enough to resist encroachment from Warsaw50. Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, falls in the same category: here those defending the Soviet war memorial included not only embassy officials and left-wing groups, but also skaters51.

In Ukraine, the decommunization laws of 2015/16 focused on statues of communist leaders, which were easier to interpret as symbols of occupation than memorials to the fallen of an army in which millions of Ukrainians had fought. War memorials had sometimes been reinterpreted and inscribed in new commemorative practices, but they were not dismantled. The few exceptions concerned military commanders who also occupied senior political positions. Even this criterion is far from being unequivocal. In the case of the widely respected Soviet Ukrainian partisan leader Sidor Kovpak, even the law’s authors admitted not having a clear-cut opinion52. Conversely, the Kharkiv city administration kept a statue of Marshal Georgy Zhukov off the decommunization list by invoking its artistic value53. One monument threatened with demolition at the time of writing is the Military Glory Monument in Lviv, which is dedicated to victory in the war, but also to the post-war Soviet army—it was quite deliberately erected near the outer border of the Soviet Union soon after its armed forces crushed the Prague Spring. However, the removal campaign does not stem from the decommunization laws: it was initiated by local activists, just as its most active opponents are local preservationists and urban historians54.

Monument du village de Stoianiv, 2018

Monument in the village of Stoianiv in Western Ukraine.

The word “Soviet” has been chiselled out of the inscription “Your fellow villagers are eternally grateful to you who fell for the Soviet fatherland.”

A Latin cross has been added, but the red star on the soldier’s helmet remains unchanged.

Thus, despite the Ukrainian and other antecedents, it wasn’t until October 2017 that a systematic, centrally organised programme of removing Soviet war memorials took off in a post-socialist country, when Poland’s national-conservative government launched its decommunisation campaign. An amendment to the 2016 law prohibiting communist propaganda explicitly mentioned gratitude monuments and other war memorials. Exceptions can be made upon application, but the law granted the government-appointed voivodes and government-affiliated Institute of National Memory wide-ranging interpreting and decision-making powers55. While government intervention occasionally meets with creative resistance by local administrations and residents, such countermeasures are not always successful56.

In addition to attempted or successful acts of demolition and removal, there also regular cases of damage to monuments. Typologically it is possible to distinguish between pure vandalism, politically motivated acts and artistic interventions. However, the boundary between these types is often difficult to draw with any precision, and will often be in the eye of the observer.

Damage in the form of e.g. radical-right graffiti, toppled grave markers or theft of constituent parts consistently provokes outrage. Examples from Berlin include graffiti at the monumental Treptower Park memorial in December 1990 or a series of attacks on the smaller memorial in the district of Buch; each of these was followed by anti-fascist demonstrations. However, the fact that such acts tend to occur in certain locations and at particularly prominent and symbolic memorials makes them appear more common than they really are57. In addition, cases of inappropriate behaviour at memorials that are routinely discussed in the media and courtrooms especially in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan are often publicly referred to as acts of defilement even if they do not involve a modification of the monuments. They include instances in which people use an Eternal Flame for food preparation, urination or spitting58, but also those in which teenagers touch the breasts of a war heroine’s statue59 or perform dances in front of memorials in ways considered offensive60. In 2016, an online newspaper in the northern Russian city of Syktyvkar was fined: a well-known local memorial shows three women carrying a wreath to an Eternal Flame, and the periodical had mentioned the monument’s folk nickname, “Women frying a crocodile”61.

Other modifications have occurred in the context of conflicts over history. In Brno in the Czech Republic, the Soviet star and hammer-and-sickle symbols that had been removed from a war memorial in 1990 were replaced in the course of reconstructing the memorial. In response, a deputy mayor had them removed again at his personal discretion; following protests from both the Russian embassy and Czech government officials they were replaced again in modified form62. The politician had argued that one needs to distinguish between honouring fallen soldiers and displaying the symbols of a totalitarian state, to which the embassy replied that those were not communist symbols but insignia under which the soldiers had fought. Many other controversies proceeded among similar lines63. Conversely, in post-Soviet republics in particular, there have been numerous cases in which Soviet symbols have been replaced or supplemented with Orthodox ones in acts tolerated or actively supported by the authorities64.

