Travels: Sofia, Bulgaria



CSEP’s PhD student, Monika Sziron, traveled to Sofia Bulgaria for the conference (Re)Thinking Socialism: Knowledge, Memory and Oblivion of the Socialist Past (November 7-9, 2019), sponsored by The Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The international conference brought together more than 120 scholars from nearly 20 countries, grouped into 32 panels on a range of topics regarding the history of socialism (*for more details on the conference theme). Her paper, “The Virtual Space for Memories Before Modern Democracy,” highlights the need for memories, stories, and images of socialism to be mediated for future generations. The paper focuses on digital media ethics and highlights the advantages and disadvantages of virtual spaces, like Facebook, as an example of these mediated spaces (**for full abstract). Concerns of photos’ influence on memory formation, experiences of postmemory, and critical nostalgia

* Conference Theme:
Thirty years after the end of state socialism, the need to fully comprehend it is still an immediate task. Over the past three decades, the dominant public discourse of the previous historical period has undergone significant changes: from a firm rejection in the first years of the transition to the latest wave of rehabilitation of the regime and nostalgia (socialist nostalgia, Ostalgie, Yugo/Tito-nostalgia). To varying degrees, post-socialist societies in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe are still divided in their attitudes to the recent past. Thirty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the politics and culture of the memory of socialism continue to be a field of tension and controversy among politicians and between various social groups. The difficulty in understanding and dealing with this legacy is due not only to the (in)actions of the political elites or the larger public. Socialism is part of the biographical experience of the people who lived it, and they share their truth about it, based on the undeniable status of witnesses. This experience is diverse, ambiguous and controversial, and so are the memories of it. For the next generations, socialism is “a foreign country”, it is a narrative about someone else’s past, family history, it is an image taken from a movie or a read book, it is post-memory. The academic discourse on socialism/communism, just like the everyday one and the political one, is also highly fragmented. The goal of the international interdisciplinary conference is to discuss various aspects of socialism/communism and its impact on the present. The emphasis is on (re)thinking - it is our aim to thematize the state of research on socialism, to illuminate new fields and to add new details to the knowledge of the period.

** Monika’s Abstract

The Virtual Space for Memories Before Modern Democracy

With over 122,000 members, a public Facebook group captures and curates a vast number of old photographs. The Facebook group is titled ‘Budapest régi képeken’ (Budapest in old pictures). The group is specifically for sharing photos and videos that capture the atmosphere of an old city. There is a conscious effort to maintain and gather these old images from an exclusive time period, as photos dated after 1990 are not permitted. While the many years before 1990 in Hungary were not necessarily all characterized as socialist/communist, the years after 1990 reflect the country’s official initiation and transition to modern democracy. This conscious effort to filter images reflects a desire to preserve a space for Budapest before modern democracy. As a result, the images of socialism/communism in Budapest still have an interactive space to ‘live’ and be seen not just in Hungary, but around the world. Members of the group express many emotions, nostalgia, amazement, sadness, humor, and love to just name a few. There are also debates, questions posed, and opinions abound. The purpose of this paper is to analyze this virtual space from a cultural memory perspective. The paper focuses on cultural memory/cultural memorization understood as the process that occurs in the present in which the past is continually modified and re-described, all the while shaping the future. The paper highlights the potential positive and negative repercussions of this kind of virtual space. This includes questioning photographs’ influence on memory formation, how the children of post-socialist/communist eras can ‘remember’ and experience postmemory in these virtual spaces, and whether virtual spaces of this sort are conducive for critical nostalgia. The paper finally calls for more research on these virtual interactive spaces and their influence on historical and present understandings of socialism/communism.