Digital Natives versus Security Hardliners

Berlin Policy Journal, 14 August 2020, with Nadja Douglas

Belarus’ disputed presidential elections and the violent aftermath has exposed the gradual erosion of trust among young people in the regime.

A new generation of Belarusians has clashed violently with the security forces this week in reaction to what is widely perceived as a rigged presidential election on Sunday. The incumbent, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, was officially declared the victor on August 14, with 80.1 percent, while the promising challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was attributed just 10.1 percent. These results, which had been provisionally published earlier, have been vehemently disputed.

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Belarus Votes on Sunday. Our New Survey Shows What Young Voters Are Thinking

The Washington Post – Monkey Cage, 7 August 2020

A week before Belarus’ Aug. 9 presidential election, tens of thousands of people gathered in the capital, Minsk, and across the country in support of opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. President Aliaksandr Lukashenka, meanwhile, visited military training sites. State-run TV commentary affirmed the regime’s willingness to disperse future crowds of protesters to prevent a violent upheaval.

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Belarus’s Presidential Election: An Appetite for Change

ZOiS Spotlight 30/2020, 29.07.2020, with Maryia Rohava

On 14 July, Belarus’s Central Election Commission refused to let two popular challengers to Belarusian president Aliaksandr Lukashenka register for the country’s forthcoming presidential election. After that decision, a kilometre-long queue formed in Minsk as people waited to submit complaints to the commission, and protesters gathered in other cities. Meanwhile, a united campaign in support of the presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is gaining public momentum across the country.

New survey data gathered by ZOiS in the run-up to the election demonstrate the popularity of presidential challengers among young people in Belarus. In particular, three electoral campaigns have invigorated public interest in politics. All three alternative candidates have been supported by an impressive degree of public mobilisation, large numbers of signatures for their candidacies, and solidarity events across the country.

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Poland’s Viral Election

ZOiS Spotlight 18/2020, 06.05.2020

Amid Poland’s Covid-19 lockdown, heated political confrontations persist over whether the presidential election will take place as scheduled on 10 May. In the run-up to the planned vote, ZOiS conducted a survey among young Poles to shed light on their fractured political views. A sizeable share of Polish youth supports the government’s conservative values. But others have mobilised against its social policies and its curtailing of the judiciary’s independence—albeit without a centre of gravity.

The potential opportunities of a crisis

Crises provide opportunities to get things done that previously seemed out of reach. Choices made in a crisis often affect society or politics for a long time. Worldwide, Covid-19 pandemic presents such a crisis, in which Poland needs to decide how to proceed with the upcoming presidential election.

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World War II for Young Russians: The Production and Reception of History

ZOiS Report 1/2020, published 16.04.2020, together with Nina Frieß.

Under Russian president Vladimir Putin, historical narratives have become a central component of the Kremlin’s attempts to shape the identities of Russians at home and abroad. These narratives provide a set of identity markers and aim to compensate for limitations in other spheres of life, such as a lack of economic growth, insufficient infrastructure, and restrictions on personal freedom.

You can access the report here:

CfP: Memory as a Dialogue? History for Young People

9-11 September 2020

Nina Frieß & Félix Krawatzek
Centre for East European and International Studies | Mohrenstr. 60 | 10117 Berlin

Historical narratives are foundational for most collective identities. The way any group relates to its history has implications for its political and social imaginaries and what is politically feasible. Given that importance, the political or social elite of a group tends to invest significant resources into the kind of historical narratives that are being cultivated. These narratives often suggest an appropriate behaviour that qualifies a person as a member of the respective group, be that a nation, a region or an ethnicity. One important target of those historical narratives are young people at an age when their historical interest takes shape and when it is still seems possible to influence their historical outlook.

This workshop wishes to bring together scholars working on the production of historical narratives, particularly as these manifest in cultural artefacts such as literature and film, and those working on the reception of these narratives among young people. Continue reading

Collective Memory in Oxford Bibliographies in Political Science

Just published in the Oxford Bibliography in Political Science series, my entry on Collective Memory.


Scholarship on collective memory from an explicit political science perspective has expanded over the last decade. This growth speaks to political dynamics unfolding across the world, as history has once again become part of political confrontations. The ongoing dispute about an acceptable name for Macedonia, the role of truth commissions in post-conflict societies, and the international tensions stemming from the memories of Japanese aggression on the Asian continent during the Asia-Pacific War illustrate that political science needs to include questions of collective memory in its analysis. Although political science’s focus on collective memory is new, it would be erroneous to believe that memory has started to shape politics only recently. The study of the societal significance of present-day representations of past narratives has a long history. Its intellectual forebears can be found notably in late-19th-century French sociology, and the topic has gained in prominence in the humanities and sociology since the 1980s and is now marching into the political sciences. This latter expansion also changes the methods and research strategies that scholarship on collective memory employs. Nevertheless, studying collective memory will remain an inherently interdisciplinary endeavor and uniquely integrates the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences. Given the field’s quick shifts, a number of central conceptual tools retain an elasticity less common in other branches of the discipline. Meanwhile, the number of topics that can be approached through the prism of collective memory is inexhaustible. The field is therefore held together primarily by its underlying conceptual apparatus. Conceptual clarity is thus particularly relevant for a dialogue within and across the disciplines, and also to integrate the insights related to collective memory generated in political and social theory. The state of the scholarship illustrates, however, that studies of collective memory have overwhelmingly been motivated by empirical puzzles and at times continue to analyze memory as being a tangible phenomenon. While not necessarily shortcomings, many of the empirical contributions have thereby shied away from a more thorough theoretical investigation.