Artistic interventions

One special mode of dealing with Soviet war memorials is artistic intervention—in other words: counter-monuments65. What is included in this category is a matter of definition, since the boundary between political modification and artistic acts is a fluid one. One approach is to classify any alterations not pre-approved by the authorities as vandalism: that has been the usual attitude of Russian state agencies, although they have usually welcomed honorific acts such as covering a memorial with flowers or attaching portraits or commemorative symbols. A different approach would be to distinguish between acts that carry an unequivocal political message and those that allow for multiple interpretations. The former category would seem to include an act by art student Jerzy Bohdan Szumczyk in Gdańsk in October 2013: next to a tank monument Szumczyk placed a statue showing a Soviet soldier in the act of raping a woman66. This categorization would also make us distinguish between some of the individual acts of repainting that regularly occur at the war memorial in Sofia (see below), as these range from multi-layered creative disruption to straightforward graffiti (“lustration”, “hands off Ukraine”). Finally, one might also distinguish between interventions by professional artists and those by laypeople or political activists.

What it indisputable is that, since 1991, street, performance, public and video artists have repeatedly tried their hand at temporarily modifying Soviet war memorials or working with images or replicas of such memorials. It is striking, however, that very few of them have treated Soviet tanks or statues as universal symbols of war and militarism and used them to take a stand against military violence as such. The Polish-born artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, who emigrated to Canada and then to the United States, has since the 1980s projected still and moving images on war memorials from New York to London to Hiroshima to draw attention to the public glorification of war. As part of his search for an “Un-War”, he most recently suggested completely encasing the Triumphal Arch in Paris in a new Institute for the Abolition of War67. This type of intervention has been surprisingly rare at Soviet war memorials. One of the few performances that might be said to have come close was a production titled 20 Dancers for the XX Century that the French choreographer Boris Charmatz directed at the Soviet war memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park during two days in June 2014. Dancers at 20 stations –arranged in no fixed sequence—repeatedly enacted different performances that drew on the history of both dance and politics in the 20th century. Visitors attracted by the production experienced the space of the memorial in unfamiliar ways: whereas during commemorative events one’s pathways through the complex are usually determined by the dominant central soldier statue, on this occasion its magnetic pull was suspended. Even more importantly, it was perhaps the first time that the memorial was taken out of the context of Soviet-German history and turned into a stage for broader reflection, as well as introducing a new audience to the site68. A similarly general approach had previously been taken in May 2007 by the Doma Collective from Argentina: in a performance titled Stupid Elephant Tank, the “trunk” of an inflatable yellow tank was wrapped around the cannon of one of the two T-34 tanks at the Tiergarten memorial in Berlin.

Thus it appears as though only Western artists, who have some distance from the events being commemorated, come close to addressing Soviet war memorials as universal symbols of militarism. Their East European colleagues, on the other hand, usually focus on the narrower context of their countries’ liberation or occupation by the Red Army, or else on the present-day state of their societies. (Tellingly, Krzysztof Wodiczko’s efforts to have some of his Un-War projects implemented in his native Poland have so far been unsuccessful.)

The first artistic transformations took monuments that ostensibly commemorated 1945 and reinterpreted them as symbols of the post-war Soviet military presence, attempting to make them appear less threatening. The best-known intervention of this kind is one by the Prague art student David Černý that took in April 1991, shortly before the anniversary of the liberation of Prague. An IS-2 tank was mounted on a pedestal on Kinský Square in the Czechoslovak capital; overnight Černý painted it pink and placed a large middle finger on top of it. His idea was taken up and adapted elsewhere: thus in March 1992 the West German artist Eckhart Haisch reinvented a tank monument at the former border crossing in the Dreilinden neighbourhood of Berlin by placing a pink Soviet snowplough on the pedestal. The Soviet armed forces had previously removed the tank because anonymous actors kept turning its cannon downwards—probably to express the victory of Germany’s peaceful revolution over Soviet military equipment69.

Whereas these early interventions highlighted ongoing or recent Soviet occupation, recent performances have increasingly targeted the political uses of war commemoration in present-day Russia. They have also been directed against Russia’s new military campaigns, especially in Ukraine, which in Russia are often being presented as being continuous with the Second World War. Striking examples include performances in 2014-15 by the Berlin-based Russian-language art collective In Progress led by Ilia Ryvkin: on 9 May 2014, Ryvkin was stripped naked and bound with St George’s ribbons—a popular Russian symbol of war memory and patriotism—for a photoshoot against the backdrop of the soldier-liberator statue in Treptower Park. The following year, the collective draped a huge rainbow flag over one of the tanks at the Tiergarten memorial. They posted photos of the performance online, along with a manifesto that acknowledged the liberating role of the Red Army but also drew a connection between the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, military interventions such as the crushing of the Berlin uprising of 17 June 1953 and the present-day war in Eastern Ukraine, as well as homophobia and militarism in contemporary Russia70. Conversely, some artistic projects address problems in other countries’ problematic wartime actions and their status in present-day collective memory. One prominent example is the Czech art group Pode Bal’s project targeting a monument to the Wehrmacht’s 6th Army, controversially installed at Austrian initiative in Volgograd in 1996. In 2004, the group proposed relocating it to Vienna and installing it on Schwarzenbergplatz near the massive Soviet war memorial there, as a comment on Austrian historical debates. That project was only displayed online and in galleries in Vienna and Berlin. A 2014 project by the Saint Petersburg collective Chto Delat targeted the same location in Vienna. Aiming to present the Soviet monument as an example of anachronistic statist monumentality, the group intended to cover it with scaffolding and a full-size version of a famous tower-shaped monument designed by Vladimir Tatlin in 1920 as the Monument for the Third International, in order to make visitors engage with the memorial as a “ghost from the past.” Having been denied permission by the Russian embassy, the group instead constructed an installation on the other side of the square and used it for debates and performances around the topic of monumentality71.

