At the beginning of next year, the five-year project 'Translating Memories: The Eastern European Past in the Global Arena', which was awarded a prestigious grant of 1.5 million euros by the European Research Council (ERC), starts under the leadership of Eneken Laanes, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Culture Analysis at Tallinn University.
Laanes and her team will investigate how the memory of the Second World War and the Soviet regime in Eastern Europe has been brought to the global arena through literature, cinema, and art.
Laanes explains that for the past three decades there has been a widespread public perception in many Eastern Europe countries that their local histories of WW II and Socialist period have not been sufficiently understood both in Europe and in the wider world. On the political level the attempts to seek international recognition for one's particular histories has lead to various controversial comparative and competitive discourses about twentieth century totalitarianisms. Her project I will ask what is at stake in these comparisons in cultural terms by studying the aesthetic media of memory - literature, film and art.
Making local history known globally
'In recent years there have been many books and movies that have taken the Eastern European history to the global arena, created a lot of international interest, but also provoked debate in the local context of whether or not the image of the past created by a book or a movie is correct,' Laanes explains.
The novel Purge by Sofi Oksanen, which caused a fierce public debate in Estonia some ten years ago, is one example. Similar discussions followed Pavel Pawlikowski's movie Ida in Poland and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's movie The Lives of Others in former East Germany.
'Our research will focus on exploring how literature, cinema, art, and the public debates they create in society can help us to break the political deadlocks and make local history understood on the global arena,' the project leader confirms.
Laanes believes that literature, cinema, and art are good research objects exactly because they travel globally and the images of the past they create reach people around the world better than historical studies or political arguments over history.
One strength of the project 'Translating Memories: The Eastern European Past in the Global Arena' is that it will not study literature and film only as aesthetic objects, but will examine them in the larger context of memory politics. The scholars will explore the aesthetic and political debates different works have created and how state intervenes in the production and distribution of certain images of the past through novels and movies, etc.
According to Laanes, it is important that ERC has found Estonia to be a good place to conduct this kind of comparative research of the memory cultures of Eastern Europe. 'I consider it a sign of great trust and recognition.'
The project will employ seven people: two experienced scholars, two postdoctoral fellows, and three doctoral students. All of them will be recruited through international competition. The team members will have to have relevant linguistic skills and be familiar with local memory cultures.
ERC grants are some of the most prestigious in Europe. Tallinn University is the only Estonian university whose scholar was awarded an ERC research grant this year.
This is the second ERC grant for Tallinn University. The first ERC grant for Tallinn University was awarded to Professor Liisi Keedus in 2017 for the project 'BETWEEN THE TIMES - Embattled Temporalities and Political Imagination in Inter-war Europe'.