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Accepted Paper:

Terra incognita: ruination, social abandonment, and political views in rural Brandenburg  
Laura Tradii (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper investigates the contemporary shift towards radical right-wing political views in Eastern Germany by focussing on local perceptions of social abandonment in rural Brandenburg.

Paper long abstract:

With the recent increase in popularity of the nationalist party Alternative for Germany in the Eastern regions, and anti-migrant marches in Chemnitz and Cottbus, public debate in Germany has been ceaselessly interrogating the causes for such radicalisation of political views. The understanding of the East as a "left behind" place, alongside broad assumptions about the consequences of capitalism or the ex-DDR citizens' resistance to democratic rule, figure prominently among explanations. These reflect a "Western" perspective that is often completely alien to the local's own understanding of the experience and causes of social abandonment and political change.

My paper, based on anthropological fieldwork on the continuing resurfacing of the dead bodies of WWII soldiers in rural Brandenburg, is an attempt to produce a first extensive ethnographic treatment of the question. It investigates the local experience of social abandonment with a particular emphasis on the effects of living literally surrounded by the physical ruins of both the socialist DDR and of WWII, in rural regions where the landscape is marked by explosion craters and decrepit DDR factories. At the same time, this paper will demonstrate that, in spite of a widespread perception of hopelessness and stagnation, individual narratives of post-socialist change emphasise resourcefulness and creativity in reinventing oneself following the collapse of the socialist state.

Ultimately, I will argue that reunified Germany is perceived as perpetuating a form of silencing that characterised the DDR, as the locals' experience of war and of socialist dictatorship were once more repressed and not incorporated into the new German state.

Panel A09
'Left behind places': unequal social trajectories of progress
  Session 1 Wednesday 4 September, 2019, -