SIEF2019 14th Congress: Santiago de Compostela, Spain
14-17 April 2019

Current images of socialism
Location Aula 8 (Andrés S. Suárez)
Date and Start Time 17 Apr, 2019 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Lubica Volanska (Slovak Academy of Sciences) email
  • Kirsti Jõesalu (University of Tartu) email
  • Jana Nosková (Czech Academy of Sciences) email

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Short abstract

The aim of the panel is to discuss the current representations/images of socialism, as communicated by the generation of witnesses and transmitted to the younger generations. The papers shall also concentrate on how are their current attitudes and values influenced by the mentioned representations.

Long abstract

The aim of the panel is to discuss the current representations/images of socialism, as communicated by the generation of personal witnesses, and how the existing attitudes and values of the respondents are influenced by the fact that they lived in socialism. The contributions shall also concentrate on the ways, how these ideas are transmitted to the younger generation (children, grandchildren): How does the next generation deal with the experience of their ancestors, how do the (grand)children feel about it and how do they integrate this experience into their own identities?

Due to unsufficient coverage of this era in the national school curricula, the youngest generation´s ideas and knowledge about the everyday life in the period of socialism are habitually shaped by the family memory (Welzer 2014). The panel shall deal with the relation between the family memory and the often ambivalent public discourses: How the period of socialism is transmitted also at the cultural and political level of remembering.

The papers should focus mostly on contemporary societies. There exist a variety of research designs related to the intergenerational transfer of representations in post-socialist countries in Europe. There are several countries, like Slovakia, where systematic research using the oral history method is still in the beginnings; whereas it is more developed in countries like Czechia or Estonia. One of the panel's goals is to present small pieces of the mosaic coming from the often exotised Eastern part of Europe and try to fill the blind spots on the map.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


"It was a ritual of those times" - memories of attending theater during the Ceausecu's Romania

Author: Zsuzsa Plainer (ISPMN (the Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities) ) email
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Short abstract

This paper analyses the practices of attending theater in Romania during the 1980-ies. Based (mostly) on narrative interviews collected recently, the research claims to understand, how the one-time resistance through culture is preserved and how its memory transmitted to new generations?

Long abstract

Memories of the Romanian socialism focus on "big" issues like "politics", "resistance" or "nationalism" of the cultural and political elite. Still, little do we know how these overarching categories (Gullestad, 1991) were shaping practices of "everyday people" in everyday life (Petrescu - Petrescu 2006).

This paper analyzes memories of the inhabitants on attending the local theater during the 1980ies in a Romanian town, Oradea, medium-sized place located in the western border. Based on oral history narratives, contrasted to documents on censorship, interviews with local cultural elite and official party propaganda, this research intends to reveal, how everyday practices of consuming culture reached to value of civic ritual and became an important tool for community building in this local society.

As all the oral history interviews with the former audience were recently collected, the ritual of attending theatrical performances is seen as memory of communist times. Thus, by collecting them we intend to answer the following questions: are the practices of making politics through culture (Verdery 1993) still relevant in our times? How are one-time rituals of resistance seen today, after roughly 30 years from the collapse of socialism? How were the practices of attending theater preserved and transmitted to the new generations? How do they shape the image of socialism in Romania?

"Living in this house is a part of my identity." On generationally transmitted ideas about dwelling in Bratislava.

Author: Lubica Volanska (Slovak Academy of Sciences) email
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Short abstract

The paper focuses on the current images of socialistic dwelling related to the specific situation based on a case study of inhabitants of the House Avion in Bratislava, as communicated by the generation of personal witnesses (1948 - 1989) and the transmission of the ideas to their children.

Long abstract

The paper concentrates on the ways, how the representations of socialist dwelling of the inhabitants of one specific house in Bratislava (living in the house Avion in the period 1948 - 1989) influence the ideas of the younger generation (their children, grandchildren) concerning their dwelling nowadays.

