Mediated memories of the USSR : reconstruction and critical re-evaluation of the Soviet past through internet images.
Thesis DisciplineCultural Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Browsing Russian websites, one encounters dozens of images that attribute to the former USSR. Manifold representations of Soviet leaders, depictions of hammer and sickle, collections of Soviet cars, watches, postcards, as well as computer games, blogs and anime stylised as Soviet – this is far from a full list of images presenting the Soviet epoch on the Web. Yet, there are even more similar instances that may at first sight look absurd to the viewer, such as, for example, “Stalin vs. Hitler” comic strip or the online mini-series “Epoch: Made in USSR.” While the diversity of digital Soviet images is striking, their presence on the Web is not accidental: they generate and support public memory of the Communist era in the new media sphere. This thesis studies digital Soviet imagery as a form of remembrance, reconstruction and re-evaluation of the Soviet past. In other words, it explores different ways of how one recalls, understands and reinterprets that fascinating and controversial period of Russian history through web-based representations. The project also answers broader questions of why, in the twenty-first century, Soviet memory entered the digital field and, subsequently, how new communication technologies have turned into a suitable means for circulating notions related to the Communist epoch. As users bring more and more Soviet images online, the number and variety of digital commemorative practices related to the Soviet period increases. In this thesis, I test the limits of such ‘memoryscape’, while investigating different patterns of remembrance of the Communist legacy on the Internet. For this purpose, I examine four hitherto unexplored vehicles of digital Soviet memory: online visual archives of the Soviet past created and contributed to by common users, the Virtual Museum of the Gulag set up by the Memorial Society, Soviet propaganda posters appropriated as Internet memes, and the series of images Stalin is like created for a campaign to promote knowledge of Stalinist terror. Using these examples, I inquire into how images construct different visions of the Soviet past, ranging from its idealistic portrayal to ironic and even traumatic representation.