Deadline: April 30, 2018.
Geneva, 13-14 December 2018
Divided Memories, Shared Memories
Poland, Russia, Ukraine: History Mirrored in Literature and Cinema
In Central and Eastern European countries, memorial questions appeared right after the demise of
the communist regimes in 1989–1991, revealing long-denied processes. The phenomenon of the
rise of repressed memories along with the rewriting of history, and the political uses of the past
are noticeable in Poland, Russia, and Ukraine, three countries whose histories are as often shared
as their memories are divided. The ‘memory wars’ in which these three states have sometimes
been engaged since the end of the 1980s have been the subject of an abundant historiography.
However, research has often focused on the analysis of memorial issues after 1989–91, while the
paradigms of the communist era continue to be felt in these three countries. Above all, these
works, no matter the field of study, be it political science, sociology, anthropology, or history –
do not take enough advantage of the invaluable resources that are literature and cinema.
Literature and cinema are powerful means of promoting representations of the past and play a
central role in shaping national identities. At the time of Communism, the political authorities
were well aware of the power of literature. This is evidenced by the political scandal that broke
out in 1968 after the publication of the novel A Cathedral by Oles Honchar, even though the
writer’s way of describing Ukrainian national traditions was limited to the Soviet canon and
literary standards of ‘socialist realism’. It is also evidenced by the silence on Vasily Grossman’s
texts, Life and Fate, as well as Everything Flows, a novel written between 1955 and 1963, in
which a man just released from the Gulag mentions the Great Famine in Ukraine, a taboo subject
in the USSR until the late 1980s. In socialist Poland, the war crimes of the Ukrainian nationalist
underground against the Polish population were never silenced, but the largest-scale massacre
that occurred in the Volhynia region in 1943 (that would become part of the Soviet Ukraine after
the war) was hidden. The state’s attempt to impose an official version of history through
literature explains the importance of both Soviet samizdat and Polish drugi obieg.
In the same way as literature, cinema – ‘the most important of all’ according to the well-known
Soviet slogan – played a fundamental role in promoting an official vision of history throughout
the 20th century, as shown, for instance, in the Soviet movies of Igor Savchenko (The Horsemen,
1939, Bogdan Khmelnitsky, 1941), that accompanied Stalinist expansionism in Ukraine. Today,
the great variety of Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian movies is not limited to state propaganda.
Moreover, a number of themes crystallize the divergences from one country to another, for
instance the Cossack theme (With Fire and Sword, Jerzy Hoffman, Poland, 1999; Bohdan-
Zinoviy Khmelnytsky, Mykola Mashchenko, Ukraine, 2008; Taras Bulba, Vladimir Bortko,
Russia, 2009). Finally, cinema is also used to reflect on national traumas (as, for example, in
Katyń by Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 2007, or in Haytarma by Akhtem Seitablayev, 2013, the first
Crimean Tatar movie about the Soviet deportation of 1944).
Representations of events and historical figures that have had a resonance in Russia, Poland, and
Ukraine in the literature and cinema of the 20th and 21st centuries, will be the subject of the
multidisciplinary and international conference that will be held at the University of Geneva in
– Objects of analysis. We will focus on the representations of historical events and figures that
have been the subject of conflicting historical narratives in at least two of the three countries in
the 20th century literary productions (novels, short stories, historical biographies for the general
public, etc.) and cinematographic works (not only auteur movies, but also mass production for
propaganda or commercial purpose) of Poland, Ukraine, and Russia.
– Our attention will not be only focused on conflicts. Indeed, a particular attention will be paid to
literature and cinema as possible fields of historical dialog, and of Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian
reconciliation. We will try to assess if convergent interpretations (generally less obvious to
identify than ‘memory wars’) have emerged in the literature and cinema of these three countries
around some historical events or figures. We will also try to see whether – before the collapse of
the communist regimes, or afterwards, throughout a century marked by abrupt political changes
and periods of (relative) political and diplomatic stabilizations – literature and cinema have only
contributed to the writing of ‘closed’ national narratives or if they have also taken part in the
development of a shared memory.
We are open to submissions of proposals from scholars of history, culture, politics, literary
studies, and other related disciplines. Interdisciplinary and comparative papers are also welcome.
We are waiting for proposals on books and writers, movies and moviemakers that will not focus
only on literature and cinematographic criticism, or on the historical context itself, but that will
also investigate the conditions in which literary and cinematographic productions dealing with
representations of the common past in Poland, Russia, and Ukraine were created.
Proposals should include the title of the presentation, an abstract (around 300 words), a brief
resume (one page), and contact details (e-mail address, postal address, phone number). Proposals
should be sent to GenevaDecember2018Conference@yahoo.com by April 30, 2018.
Should a proposal be accepted, accommodation and travel costs will be covered.
Organizer: University of Geneva (Global Studies Institute and Faculty of Arts, Russian
Department). The Conference is organized in the frame of the Project: Divided memories, shared
memories. Ukraine / Russia / Poland (20th-21st centuries): an entangled history, supported by
the Swiss National Science Foundation.
Organizing committee: Korine Amacher (Geneva), Eric Aunoble (Geneva), Andrii Portnov
(Berlin / Frankfurt/Oder)
Keynote speakers: Rory Finnin (Cambridge University), Susanne K. Frank (Humboldt