Smolny Beyond Borders

A Liberal Arts Initiative

Russia’s Casus Belli: Memory Politics or Political Propaganda?


Date and time:

Saturday, June 8, 5:00 pm 6:30 pm CET/GMT+1

Jacob-und-Wilhelm-Grimm-Zentrum (Geschwister-Scholl-Straße 1/3, 10117 Berlin)

The war in Ukraine has changed the political and security landscape. Modern political constructs have been developed for peace. Peace is considered normal, and war is an exceptional event. Tragically, this framework fails to explain physical and symbolic violence that has dominated early 21st century. Propaganda has effectively deconstructed the classical idea of casus belli: wars start with no understandable reason, and sometimes they end in a similar way. Revanchist versions of colonialism and imperialism differ from those of the past. Far from repentance or even resentment, revanchist subjectivities do not follow the postcolonial principle ‘never again’. Postimperial rather than postcolonial, these subjectivities identify with the former perpetrators and operate with a very different principle: ‘make it great again’, or rather, ‘let’s repeat it but in a new, better way’.

The talk will be given in the framework of the international conference “Historical Past and Contemporary Propaganda in the Global Context”, June 7-8, 2024, presented by Gagarin Center at Bard College, Smolny Beyond Borders Initiative at Bard College Berlin, Center for Comparative Research on Democracy at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Alexander Etkind is a professor at the Department of International Relations at Central European University, Vienna. He previously taught at the European University Institute at Florence (2013-2022), the University of Cambridge (2004-2013), and the European University at St Petersburg (1999-2004). Alexander defended his PhD in Russian cultural history in Helsinki (1998), and supervised more than 30 PhD students in Europe. His current interests are the political aspects of the Anthropocene, global decarbonization and security in Eastern Europe. In the past, he was also involved in memory studies, European intellectual history, empires and decolonization, and various aspects of Russian history. A Fellow of King’s College Cambridge, Etkind was the Leader of Memory at War: Cultural Dynamics in Poland, Russia and Ukraine, a European research project (2010-13). He is the author of Eros of the Impossible. The History of Psychoanalysis in Russia (Westview Press 1996); Internal Colonization: Russia’s Imperial Experience (Polity Press 2011); Warped Mourning: Stories of the Undead in the Land of the Unburied (Stanford University Press 2013); Roads not Taken. An Intellectual Biography of William C. Bullitt. (Pittsburgh University Press 2017); and Nature’s Evil: A Cultural History of Natural Resources (Polity Press 2021). Alexander coedited Remembering Katyn (Polity 2012), Memory and Theory in Eastern Europe (Palgrave 2013) and Cultural Forms of Protest in Russia (Routledge 2017). His new book, Russia against Modernity, was released by Polity in April 2023.