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

Activity: PhD thesis ExaminationPhD thesis examination


Margaret Comer

The Heritage of Repression: Memory, Commemoration, and Politics in Post-Soviet Russia
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 better understand the different ways in which site managers and stakeholders choose to interpret victims and perpetrators: specifically, how they handle the issue of intertwined grieving and blaming. It also aims to understand the broader political and sociocultural attitudes underlying why different groups choose these various forms of ‘grievability’ and ‘blameability’. Millions of Soviet citizens were victimized in successive waves of Soviet repression, yet there has been 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 range of grievability that can be used to compare who is being grieved at each site and why each site’s caretakers and stakeholders made these choices. The dissertation then goes beyond grievability to introduce the concept of ‘blameability’, which analyzes blame and how it 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 justice, memory, and civil rights, which continue to heavily affect and be affected by the heritage of Soviet repression in Russia. Linked theorizations of ‘accountability’ and ‘repentability’ are also introduced and their ramifications addressed.

Period16 May 2019
ExamineeMargaret Anderson Comer
Examination held at
  • Cambridge University
Degree of RecognitionInternational