According to the latest surveys the proportion of rented flats in nowadays Slovakia compared to western European countries is very low (similar to other post-communist countries). During the communist era rents were to be kept at an artificially low level, the situation changed after 1989, when private owners regained the right to freely rent their dwellings. As a result of insufficient state and communal policy related to the rental housing a lot of people decide to buy their own housing.

The inhabitants of the house Avion were in a different situation, they have chosen to create a housing association, but had to fight some extraneous privatisation attempts as well. The successful story of transformation is transmitted to the next generation in several forms. The paper seeks the answer to the questions: how does the next generation deal with the experience of their ancestors, how do they integrate this experience into their own identities and how their choices about their own dwelling might be influenced?

(Post-)socialist second-hand shops with clothing: a necessity or a choice?

Author: Mateja Habinc (University of Ljubljana) email
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Short abstract

Historically opposed perceptions of the second-hand shops with clothing during socialism and nowadays will be tested in the presentation. Is there really a duality between second-hand retail which during socialism was supposedly a necessity while nowadays it is an ecologically aware choice?

Long abstract

Contemporary consumerist societies are often seen as in opposition to socialist societies. Their economies of shortages are considered to be one of their main characteristics, marking everyday lives of people living under socialism on almost every level and resulting in another so called characteristics of socialist societies, dirty togetherness or tacit knowledges of outsmarting the system by using social nets. Both is commonly seen as totally in contrast with the contemporary capitalist way of living. Various types of an alternative consumption, among them second-hand shops with clothing, are also its part. They are presented as contributing to an ecological awareness, sustainable development and individuality. In Slovenia, where there are only a few second-hand shops in the country, such retail is nevertheless still often marked as pre-modern, as related to one's poverty, which is supposedly a notion deriving from the 60's and 70's of the previous century when socialist shortages started to decrease. As a sign of distancing from socialist, nowadays unwanted past, when second-hand shops were supposedly a sign of necessity, perceptions of second-hand retail as contemporary, non-marked with prejudices and a sign of a conscious choice are presented in Slovene public discourses. Such historically opposed perceptions of second-hand shops with clothing during socialism and nowadays will be tested in the presentation, especially through the case-study of commission shops which during various decades of the socialist period changed their role drastically.

Difficult past and its heroes. Conflicts of memory

Author: Monika Golonka-Czajkowska (Jagiellonian University) email
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Short abstract

The current government's project of radical rebuilding the image of socialism in Poland

encounters sometimes the resistance from different social groups. Remembering

the brutalities of the post-war civil conflicts, they contest the new historical policy

and practice own memory of that time.

Long abstract

The need to overcome the socialist past and define a new collecitve identity are the important results of political transformation in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc. This process had been relatively peaceful and multi-vocal in Poland until 2015, when it accelerated rapidly and took a more radical turn as a national conservative camp was chosen to be the governing body. Legitimizing its right to exercise power, the party implements intensive historical policy that focuses above all on the anti-communist partisans called "cursed soldiers", which are presented as genuine patriot-Poles and great national martyrs of communism in Poland. This strategy of rebuilding the social imagination, revolutionary in its character and based on a regime of national conservative memory, encounters often bottom-up resistance of historical witnesses, victims' families, local communities - rural, ethnic, combatant groups, etc. Remembering the brutalities of the post-war civil conflicts, they do not agree to accept the unconditional glorification of the mentioned partisans - instead, they produce their own alternative strategies of collective memory of that time.

In my paper I would like to analyse one case of these current conflicts surrounding the anti-communist partisan group acting on the Polish-Slovakian borderland in the Tatra Mountains,

whose activities still evoke intense emotions, provoke opposing opinions and generate new forms of memory practices.

Family photographs as a mean of remembering the socialist past

Author: Jana Nosková (Czech Academy of Sciences) email
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Short abstract

The paper analyses stories regarding everyday life in the socialist time told over family photographs by old(er) generations to their (grand)children and asks how family recollections of the socialist past are transmitted within the family.