General Overviews

There are no general overviews from a specific political science perspective. However, excellent starting points are Olick, et al. 2011 and the similar precursor Rossington and Whitehead 2007. The latter is less detailed but includes a number of classical and early modern texts that might be of interest (Plato, Cicero, Hume, Hegel). Olick, et al. 2011 contextualizes key writings on collective memory alongside a substantive introduction. Readers get a sense of the sociopolitical and economic transformations of the 19th century that have contributed to the emergence of research on memory. Such early memory studies saw collective memory not as alien to 19th-century natural science approaches to memory, but rather as an extension of them. It was Maurice Halbwachs (see Theoretical Foundations of Collective Memory) in the early 20th century who consciously tried to emancipate collective memory from its natural science habitat. Starting from the perspective of contemporary scholarship on collective memory—rather than the field’s classics—is Erll and Nünning 2010, which includes texts by leading scholars. They introduce sites of memory across the world, more theoretical reflections on the relationship between memory and cultural history, and perspectives from a number of disciplines, including sociology, psychology and cognitive sciences, literature, and media studies. Erll and Nünning 2010 does not incorporate an explicit political science focus, which speaks to the authors’ disciplinary orientation but also illustrates how limited research in political science remains. More recently, Tota and Hagen 2016 covers a wide range of theoretical perspectives, including practices of commemoration and forgetting, the relationship between memory and public discourse, technologies of memory, the long shadow of difficult past events, and memories that emerge from ecosystems and bodies. Kattago 2016, meanwhile, offers more of a cultural historian perspective and covers questions of identity and memory (as well as conceptual and methodological issues), concluding with several case studies. The chapters reflect on the intellectual “companions” that have shaped each author’s own journey through memory studies, thereby discussing in an accessible manner such figures as Bakhtin, Benjamin, Heidegger, Warburg, and Yates. Radstone and Schwarz 2010 is also a useful starting point and provides a historical overview of conceptualizations of memory as well as a range of perspectives on the functioning of memory alongside a set of case studies.
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Artistic Tastes and Socio-Political Values of Young Russians

ZOiS Spotlight 9/2020, 04.03.2020

How frequently a person visits art museums and discusses these visits with parents or friends shapes that person’s aesthetic preferences. Since Bourdieu disproved in his famous 1984 Distinction the Kantian idea of a pure taste for what is aesthetically beautiful, it is acknowledged that social factors condition cultural tastes. Artistic preferences thus tend to reflect a person’s upbringing—their social origin—and current position in society. People tend to appreciate art they can decipher—that is, art for which they possess the aesthetic tools to turn the combination of colours and shapes into order.

In two cross-sectional online surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019 among Russians aged 16 to 34, we wanted to understand respondents’ aesthetic preferences. We presented people with three pairs of pictures: two landscape paintings, two female portraits, and two images of male workers. In each pair, one picture was realist and the other was abstract. The subjects were asked which version they preferred, and the responses were used to construct a three-point scale.

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Tagungsbericht: Youth Mobilization and Political Change. Participation, Values, and Policies Between East and West

Gerade bei H-Soz-Kult erschienen:

Nadja Sieffert, Forschungsschwerpunkt Jugend in Osteuropa, Zentrum für Osteuropa- und internationale Studien (ZOiS), Berlin

Es sind junge Menschen, von denen die Fridays-for-Future-Bewegung, die jüngsten Proteste in Hongkong und die wiederkehrenden Demonstrationen in Russland getragen werden. Sie mobilisieren sich weltweit, setzen Impulse und verändern Diskurse. „Der Jugend“ wird eine zentrale Rolle für politischen und sozialen Wandel zugeschrieben. Um diese genauer zu betrachten, spannte die Konferenz einen Bogen von politischer Partizipation über politische Einstellungen hin zu staatlicher Jugendpolitik und öffentlichen Diskursen über Jugend. Es wurde zwischen der Jugend als Subjekt mit eigener agency und der Jugend als Adressat politischer Maßnahmen differenziert.

Jugendpolitik ist für jede Regimeform zentral, um sich zu legitimieren. Auch autokratische Staaten versuchen, sich die Loyalität der Jugend zu sichern und für sie attraktive Angebote zu machen. Dies kann durchaus zu Spannungen führen. In einem ersten Panel ging es dementsprechend um verschiedene Versuche, junge Menschen im Sinne des Regimes zu formen. Continue reading

Europe’s Europes: Mapping the Conflicts of European Memory

Just published in the Journal of Political Ideologies:


Debates about ‘European memory’ are frequent in public and political discourse. With the fundamental challenges the European project now faces, such debates exemplify changes in what Europe means and implies politically. Drawing on a large corpus of press articles from six EU member states and employing qualitative and quantitative methods of discourse analysis, the article examines the fields and logics of conflict about the meaning of Europe between 2004 and 2016. Intimately linked to national and post-national senses of identity, these conflicts take four different forms across different national public spheres: (1) perspectives from which ‘European memory’ underpins seemingly consensual conceptions of Europe; (2) conflictive conceptions of Europe along an East-West divide that present different attempts of setting rules; (3) memory conflicts establishing peripheries and boundaries of Europe; (4) a global framing of ‘Europe’ that understands Europe as a space of competition that mobilizes triadic patterns of conflict. The fits and misfits, and the degrees of entanglement on conflicts about ‘European memory’ help to understand the persistent and continuous struggles over the mental maps of Europe beyond the simplistic opposition of particularism and cosmopolitanism.