As the latter example shows, direct references to the Second World War or later military campaigns and their memorialization are gradually being displaced. Artists are increasingly engaging with their contemporaries’ attitudes towards war memorials.

On the one hand, they are addressing the monuments’ role as a general urban backdrop and as points of reference for the daily routines and emotional lives of post-war generations. Thus in 2002 the Estonian artist Kristin Kalamees released a short film titled Eternal Flame, in which a young woman falls in love with the Tallinn Bronze Soldier, highlighting both the ubiquity of Soviet monuments and the ideal of heroic masculinity72.

On the other hand, the very fixation on the past that is expressed in conflicts around monuments has been critically examined by artists eager to address present-day social problems. Kristina Norman created two works in response to what she saw as the polarization of Estonian society following the removal of the Bronze Soldier in 2007, which were followed by several days of riots that claimed one victim. Her short film Monolith (2007) presented the statue as an extra-terrestrial object whose arrival causes a social rift. Another project, titled After-War, expressed her desire to “react to this polarized situation from a third perspective, positioning myself between the communities, memory collectives, and implacable historical narratives”73. In order to achieve this, on 9 May 2009 she placed a full-size gilded replica of the Bronze Soldier in its original location in central Tallinn. For an installation at the Venice Art Bienniale she documented the reactions on the ground and in the media, but also the history of the rituals and conflicts around the Bronze Soldier. She presented her intervention not least as a critique of the technocratic style of the actions of the Estonian government, which thought that a social problems could be resolved by removing a monument74.

A similar critique of society was given as a justification for a dead-of-night intervention that took place at the central monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia in June 2011. An anonymous group of young artists painted the bronze figures of Soviet soldiers displayed as a high relief on the monument’s pedestal, to make them look like superheroes and other characters from US pop culture. According to the artists, these characters had come to replace their Soviet equivalents as role models, just as the memorial had long lost its function as a monument to communism. Even more importantly, they claimed they were criticising the traditional dependence of Bulgarian politics—first on Russia and now on the United States75.

The use of monuments as meeting points and places of recreational activities (such as skating, as in Sofia) was addressed in September 2008 in a project by the Warsaw artist Kamila Szejnoch. Szejnoch modified the monumental statue of a soldier erected as a memorial to the Berling Army (formed in the Soviet Union from Polish soldiers) by attaching a swing on a 15 metre chain to its outstretched arm. Her installation was intended to signify how individuals are yanked back and forth by the hand of history, yet it was also meant as a tribute to the soldiers who through their sacrifice had permitted careless pastimes such as swinging in the first place. The posters accompanying her project additionally imagined a slide at the Monument to the Heroes of the Red Army and a merry-go-round at the Monument to Brotherhood in Arms76.

In such interventions, the monuments’ status as symbols of bygone eras continues to play a role. In other performances, they are used as mere canvases to address present-day problems. Thus in 2012 the bronze soldiers on the pedestal of the Sofia monument were adorned with Guy Fawkes masks to protest against the ACTA anti-piracy agreement and later dressed in balaclavas in solidarity with the Moscow punk art collective Pussy Riot.