Long abstract

The paper focuses on a project which has been recently carried out in the Czech and Slovak Republics. The (grand)children at the age of 14-18 years asked their (grand)parents for choosing the most important/significant photographs from the family albums regarding the socialist period. (Grand)Parents were to describe them and discuss situations depicted at the chosen photographs. The collection of personal memories represents an interesting data file documenting both individual and collective memories, the ambiguous ways of remembering of the socialist past and - last but not least - the mechanism of passing on family memory to younger generations. It helps us to understand "how people are both an object and a subject of the world and history in their social and cultural sphere, or how they experience their reality and how they keep creating it" (Lüdtke 2001: 563).

In my paper I draw my attention not only to topics that have been chosen using photographs as important/significant for the socialist past (topics related to the most important fields of everyday and public life, and social structures in socialism) but also to ways of narrative transmission of attitudes and values, meanings and images of the socialist past within the family. In my analysis I am also aware of the fact that though investigating the period prior to 1989, my research is both about the remembered past and the present situation of remembering.

Girls and women in socialist Slovakia and Hungary (1955-1989). An ethnological approach

Authors: Marta Botikova (Comenius University in Bratislava) email
Zita Deáky (Eötvös Loránd University) email
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Short abstract

Ethnographic data representing everyday life in socialist Slovakia and Hungary are analysed and compared from women's perspective. In both countries, the socialist regime defined not only the political ideology of the state, but also tried to define people's lifestyles.

Long abstract

In our paper, we want to create a picture of the everyday life experience in socialist Slovakia (part of Czechoslovakia at that time) and Hungary from women's perspective. In both countries, the socialist regime did not define only the political ideology of the state, but also people's daily lives, festive lives, consumption patterns, social relationships, social mobility paths, as well as socialization strategies. At the same time, there was a parallel experience of people being true to the "former" (pre-socialist) values.

In both countries, we follow women's lives from birth to old age, mainly using the methods and approaches of ethnography and historical comparative analysis. While historical and political events, socialist rule of law, power and control appear in both countries, they also have specific features to each of them.

The paper also wants to introduce a special analytical approach of a dialogue between two women ethnologists from the two countries concerned. For mutual dialogical analysis, we have picked three decades of shared past experience. This period as well as innovative analytical approach should contribute to enlarging scholarship on women's memories and mutual understanding of shared life experience in former Eastern Bloc countries.

Host-region: diasporic images of socialism in Newfoundland

Author: Mariya Lesiv (Memorial University of Newfoundland) email
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Short abstract

This paper will explore images of the former Socialist Bloc produced by immigrants to Newfoundland, Canada, whose unique cultural setting stimulates newcomers to expand the notion of "our people" beyond a single ethnicity or country of origin and build identities informed by their shared past.

Long abstract

Images of the former Socialist Bloc also thrive in immigrant settings, serving as vehicles for identity building and engagement with a new place. This paper will focus on post-Socialist immigrants in the Canadian province of Newfoundland.

Although Newfoundland is perceived as culturally homogeneous, with a predominantly English and Irish population, the province has recently experienced increased immigration, including from the post-Socialist Bloc. Newfoundland's unique cultural setting and small immigrant population stimulate newcomers to expand the notion of "our people" beyond a single ethnicity or country of origin. Their common socialist past informs identity-building processes. Examples include an Orthodox Christian Mission (uniting immigrants from Orthodox countries, including Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine); a local restaurant (where distinctions in cuisine and traditions of various nations of the former Yugoslavia form a marketing strategy); and an annual New Year's celebration (that draws Russian-speakers from many former USSR republics).

Focusing on personal experience narratives and expressive culture, I will discuss how immigrants' common socialist experiences shape individual and community identities and how their home countries' sociopolitical dynamics influence these identities in a small place.

Diaspora studies often address the interplay between homeland and hostland in the formation of diaspora identities, concentrating predominantly on major immigration centres, where large immigrant populations unify based on ethnicity and/or countries of origin. Scholars rarely consider areas that attract fewer immigrants and, in turn, result in more complex diaspora dynamics. This case study shows the necessity of a regional perspective and proposes a new theoretical concept of host-­region.

