Memory Laws and Security

Security concerns are rarely openly invoked for the justification or in the preambles of memory laws – laws endorsing certain narratives about the past, often aimed at strengthening the collective identity of a nation or community. However, the notion of ‘security’ is invoked in broader debates over the legal governance of collective memory. Sadly, ensuring security – a fundamental obligation as well as the prerogative of governments – often serves as an excuse to increase the state’s grip on the freedoms of its citizens.

Preserving sovereignty in post-Soviet democracies

A significant number of memory laws adopted in Central and Eastern Europe aim for reconciliation with the period of domination of the Soviet Union, Stalinism, and the “real existing socialism”. The function of some of the legislation adopted in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine – apart from commemorating victims and condemning past atrocities – is to manifest the state’s sovereignty.

The official condemnations of the Soviet occupation and gross human rights violations – including deportations to the USSR or the systematic starvation of local populations, notably the Great Famine in Ukraine between 1932 and 1933 – play an important role in the political communication with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Russia has legally sanctioned imperial and nationalist narratives about its role in the Second World War (the so-called Great Patriotic War) and the subsequent defeat of Nazi Germany. In this narrative, there is no room for admitting Soviet crimes. In the context of the Russian hybrid war in Ukraine, Maria Mälksoo described memory laws as a strategic element of ‘mnemonic security’ for countries in the post-Soviet region. The multiplicity and diversity of memory laws adopted in the region may stem from a need for reinforcing fragile sovereignty with a solid legal foundation ...

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