As these examples show, it is mostly the same monuments in capital cities and other highly symbolic locations—hardly more than a handful overall—that are repeatedly used as objects of artistic or political interventions. In turn they inspire repetition, imitation and citation. The Prague tank was repainted pink several times following David Černý’s first performance before being relocated to a Military Technical Museum south of the capital. In 2011-12 it was displayed again in Prague along with the middle finger (on a barge on the Vltava) to mark the 20th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops; later it was used to symbolize the 1990s at an exhibition on the 20th century shown in Brno. Earlier, works derived from the pink tank had appeared at several sites in Prague, including a monument designed by Černý himself that showed a quarter of a pink tank sticking out of the ground. Put on display in places from Singapore to Chicago, pink “peace tanks” have since become part of the artistic and pop cultural repertoire77. In Eastern Europe, even state institutions have adopted the painting of tanks as a gesture of peace. In Elbląg, Poland, pupils are regularly allowed to paint a T-34 tank monument that was put up to commemorate the city’s liberation. In 2012, the (now renamed) Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Kyiv, housed in the pedestal of the gigantic Motherland statue, started having the two tanks placed in front of it painted in various hues, ranging from motley patterns to the colours of the Ukrainian national flag. In 2013, the high relief of the Soviet Army memorial in Sofia was also painted pink (albeit anonymously and without official sanction) in an apology for Bulgaria’s participation in the crushing of the Prague spring in 1968. On other occasions, the bronze soldiers forming the relief were painted in the colours of the Bulgarian, Ukrainian or Polish national flags—to commemorate the victims of communism or the Katyń massacre or in solidarity with the Ukrainian revolution. In Gdańsk, the (Polish) T-34 monument has also been repainted on multiple occasions to express protest.

The situation in Russia, Belarus and (at least before 2014) in Ukraine is distinctive. In these countries, artistic engagement with the war is largely limited to using ever new means to express the established narrative about the Great Patriotic War—sometimes in truly dazzling ways, as is in the sand art of Ksenia Simonova from Simferopol78. The individualisation of war commemoration has also resulted in spectacular creations that exhibit monumental qualities, such as in the work of the Ekaterinburg street artist Timofei Radia (T-Radya). In his project After War (May 2010), he created two collages out of hundreds of war-time photographs; seen from afar, each of them resembled a well-known motif from the canon of Soviet war memory79. For Eternal Flame (June 2011) he attached several large pre-treated canvasses to the walls of an abandoned war hospital and threw Molotov cocktails at them, making portraits of war veterans appear in the flames80. As part of an installation titled Uman, Leonid Tishkov, another artist from the Urals, created a bronze monument of a button—the only thing remaining from his father’s uniform81.

However, artists hardly ever engage with existing war memorials critically, regardless of age (Tishkov was born in 1953, Simonova in 1985, and T-Radya in 1988). At most, some artists cautiously question the monuments’ sacrosanct status. Thus, during a festival in September 2012, members of the Kyiv-based TanzLaboratorium collective masqueraded as headless creatures and placed flowers at war memorials and other monuments in Sevastopol, only to have their performance interrupted by indignant local artists82. In 2017, the Saint Petersburg photographer Viola Andrushchuk created a photo series referencing cases of censorship in Russia. Alluding to the Syktyvkar trial, she had the contentious monument re-enacted by three women holding a soft toy crocodile over a fire83.

Concluding remarks

By their very nature, war memorials are political, if only because they present the people they commemorate as soldiers, thereby defining them from the perspective of the state rather than through family ties or other relationships. By consequence they are always potentially conflictual, since state categorization and interpretation is particularly prone to historical change and re-evaluation. This is especially true of Soviet war memorials, as they were not only erected on the Soviet Union’s own territory and in remote, quasi-extraterritorial military cemeteries, but deliberately put up in central locations in almost every country dominated by the Soviet Union—a country that no longer exists.

There can be no catch-all answer to the question of how best to deal with such monuments. The monuments themselves are too varied, as is the history of their construction, use and interpretation—as well as present-day legal, institutional, political and urban context. Those monuments that are especially prominent are also often the most contested. They become the focal points for a clash of perspectives: those of heritage preservation, the politics of history, international relations, family history and the everyday lives of local residents. There will never be, nor should we aim for, a universally applicable consensus on these monuments. However, much could be gained if all the actors involved developed an awareness of each others’ perspectives.

Unfold notes and references
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This chapter is the author’s own slightly revised translation of a chapter originally written in German and published in: Jürgen Danyel, Thomas Drachenberg, Irmgard Zündorf (eds.), Kommunismus unter Denkmalschutz?, Worms, Wernersche Verlagsgesellschaft, 2018, p. 49-64. It grew out of a project on the history of Soviet war memorials generously supported by the Hamburg Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Culture, and greatly benefitted from workshops organised at the Universities of Melbourne and Manchester with funding from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions Research Support Scheme and the Manchester-Melbourne Humanities Consortium Fund. For helpful comments and suggestions, I wish to thank Jörg Hackmann, Ewa Ochman and Nancy Waldmann (on Poland), Ekaterina Makhotina (on Lithuania), and Iryna Sklokina (on Ukraine). All online sources were last accessed on 10 April 2018.

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For details see: Mischa Gabowitsch, “Soviet War Memorials from Berlin to Pyongyang: A Chronological and Typological Overview”, in Martin Kerby (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Artistic and Cultural Responses to War – Vol. 2, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan (forthcoming).

