CfP: Konference Victimhood - Acknowledgement - Politics of Memory: Struggling over the Memory of Suffering

The second half of the twentieth century saw a change in the concept of victimhood in post-socialist and post-conflict countries. Although victims are often perceived through the prism of their trauma and passivity, attention is currently focused also on their active role in transitional justice and their social mobilization. It turns out that victims and their organizations have been playing an important role in the democratic transition and in public history and appeared on the political scene as distinct and powerful groups that managed to achieve some of their main goals, such as compensations, rehabilitations, redress and acknowledgement. Representatives of victim associations (especially former political prisoners and their offspring) have also turned into ‘guardians of memory’. Their role is to share their experience and simultaneously defend the image of the group and the association. Their main goal is not only to integrate the history of the victims and survivors of the state socialist dictatorship into broader political and national history, but to enforce their version of the past as the dominant narrative as well.

The aim of the interdisciplinary conference is to focus on victim associations in post-socialist countries in East-Central and East-Southern Europe. The conference will focus on the role that victim organizations (of political prisoners, victims of the repression of state socialism) played after 1989, what were their goals and through which activities they wanted to achieve recognition and redress. The conference aims to explore these organizations as participants in public life and the formation and maintenance of collective memory, as well as how these associations sought to emphasize and use or promote their collective memory and their interpretation of history in the political process and contribute to the democratization of society.

In recent years, academics from various disciplines have contributed to a growing body of literature on victimhood. Together, these studies analyse the concept of victimhood in different geographical and historical contexts. This conference seeks to bring together scholars from various academic disciplines (history, psychology, sociology, political science and anthropology) who examine aspects of victimhood, victim organizations, victim trauma, victim politics and transitional justice in post-socialist countries. We propose to follow three broad tracks in order to identify how victimhood was shaped and how the victims and their organizations engaged in political action to demand redress and acknowledgement. We are also interested in the consequences of the construction of victimhood in democratic transitions, both positive and negative. The major themes of this conference are:

1. Victimhood as a social construct
We consider victimhood to be a socially and politically constructed category and characterize victimhood as a form of collective identity based on harm caused by an individual, group or state. Therefore, our aim is to focus on the questions of how and why some people transform their trauma into a collective identity. Because victimhood is not only a moral and legislative matter, but also to a significant extent a political one, we want to study how the political and social context shaped the narratives of victims and influenced the form of victimhood. We are also interested in questions such as how do the victims define themselves and why did some victim groups receive the status of victims and obtained political and social acknowledgement and various advantages, while other groups did not. In this context, the crucial factor in some countries seems to be whether they engaged in competition or cooperation with organizations of Nazi victims. How did they define themselves in relation to them and how did it affect their identity?

2. The role of victims in transitional justice and democratization
As various studies have shown, victim organizations adopt different strategies and become active political actors. We are interested in the roles that victims and their organizations played in transitional justice. In this regard, we would like to explore how victims shaped the course of democratization, their involvement in the legislative process, their strategies and objectives. How did they influence the legislative changes regarding rehabilitation, restitution, compensation and recognition? We are also interested in victim associations as participants in public life and the formation and maintenance of collective memory, as well as how these associations tried to emphasise and utilise or promote their collective memory and interpretation of history in the political and educational process.

3. Shadows of victimhood
While the victim organizations are rightly understood as legitimate representatives of victims and their claims, their influence on democratic political developments can be controversial. Their activities on the one hand helped societies cope with their difficult past, but on the other brought to public space a polarized narrative that was not limited to members of the Communist Party, but often applied to ethnic, religious and sexual minority groups as well. In recent years, it has been noted that some of the politically persecuted and former political prisoners are gradually shifting towards right-wing extremism. Victims and their organizations tend to present their statements from a position of moral superiority, and see any condemnation of their views as belittling their experience and relativizing their suffering. The conference aims to better understand how did the narratives of victimhood in various post-socialist countries exacerbate affective polarization.

We encourage interested speakers to tackle the following questions:

Proposals of 300–500 words, accompanied by a short biographical note, should be sent by January 30, 2024 to the following addresses: As we plan to have commentaries for each session, papers of 2,000 words are required to be pre-circulated by August 1, 2024.

Decisions will be announced no later than February 28, 2024.

Funding is limited to people from Europe, but we are open to participants from other non-European countries and are offering the option to participate remotely.

Organised by: Hannah Arendt Institute for Totalitarianism Studies at TU Dresden (HAIT), German Historical Institute Warsaw (DHIW) – Prague Branch, Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague (ÚSD)


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