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Paperno, Irina

Irina Paperno. Ph.D. from Stanford University. Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley.

Fellow (1 September 1999 – 31 January 2000)

During my four-month stay at NIAS, I worked on the project that uses specific discoveries of the bodies of victims of Stalin’s terror in the former Soviet Union to raise some pertinent questions in historiography, public opinion, and cultural symbolism. As my test case I selected an involved story of the graves in the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia; originally investigated by the authorities of the Third Reich during the War, the story of the Vinnytsia massacre has been rewritten many times, by different agencies, and is actively debated in the community today. The study has been largely completed. At NIAS, working with the previously prepared research materials, I have written a manuscript entitled “Exhuming the Bodies of Terror: Symbolics and Politics of Memory in the Former Soviet Union”. In the course of these months, prompted by the interdisciplinary discussions at NIAS and by additional research, I rethought the initial conception of the work. I then focused on conceptualising the material within the general framework of the studies of “history and memory” and on discussing the anthropological problem of meanings attached by the community to its dead. In its finished form, the project can be described as an investigation into the “symbolics and politics of memory”; focused on symbolic interpretations and collective representations of the bodies of terror victims, the work purports to throw light on the significance of Stalin’s terror for the present-day community. In a larger perspective, it is a study of a new challenge facing society and culture after the fall of the communist regime: How to respond to the discoveries of mass burials of those who died by the hand of their own government? How to make sense of the bodies of terror?

During these months at NIAS, I also started designing a larger project; taking the present investigation as a starting point, it will explore other aspects of the general problem: memories of the Soviet experience.