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In East Germany this was done e.g. at the Zeithain memorial cemetery in Saxony and the Treptower Park memorial in Berlin; other examples include the Liberation Statue on Gellért Hill in Budapest or, almost two decades later, the Mother Motherland Statue in Volgograd. See also Frank Kämpfer, “Vom Massengrab zum Heroen-Hügel. Akkulturationsfunktionen sowjetischer Kriegsdenkmäler”, in Reinhart Koselleck, Michael Jeismann (eds.), Der politische Totenkult. Kriegerdenkmäler in der Moderne, München, Wilhelm Fink, 1994, p. 327-349, p. 331. The terminology of ‘sacred places’ is by no means anachronistic, as it was used at the time of construction. See e.g. T.G. Malinina, E.V. Ogarkova, Pamiat‘ i vremja, Moscow, Galart, 2011.

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Specifically, article 34, paragraph 2b of the Additional Protocol of 1977.

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Federal Graves Law, article 10, paragraph 2, no. 2.

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Treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Union of Socialist Republics on Good-Neighbourliness, Partnership and Cooperation (signed 9 November 1990, came into force on 5 July 1991), article 18, paragraph 1 (see online for the text). The treaty reused a phrase initially employed in a ‘joint letter’ by the two German foreign ministers that accompanied the signing of the Two Plus Four Agreement on German Reunification in September 1990.

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The agreement with Mongolia was not ratified. For reasons of space, I do not list the titles of the agreements in full. Their texts can easily be found on the Russian foreign ministry’s web site; for an overview see online.

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Ekaterina Makhotina, Erinnerungen an den Krieg – Krieg der Erinnerungen. Litauen und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co, 2017, p. 390. On the practical consequences of this legislative situation see: Aleksandr Lipovec, “Posol RF: voprosy voinskikh zachoroneniy nuzhno reshat‘ tsivilizovano”, Sputnik, 1 February 2017, modified 22 March 2017 (online).

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The more so since Ukraine and Belarus assumed this function themselves in concluding their own war graves agreements with Poland (in 1994 and 1995); in at least one case, Polish agencies also consulted the Armenian embassy. See Ewa Ochman, “Soviet war memorials and the reconstruction of national and local identities in post-communist Poland”, Nationalities Papers, vol. 38, no. 4, p. 509-530, p. 516, 527.

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Ewa Ochman, “Spaces of Nationhood and Contested Soviet War Monuments in Poland: The Warsaw Monument to the Brotherhood in Arms”, in Berber Bevernage, Nico Wouters (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of State-Sponsored History After 1945, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, p. 477-493, p. 489.

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See Ekaterina Makhotina, Between Heritage and (Identity) Politics: Dealing with the Signs of Communism in Post-Soviet Lithuania. Unpublished manuscript.

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For more detail see: Mischa Gabowitsch, “Russia’s Arlington? The Federal Military Memorial Cemetery near Moscow”, Journal of Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, no. 2:2, 2016, p. 89-143.

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An example from Ukraine: Ivan Kapas‘, “Derzhavnyy vandalism”, Dzerkalo tyzhnya, 10.3.2018 [online]. Metal theft was also a problem in Poland, see Ewa Ochman, “Soviet war memorials and the reconstruction of national and local identities in post-communist Poland”, Nationalities Papers, vol. 38, no. 4, p. 520; in Lithuania it even concerned Catholic crosses newly erected to commemorate the victims of Soviet occupation, see Ekaterina Makhotina, Erinnerungen an den Krieg – Krieg der Erinnerungen. Litauen und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co, 2017, p. 262.

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See V.I. Adamushko (ed.), Uvekovechenie pamyati zashchitnikov Otechestva i zhertv voin v Belarusi, Minsk, Natsionalnyi arkhiv Respubliki Belarus', 2008, p. 191-212.

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See Nikolay Koposov, Memory Laws, Memory Wars: The Politics of the Past in Europe and Russia, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2018, p. 194-195, 199-200.

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See Ronan Ó Fathaigh and Dirk Voorhoof, IRIS 2018-5:1/3, European Court of Human Rights: Sinkova v. Ukraine, IRIS Merlin [online].

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See “Prigovor po ugolovnomu delu o razgrablenii mesta zakhoroneniy zhertv natsizma pod Simferopolem budet ob yavlen zavtra”, 24.1.2013 [online]; “Po faktu razgrableniya bratskoy mogily zhertv Kholokosta v Krymu vozbudili ugolovnoye delo”, 1.5.2015 [online].

