Sacred or secular? ‘memorial’, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the contested commemoration of Soviet repressions

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  • Maria Grzegorzewska Academy of Special Education, Warsaw, Poland


In the article we argue that intensive reconstruction of the history of Soviet repressions, and the process of social formation of Gulag memory began in Russia in the late 1980s-mid-1990s. Amongst those re-narrating the past, the 'Memorial' Society and the Russian Orthodox Church were most actively involved in the process of shaping the collective memory of Soviet repressions, trying to establish multi-layered explanatory constructs of the Gulag past. We show that their interpretations were crystallized through contemporary memorialisation acts in the landscapes of the past which they perceived as significant. By using four examples of such sites, Solovetsky Islands, Yekaterinburg, Butovo and Magadan and by analysing tensions in the memorialisation processes which took place there, we uncover the meanings of secular and Orthodox interpretation of the Gulag, and discuss their impact on the nature of memory of the Soviet repressions in contemporary Russia.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1416-1444
JournalEurope-Asia Studies
Issue number9
Early online date19 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015