I am writing for my grandchildren...Food memories from Soviet Estonia

Author: Anu Kannike (Estonian National Museum) email
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Short abstract

The paper examines contemporary Estonian representations of food culture under socialism, mainly relying on answers to the questionnaire "Food culture during the Soviet period" in the archives of the Estonian National Museum (2002-2004). The analysis focuses on people born in the 1920s-1940s.

Long abstract

The paper analyses retrospective assessments of the socialist experience from the postsocialist perspective of the elderly generation emerging from food memories. The particular sources enable to study how these people create meaning in regard to their food practices under socialism and how they have experienced and represent social transformation. The paper mainly looks at coping strategies in the family that emerges as the main site of remembrance and a source of identity.

The long life experience of the elderly respondents enables them to look at the social transformations from a broader perspective, often comparing three different eras - pre-war, Soviet and post-Soviet. The structure of narratives of the Soviet past is often based on a comparison and contrast between "then" and "now" as well as different generations. Accounts of Soviet-time food practices reflect a multitude of voices and perspectives. However, we can speak about a distinct generational profile.

The study outlines the cultural and individual resources and strategies remembered and emphasized in recollections about Soviet everyday life, looking at what aspects are described in a critical and what in a positive light. The public aspects of Soviet food culture are seen in a critical manner and the corruptive character of the system is condemned, but individual experiences are mostly considered valuable and recollected with some nostalgia. In retrospect we see pride over the social skills enabling to cope with shortages and some aspects of Soviet time everyday practice like self-provisioning have maintained an important position as ideal and practice.

Social changes and post-socialist nostalgia in the Czechoslovak countryside

Author: Oto Poloucek (Masaryk University ) email
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Short abstract

Social changes of socialist Czechoslovakia serve the starting point to

understand the continuity of rural communities. Focus on principles persistent

from pre-socialist times can also help to understand recent post-socialist

nostalgia and higher conformity of rural people to the socialist regime.

Long abstract

The interest in changes in social life in the late socialist Czechoslovak

countryside serves the starting point to understand some principles, on which

continuity of rural communities is based. The doctoral research inspired by the

principles of microhistory, the oral history method, the history of everyday

life and the symbolic anthropology theory, gradually led to focus on issues,

which overlap frame of the social life and the leisure time as general interest

of presented research. The necessity to focus on the principles of stability of

the rural society persistent from pre-socialist times became clear to

understand factors, which led to the relative higher conformity of rural people

to the socialist regime. It also offered the basis of understanding the recent

post-socialist nostalgia. In the paper, several statements claiming from the

research will be served and offered to a wider discussion about the present

impact of the transformation of the Czechoslovak countryside during the

socialist era involved not only by politics but also by the processes of


Teachers in socialism: authorities or regime servants?

Author: Monika Vrzgulova (Institute of Ethnology and Social Anthropology, Slovak Academy of Sciences) email
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Short abstract

Paper is focused on one professional group. It will discuss the recollections of former and current teachers aimed on the professional life, work condition and self-reflection during communist regime in Slovakia

Long abstract

Paper is focused on the professional group of teachers. It will discuss the recollections of former and current teachers aimed on their professional life, work condition and self-reflection during communist regime in Slovakia. What did it mean to be teacher during socialism in Slovakia (1948-1989) from their individual perspective, what kind of challenges had to be faced, how they brought their personal values and the pressure of the communist ideology in balance? How is the transition of these individual memories to the social memory, how is the connection to the memory of their families and how is the relation between their memories and cultural and political memory of socialist era in Slovakia? (I used terms social, cultural and political memory following Aleida Assmann, 2006: 45-96) Paper will present work in progress of my oral history research in the project Current images of socialism in Slovakia.

Aleida Assmann, Shadows of Trauma. Memory and the Politics of Postwar Identity. New York 2016.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.