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The most detailed such effort was published as Zbor pomnіkaŭ hіstoryі і kul'tury Belarusі in 1984-1990.

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See Andrew Lawler, Taking Stock: the situation of monuments commemorating the People’s Liberation War, Struggle and Movement on the territory of the former SR Bosnia & Herzegovina.

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For Russia, the official inventory of protected heritage can be viewed at mkrf.ru/ais-egrkn.ru; an older version with scans of the card catalogue as well as data on no longer protected monuments is available at nasledie-archive.ru.

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See online. See also the database Pamiat’ naroda 1941-1945, also administered by the defence ministry. Among other things, this provides the exact locations of existing and former grave sites as well as related archival documents, although it does not focus on monuments [online].

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Peter Sixl (ed.), Sowjetische Tote des Zweiten Weltkriegs in Österreich. Namens- und Grablagenverzeichnis. Ein Gedenkbuch, Graz/Wien, Veröffentlichungen des Ludwig Boltzmann-Instituts für Kriegsfolgen-Forschung, 2010.

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I.A. Makarov et al., Katalog zakhoroneniy sovetskikh voinov, voennoplennykh i grazhdanskikh lits, pogibshikh v gody II mirovoi voiny i pogrebennykh na territorii Respubliki Pol’shy, Warsaw/Moscow 2003.

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See online. See also: Arbeitsgemeinschaft ‘Sowjetische Gräberstätten und Ehrenmale in Deutschland’, Sowjetische Gräberstätten und Ehrenmale in Deutschland heute, Berlin, Wostok, 2005.

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Sergei Dybov, Rossiyskie i sovetskie voinskie zakhoroneniia vo Francii, t. 1-4, Boulogne-sur-Mer, 2011-2013.

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See e.g. for the Kharkiv region in Eastern Ukraine: online.

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See Arkadi Zeltser, Unwelcome Memory. Holocaust Monuments in the Soviet Union, Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, 2018, p. 329-336. One prominent initiative to build new Holocaust memorials is the Russian Jewish Congress’s programme ‘Restoring Dignity’ (see online).

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See Ewa Ochman, “Soviet war memorials and the reconstruction of national and local identities in post-communist Poland”, Nationalities Papers, vol. 38, no. 4, p. 524.

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See Nancy Waldmann, “Local memories dismantled: reactions to de-communization in northern and western Poland”, Cultures of History Forum, 23 March 2018 [online].

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Keunsik Jung, personal communication, 30 March 2016.

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See Stanislav Borziakov, Andrei Rezchikov, “V Uzbekistane snesli ocherednoi monument geroiam VOV”, 21 March 2015 [online].

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See Tatiana Zhurzhenko, “The geopolitics of memory”, 10 March 2007 [online]; Mischa Gabowitsch, Cordula Gdaniec, and Ekaterina Makhotina, Kriegsgedenken als Event. Der 9. Mai 2015 im postsozialistischen Europa, Paderborn, Ferdinand Schöningh, 2017.

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Manfred Hettling, “Politische Denkmäler in der Stadt. Einführung”, in Politische Denkmäler in der Stadt, Halle (Saale), Mitteldeutscher, 2016, p. 7-32, p. 17.

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See Mischa Gabowitsch, Cordula Gdaniec, and Ekaterina Makhotina, Kriegsgedenken als Event. Der 9. Mai 2015 im postsozialistischen Europa, Paderborn, Ferdinand Schöningh, 2017.

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See “V Kutaisi vzorvan Memorial slavy: pogibli 2 cheloveka”, 19.12.2009 [online].

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See e.g.: Estonian National Archive, RA, ERAF.129SM.1.30 (Investigation File for Ageeda Paavel and AIli Jürgenson); Enrico Heitzer, Die Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit (KgU): Widerstand und Spionage im Kalten Krieg, 1948-1959, Köln, Böhlau, 2015, p. 405; Steffi Töpfer, “Das sowjetische Ehrenmal in Berlin-Tiergarten. Zur prekären Lage eines prominenten Erinnerungsortes im geteilten Berlin 1945-1990”, in Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung, p. 273-280, p. 279-280; Julie Fedor, “Attacks on Soviet War Monuments in the Polish People’s Republic: Cases from the Polish Security Archives”, unpublished paper presented at the World Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities, New York, 5 May 2018.

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See Ekaterina Makhotina, Erinnerungen an den Krieg – Krieg der Erinnerungen. Litauen und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co, 2017, p. 261.

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Ewa Ochman, “Soviet war memorials and the reconstruction of national and local identities in post-communist Poland”, Nationalities Papers, vol. 38, no. 4, p. 513.

