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The Heritage of Repression: Memory, Commemoration, and Politics in Post-Soviet Russia



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Comer, Margaret Anderson  ORCID logo


This dissertation focuses on portrayals of victims and perpetrators at sites related to Soviet repression in contemporary Moscow and Yekaterinburg, Russia. Its aim is to explore the different ways in which site stakeholders choose to interpret victims and perpetrators: specifically, how they handle the issue of intertwined grieving and blaming when the categories of ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ are not always clear. It also aims to understand the broader political and sociocultural attitudes underlying why different groups choose various forms of ‘grievability’ and ‘blameability’. Millions of Soviet citizens were victimized in successive waves of Soviet repression, yet there has been little critical study of the tangible and intangible heritage of these acts of violence as they are inscribed (or not) on today’s Russian cityscapes. The idea of ‘grievability’ was developed by Judith Butler; I have developed a typology of grievability that can be used to compare who is being grieved at each site and why each site’s caretakers and stakeholders make these choices. The dissertation then goes beyond grievability to introduce the concept of ‘blameability’, which I propose in order to analyze how blame is assigned at each site. I have developed a typology of blameability that can be used to categorize whom each site blames for the violence that affected the victims memorialized there. For each individual or group identified at a site, their respective degrees of grievability and blameability can be plotted on a chart, allowing for a more thorough and holistic view of how each site’s stakeholders view and portray the issue of intertwined victimhood and perpetration. Finally, the case study data are brought together in order to draw conclusions about overarching attitudes towards the tangible and intangible legacies of Soviet repression in Russia. Linked theorizations of ‘accountability’ and ‘repentability’ are also introduced and their ramifications addressed.





Carr, Gilly


heritage, dark heritage, Russia, post-Soviet, repression, Soviet repression, gulag, Great Terror, Stalin, post-Stalin, memory, commemoration, memorialization, memorial, museum, politics, heritagization, Moscow, Yekaterinburg, grievability, blameability, repentability, accountability


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
My PhD was funded by the Gates Cambridge Trust, while I also received financial support from the Jesus College Doctoral Support Fund, the Dorothy Garrod Memorial Trust, Banco Santander, and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.