Barbarism and Its Discontents (Cultural Memory in the Present)
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Barbarians Abstracts > USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
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Scholarly history-writing, by its nature a drawn-out, inertial phenomenon, only begins in the longer-term to work on constituting the pluralistic collective memory requisite for civil society, during the ultimate fifth and sixth stages of 'generational conflict' and 'structural analysis'. By this time, and as a precondition of a free historiography, the 'environmental' transition to democracy will be more or less secure, albeit perhaps without firm intellectual consensus on the nature of the nation.
Such conflict seems to be intrinsic to all liberal democratic states, especially those which have already undergone a half-century or so of post-dictatorship or post-imperial transition and which are currently confronting the challenges of closer regional integration, 'globalisation' and multiculturalism. Civil society requires historiographical difference within consensual bounds.
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Again, a brief glance at the German experience should suggest some directions for further historiographical or political-cultural research on the Russian transformation. In response, German intellectuals have revisited many of the themes of earlier controversies, but within a wider and more urgent debate over national identity now Germany has expanded to occupy its traditional nation-state borders. This persisting debate involves more than historically, conceptually and comparatively situating the Nazi period and now the socialist system also, with its kilometres of secret police files into a legitimating narrative of German history.
Of course, this alone is more problematic than it was before reunification, given that East Germans had been socialised under a regime which fiercely repudiated any continuity with Nazi Germany, and that since the epithet 'totalitarian' has entered popular discourse for both the Nazi and the East German political systems as well as for the Soviet Union and its other eastern European satellites , which has obvious, and often quite intended, relativising implications As well as immediate debates over prosecutions, street names, curricula, and procedures of dealing with data files on over six million private citizens, reunification also focused attention on the geographical or 'geopolitical', to use a recently rehabilitated term problem of German history Once more, many of these issues find their distant echo in the present-day Russian disorientation.
But if, as the German debates have shown us, history is a continuation of politics by other means and all the more so during systemic transitions , or if, as Pokrovsky claimed more subtly, it is "politics projected onto the past", then with no consensus on the nature of contemporary Russia, how will it be feasible to adopt a normative approach to its history?
Of course, the present crisis in which Russia finds itself is essentially different from the post German experience. In Germany, debate on a new nationalism centres on the responsibilities of perceived power, in Russia it is complicated by the apprehension of relative impotence and a loss of ostensive purpose.
In Germany, the nature and scope of most historical debate, both professional and popular, testifies to the maturity and resilience of democracy and to the existence of national traditions of civil society. Russia's very nationhood is contested and contestable , and the success of its first experiment with democracy and civil society is by no means a foregone conclusion. If, as some sociological work proposes, nation-building is incompatible with simultaneous democratisation see Section II above , then Russia, still trapped in the violent process of defining a post-imperial identity, is caught in a vicious circle.
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So long as Russia's project of mastering the Soviet past remains uncertain and open, so must the enterprise of predicting the future of Soviet history. It is to be hoped that the present paper will stimulate further, more empirical, research into the problems of contemporary Russian historiography.
Rees and R.