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Ewa Ochman, “Soviet war memorials and the reconstruction of national and local identities in post-communist Poland”, Nationalities Papers, vol. 38, no. 4, p. 524; Ewa Ochman, “Spaces of Nationhood and Contested Soviet War Monuments in Poland: The Warsaw Monument to the Brotherhood in Arms”, in Berber Bevernage, Nico Wouters (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of State-Sponsored History After 1945, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, p. 479-480.

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Christopher Adam, “History wars: Hungarian radical leftist writes to college classmate, Gábor Vona”, Hungarian Free Press, 22 April 2015 [online].

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On the sculpture parks see: Beverly James, “Fencing in the past: Budapest’s Statue Park Museum”, Media, Culture & Society, vol. 21, no. 3, 1999, p. 291-311; Maya Nadkarni, “The Death of Socialism and the Afterlife of Its Monuments: Making and Marketing the Past in Budapest’s Statue Park Museum”, in Katharine Hodgkin, Susannah Radstone (eds.), Contested Pasts: The Politics of Memory, London: Routledge, 2003, p. 193–207; Gediminas Lankauskas, “Sensuous (Re)Collections: The Sight and Taste of Socialism at Grūtas Statue Park, Lithuania”, The Senses and Society, vol. 1, no. 1, p. 27-52; Paul Williams, “The Afterlife of Soviet Statuary: Hungary’s Szoborpark and Lithuania’s Grutas Park”, Forum for Modern Language Studies, vol. 44, no. 2, 2008, p. 185-198; Ekaterina Makhotina, Erinnerungen an den Krieg – Krieg der Erinnerungen. Litauen und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co, 2017, p. 263-267.

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It is now again called Albertplatz. On statue removal in East Germany see the list in: Leonie Beiersdorf, Die doppelte Krise: Ostdeutsche Erinnerungszeichen nach 1989, Berlin/München, Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2005, p. 44-45.

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For a detailed overview, see Felix Münch, Diskriminierung durch Geschichte? Der Deutungsstreit um den “Bronzenen Soldaten” im postsowjetischen Estland, Marburg, Tectum Wissenschaftsverlag, 2008.

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On Poland see Ewa Ochman, “Soviet war memorials and the reconstruction of national and local identities in post-communist Poland”, Nationalities Papers, vol. 38, no. 4, p. 512.

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See the travel guide: Wojciech Kondusza, Śladami Małej Moskwy, Legnica 2012, p. 10-12.

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Ewa Ochman, “Soviet war memorials and the reconstruction of national and local identities in post-communist Poland”, Nationalities Papers, vol. 38, no. 4, p. 523-524.

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Daniela Koleva, “Pamiatnik sovetskoj armii v Sofii: pervichnoe i vtorichnoe ispol’zovanie”, Neprikosnovennyi zapas, no. 101, 2015, p. 184-202, p. 197.

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Vitaliy Portnykov, “Dekomunizatsiya: yakymy ye kryteriyi?”, Radio Svoboda, 8 October 2015 [online].

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“Povalenny byust Zhukova v Khar’kove vosstanovili”, Korrespondent.net, 7 May 2018 [online].

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I wish to thank Sofia Dyak for giving me a detailed account of the situation in May 2018.

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See Nancy Waldmann, “Koniec ewolucji. Dekomunizacja przestrzeni publicznej na Ziemiach Zachodnich i Północnych w 2017r. – wybrane przykłady”, in Rocznik ziem zachodnich, t. 2, 2018, forthcoming; see also Krzysztof Ruchniewicz, “Der polnische Umgang mit den kommunistischen Hinterlassenschaften”, in Jürgen Danyel, Thomas Drachenberg, Irmgard Zündorf (eds.), Kommunismus unter Denkmalschutz?, Worms, Wernersche Verlagsgesellschaft, 2018, p. 45-48.

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See Nancy Waldmann, “Local memories dismantled: reactions to de-communization in northern and western Poland”, Cultures of History Forum, 23 March 2018 [online].

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On Germany see Leonie Beiersdorf, Die doppelte Krise: Ostdeutsche Erinnerungszeichen nach 1989, Berlin/Munich, Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2005, p. 69.

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For examples see “Zharenye iaitsa i portret Putina — vse intsidenty, sviazannye s Vechnym ognem”, 7 November 2017 [online].

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See “Pamiatnik Manshuk Mametovoi oskvernili v gorode, za kotoryi ona umerla”, 15 May 2017 [online].

