“This is an excellent comparative study of the role of the laws of memory in contemporary European societies and politics, with particular attention to the right-wing movement in Eastern Europe and the Ukrainian crisis. It depicts a vast canvas of the struggle between free speech and hate speech and denial, highlighting the dilemma posed by the laws of memory in liberal societies and authoritarian states. It is an important book for understanding the relationship between collective memory and nationalism. Kosopovs combines a detailed description with concise analytical perspectives. It is a valid text for both the historian and the general reader. In addition, future research could deepen the unequal historical relations of power and domination between and within Western and Eastern Europe. These centuries-old relations decisively prepare the symbolic and material ground for the instrumentalization of memory to strengthen national sovereignty, for example in Eastern Europe vis-à-vis the European Union. Finally, Koposov`s emphasis on Europe could be complemented by research on the laws and politics of memory in other parts of the world, particularly in the Global South. By dealing more directly with long-standing colonial and capitalist power structures, their legacies and contemporary articulations, this research could bring a new perspective on the laws of memory and wars sweeping the world today. While the laws of memory emerged in the context of Western Europe nearly three decades ago, there was an increase in the laws of memory in Central and Eastern Europe in the 2010s. Contrary to its origins, this emerging body of law appears to reinforce a state-sanctioned victim role and attempts to establish a preferred presentation of history in public memory through legal means. Examining the history of World War II and the rule of Soviet communism is a central point of contention, as Central and Eastern European countries construct opposing historical narratives that engage each other in the ongoing war of remembrance.
In our article, we focus on three Central and Eastern European countries as national studies that deal with the right to memory in Poland, Russia and Ukraine and analyze their memory legislation in the context of the wars of memory. Our analysis then shows how “wars of remembrance” are fought as proxy wars for contemporary state identities. In the pursuit of mnemonic security, states secure the control of memory, which is thus excluded from public discourse and subjected to permissible restrictive discourses and memory practices. These methods of mnemonic governance through laws of militant memory undermine the fundamental elements of liberal democracy, weaken constitutional orders, and fuel nationalist tendencies, with implications for democratic regression. Moreover, our contribution shows that the laws of remembrance were adopted in all three countries as a sword and shield in the midst of mutual wars of remembrance: (1) between Poland and Ukraine on the one hand against Russia on the other, (2) Poland and Ukraine between them, and (3) Russia and Ukraine between them. These diametrically opposed historical narratives, institutionalized by the laws of memory, therefore have important implications and can potentially aggravate conflicts, historical quarrels and ethnic and national tensions. The following chapters focus on legal strategies and the moral-political framework of the laws of remembrance in post-socialist Eastern Europe. While attributing the sources of these laws to the anti-fascist and anti-racist laws of the socialist era, Koposov also points to the decisive influence of the European Union`s remembrance policy, in particular the criminalization of Holocaust denial. The decommunization laws of the 1990s and 2000s had a decisive influence on the formulation of memory laws in the region and embodied the common strategy of equating communism with fascism as a criminal totalitarian regime.
These laws generally transfer responsibility for communism to certain foreign forces and treat the communist period as a foreign “Russian occupation” (p. 131). This abdication of responsibility fuels the nationalist instrumentalization of memory and finds supporters across the political spectrum, including liberal and conservative nationalists. Koposov details how the laws of memory, as they spread from West to East, became less and less democratic and increasingly despotic, weapons not of the weak but of the strong, used to silence competing narratives about the past and promote a mythical national history, often one of unprecedented victimhood and terrible heroism. as it was fully realized in the last years of the Putin regime. A rich, carefully researched, nuanced and rich book, Memory Laws, Memory Wars, highlights the dangers of trying to legislate our understanding of the past. “Koposov`s book provides a seminal text on European laws of memory that recalls well-known arguments and sheds new light on the power these laws can have over a country`s self-confidence and national identity, as well as its foreign policy in Eastern Europe. His book is timely because it provides an additional layer of understanding of policy-making and the national narrative, especially in countries that have recently experienced a democratic relapse. . Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978); E. P.
Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class” (New York: Vintage, 1968). See also Don Kalb, Expanding Class: Power and Everyday Politics in Industrial Communities, Netherlands 1850-1950 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998); and Gerald Sider and Gavin Smith (eds.), Between History and Histories: The Making of Silences and Commemorations` (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997) for suggestive explorations of the intersection of class, memory, and history. See Tithi Bhattacharya, ed., Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression (London: Pluto, 2017) for a fruitful analysis of class with gendered and sexualized forms of oppression. “Specialists may know some laws of memory, but few of us have realized how general the phenomenon has become. In this first comprehensive study of past legislation, Nikolay Koposov brings in-depth empirical studies, broad comparative sensitivity, and the semantic diligence that can be expected from an eminent philosopher and student of literature. The result is an indispensable manual of an important European phenomenon. “Koposov offers useful information about the historical conditions that make memory malleable and instrumentable, especially through authoritarian nationalist policies, in our current conjuncture. In the next chapter, Koposov gives a comprehensive overview of the development of memory laws in Western Europe, from the anti-fascist laws of the late 1940s and early 1950s and anti-racist laws of the 1960s to the Holocaust denial laws introduced in West Germany (1985) and the Gayssot Law (1990) in France. which is generally accepted as the first laws on memory. Holocaust remembrance and its protection from far-right groups and neoconservative anti-communist historical revisionism, Koposov said, are at the heart of memory laws and the European Union`s general approach to remembrance. One of the most thought-provoking discussions in the chapter concerns the implications of Holocaust-centered memory for the legal and moral evaluation of other genocides and mass violence (and their memories) such as the Armenian genocide and colonial violence.
This question of the plurality of genocides and “multi-memorization” is far from being resolved, Koposov stresses. In addition to national and European courts, many historians, especially in France and Germany, have been intensely involved in public debates on memory laws and have opposed the blatant political instrumentalization of history, such as the Mekachera law, which seeks to highlight the “positive effects” of French colonialism.