Melanie Ilic: Vilnius Conference
24th September 2012
At the beginning of September 2012, I travelled to Lithuania for a conference I had co-organised on ‘The Soviet Past in the Post-Soviet Present: the Ethics of Oral History and Memory Studies’. My co-organiser, Prof Dalia Leinarte, is chair of the Gender Studies Centre at the University of Vilnius. Both Dalia and I have spent the past few years engaged in life history research, talking to women about their everyday lives during Soviet times. Dalia’s book, Adopting and Remembering Soviet Reality: Life Stories of Lithuanian Women, 1945-1970 has already been published, and my volume Life Stories of Soviet Women: the Interwar Generation is now in press with Routledge. Dalia and I are both interested in exploring further the ethical implications of undertaking such research specifically in the Eastern European context.
Our plenary speakers were Andrejs Plakans (Iowa State University), who talked about his childhood experience of displacement from Latvia during the war, and Elena Zdravomyslova (European University at St Petersburg), who talked about the recent ‘biographical impulse’ in post-Soviet Russia. We also had a Skype link up with Barbara Engel (University of Colorado), who joined us for responses to a reading from her as yet unpublished interview with co-editor Anastasia Posadskaya after they had completed their research for A Revolution of their Own: Voices of Women in Soviet History.
Other speakers came from across Europe, with many of the papers focusing specifically on work that is currently being conducted in many of the former Eastern bloc countries with women about their experiences of everyday life under the Soviet regime. Papers touched on: motherhood in Hungary; housing in Latvia; the Finnish occupation of Karelia; academic scholarship in Czechoslovakia; criminal activity in Central Europe; resistance and nostalgia in Soviet women’s memories; women’s experience of forced displacement; and Chechen women’s refugee experiences. Several of the panels focused on research that is currently being conducted in the Baltic States and these papers touched on methodological and interpretive problems: dealing with nostalgia about the Soviet past; successful and unsuccessful case studies; remembering and forgetting uncomfortable pasts; identifying and coping with ‘trauma’; the value of ‘testimony’ and ‘social capital’; and identifying shared emotions in conflicting memoir literatures.
The whole event was a great success and Dalia and I are now working on plans to publish a set of papers arising from the presentations and discussion at the conference.
The photo is a picture of Dalia and I at the statue of Lithuanian partisan and national heroine Maryte / Mariya Melnikaite. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the statue was removed from its original location in the town where Melnikaite was born, Zarasai, where it had stood from 1955-1992, to the Grutas statue park (‘Stalin’s World) in Druskininkai, Lithuania.
See also Kelly Hignett’s blog post about the conference: