OSA | Visions after the Fall: Program

Visions after the Fall: Museums, Archives and Cinema in Reshaping Popular Perceptions of the Socialist Past

Rebecca Gould: "Remembering and Forgetting Genocide: The Difference Made by State Representations of the Soviet Deportations"

My presentation will juxtapose two case studies of the memory of the post-WWII deportations in the Caucuses: the Balkars and the Chechens. In 2002, the first monument to any deported people on the territory of the Former Soviet Union was built in Nalchik, the capital city of Kabardino-Balkaria, in the North Caucasus. A monument to the deportation of the Chechens was built in Grozny in 1994 under the Dudaev regime, only to be destroyed by Russian troops during the second war in 1996. To this day, there is no monument to the deportation of the Chechen people, though the Chechen deportation was the largest scale deportation conducted during the Soviet period, and it was carried out under the harshest conditions. Scholars estimate that one-third to one-half of the Chechen population died during the deportation years. The deportation of the Balkars was no less harsh, and in some senses represents an even closer approximation of the term "genocide" in that the Balkars were a smaller nation, numbering no more than 150,000 and compared to 750,000 Chechens.
What I find fascinating is the different treatment accorded to the Balkar and Chechen deportations in post-Soviet memory. The two deportations occurred the same year, 1944, and affected the populations in question in nearly the same way. With the strange irony so characteristic of Soviet power, both deportations were performed on holidays; the Chechens were deported on Red Army Day and the Balkars were deported on International Women's Day. The deported peoples were allowed to return from Central Asia to their homelands in 1957 under Khrushchev, who used the "mistakes" made by Stalin as a way of advancing his own position within the Soviet hierarchy. Yeltsin offered a more robust apology for the deportations in a well publicized broadcast in Nazran, Ingushetia soon before the eruption of violence between the Ingush and the Ossetians in 1991. Yet a large museum now stands in Nalchik to the Balkars, whereas the Chechen deportation has been erased from official representations. In the present day North Caucasus, the deported people par excellenace are the Balkars, not the Chechens, and their very tools for remembering their deportation have been in a sense co-opted by the state.
My presentation, for which I gathered extensive visual documentation during my field work in Nalchik in March 2006, will explore how the Balkar Deportation Museum in Nalchik negotiates the relationship between the Russian state and the Balkar people in present day Russia. As well as looking at depictions of the deportation itself on the museum's walls, I will look at the rather surreal depictions of Balkaria's "free" union (itself an historical fiction) with Russia two centuries ago. A permanent exhibit commemorating the upcoming "180th anniversary of the free union between Balkaria and Russia" is on display not far from the images of the deported bodies. This second exhibition tells a very different story than the one the Chechens or even the Balkars themselves have to tell concerning the historical trajectory of their relationship with Russia. The Balkar Museum is a site where Russian-inflicted trauma is memorialized, while at the same time the narrative of Balkaria's free union with the Russian state is reasserted in an array of permanent exhibitions which are juxtaposed to memories of the Balkar genocide.
How is it possible to represent, and therefore to remember, past repression in a state which operates by the same structures and ethnic assumptions that made the deportations possible in the first place? The Balkar model of cooptation is perhaps the best solution which Russia has yet to find, and it presents an interesting contrast to the Chechens, who have had their grief driven underground by the state's denial. The consequences of the state's inability to face its guilt with regard to the Chechen deportation are well known to the world by now. I would like however, to go beyond the familiar political discourse, and analyze the individual stories and experiences of those who either themselves were deported or who are descendents from victims of the deportations. In the case of the Chechens, I will look at how the absence of a museum – how a void in place of a sacred space reserved for the commemoration of trauma – has shaped Chechens' relationship to their own history. Until recently, the Balkars occupied a roughly similar position as the Chechens, so my account is perhaps one of a common tragedy as much as it is of the difference made by institutionalized representations of genocide.
The field sites of my research have been Nalchik (March 2006), the Pankisi Gorge (January-March 2006), and Tbilisi, Georgia where I am engaged in dissertation research on the Chechen diaspora.

Rebecca Gould is a doctoral student in Columbia University, Department of Anthropology and a fellow at the Center for Comparative Literature and Society. Rebecca is currently based in Tbilisi, Georgia, where she is doing her field work on the Chechen, Kist and Georgian intelligentsia. Rebecca's research interests include indigenous literatures and languages of the Caucasus, particularly Chechen and Georgian, ethnography, Islam, colonialism, nationalism, constructions of gender, linguistic anthropology. She is an author of several translations from Russian and Georgian. She is also a regular contributor to Tbilisi's English-language newspaper Georgia Today.

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Date: June 9, Friday

Time: 12.30-1 pm



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