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For a detailed discussion of a debate from Rostov on Don (that took place in February 2013) see Evgeniy Krinko, Tat'iana Khlynina, “‘Prichem zdes' memorial?’ 9 maja 2013 g. na Teatral'noj ploshchadi v Rostove-na-Donu”, in Mikhail Gabovich [Mischa Gabowitsch] (ed.), Pamiatnik i prazdnik, Moscow, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, forthcoming. It should be noted that choreographies with suggestive elements are occasionally included in official commemorative events, see Mischa Gabowitsch, Protest in Putin’s Russia, Cambridge, Polity, 2016, p. 160.

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The fine was later revoked on a technicality. See “Verkhovnyi sud Komi otmenil shtraf internet-zhurnalu ‘7x7’ za frazu ‘baby zhariat krokodila’” [online].

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Katerina Prokof’eva, “Serpom po grazhdanskim chuvstvam-2”, Radio Praha, 29.5.2009 [online].

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E.g. following a performance by the Slovak activist Ľuboš Lorenz in Košice in August 2017. On Poland see Ewa Ochman, “Soviet war memorials and the reconstruction of national and local identities in post-communist Poland”, Nationalities Papers, vol. 38, no. 4, p. 520.

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See the illustrated field report from rural regions of the Hrodna region in Belarus: “Hrodzyenskiya historyki khochuts′ stvaryts′ anlayn-kartu spalyenykh fashystami vyosak”, 16 August 2017 [online].

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On the term see James E. Young, “The Counter-Monument: Memory against Itself in Germany Today”, Critical Inquiry, vol. 18, no. 2, 1992, p. 267-296.

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“‘Komm Frau’: Oświadczenie Jerzego Szumczyka”, 18 October 2013 [online].

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See Krzysztof Wodiczko, The Abolition of War, London, Black Dog Publishing, 2012.

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See Jens Richard Giersdorf, “Is It OK to Dance on Graves? Modernism and Socialist Realism Revisited”, in Rebekah J. Kowal, Gerald Siegmund, Randy Martin (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Politics, New York, Oxford University Press, 2017, p. 603-626.

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See Thomas Drachenberg, “Konversion statt Konservieren? Der Versuch einer Klärung, ob die aktuelle Denkmalpflege ein schlechtes Gewissen haben muss”, in Peter Boeger, Alexander Dowe (eds.), Panzerdenkmal Berlin-Dreilinden. Geschichte und Hintergründe, Berlin, Metropol, 2014, p. 13-17, p. 14-15.

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For detail see: Mischa Gabowitsch, Insel Treptow, “Praktische Aneignung und mediale Kartographien sowjetischer Gedenkorte in Berlin und Wittenberg”, in Mischa Gabowitsch, Cordula Gdaniec, and Ekaterina Makhotina, Kriegsgedenken als Event. Der 9. Mai 2015 im postsozialistischen Europa, Paderborn, Ferdinand Schöningh, 2017, p. 203-278, p. 219-220.

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On both of these projects, see Tatiana Zhurzhenko, “The Soviet war memorial in Vienna: geopolitics of memory and the new Russian diaspora in Cold War Europe”, in Patrick Finney (ed.), Remembering the Second World War, London, Routledge, 2017, p. 89-114, p. 101-102. On the Chto Delat project see also Chto Delat no. 37 (2014), thematic issue “Face to Face with the Monument” [online] and Chto Delat, “Is a New Monumentality Possible Today? Documents of an Artistic Experience of Chto Delat Collective”, Rethinking Marxism, vol. 28, no. 2, 2016, p. 238-253.

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Eha Komissarov, “Kristin Kalamees: Igavene Tuli / Eternal Flame”, in Kumu hits: contemporary art from the collection of the Art Museum of Estonia, Tallinn, Eesti Kunstimuuseum, 2016, p. 34-37.

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Kristina Norman, “On the (im)possibility of a third opinion”, in Birgit Beumers, Alexander Etkind, Olga Gurova, Sanna Turoma (eds.), Cultural Forms of Protest in Russia, Abingdon, Routledge, 2018, p. 180-199, p. 183.

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Kristina Norman, “On the (im)possibility of a third opinion”, in Birgit Beumers, Alexander Etkind, Olga Gurova, Sanna Turoma (eds.), Cultural Forms of Protest in Russia, Abingdon, Routledge, 2018, p. 180-199, p. 189.

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See Daniela Koleva, “Pamiatnik sovetskoj armii v Sofii: pervichnoe i vtorichnoe ispol’zovanie”, Neprikosnovennyi zapas, no 101, 2015, p. 184-202.

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See Kamila Szejnoch, “Carousel Slide Swing” [online].

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See “Vechnyi ogon’” [online].

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See Viktor Miziano, “Uman” [online].

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See Anna Kornilova, “Performans ‘bezgolovykh’ pytalis’ ostanovit’ khudozhniki Sevastopolya”, Sevas, 28 September 2012 [online].