“Every dictatorship, whether of man or of party leas to the two forms that schizophrenia loves most: the monologue and the mausoleum. Moscow is full of gagged people and monuments to the Revolution.”
– Octavio Paz
One can tell a lot about a nation not just by what is creates, but also by what it destroys. Despite how controversial Communist monuments in post-Soviet Eastern Europe are, they remain as testimonies of national perseverance and evolution. They have stood as silent witnesses to the peaks and troughs of political regimes. With cold, somber eyes, many of these Communist survivors have observed the dynamically changing social values that have brought about political, historical, and social transitions.
Albeit imbued with state ideology, they are art, built upon the empty thrones of fallen dictators. Memorials to students who stood in the path of tanks, to soldiers who bore the deepest wounds of war, to parties that built national history. The people esteemed as heroes in the eyes of some, yet condemned as malefactors in the eyes of others. They are paved over. Renamed. Blown apart. But sometimes … Sometimes, they survive, and each and every one of them has a unique story to tell the world.
Growing up in Eastern Europe, I watched as monuments were abandoned, ridiculed, destroyed by human aggression and passage of time. But I also saw tourists who stood in awe in front of bigger-than-life sharp figures. I watched as youth furiously scrubbed away the contempt painted upon men who, whether for good or for bad, made history. I gazed at how piece by piece, meaning was brought back to monuments that had been left behind.
These are all reasons why this Digital Humanities project is so meaningful to me. How does society’s perception of ideological monuments change? Throughout the years, what are the values that these monuments have carried? Why are monuments destroyed, and what sparks the desire to bring life back to them? How does the digital world play a role in the treatment of physical world edifices? I will attempt to answer all of these questions in the 6 short weeks that I will be conducting research.
One of my biggest aims is to create a digital record of Communist monuments in post-Soviet Eastern Europe. I foresee that I may not be able to track down all the monuments due to limits of time, but I will try to include at least a dozen monuments from each represented country. After the formal timeline of my research reaches an end, I plan to further work on this, until at one point I have mapped down all the existing monuments. Additionally, I have pondered whether to add photographs of each monument, but since I will face a lot of copyright issues in finding usable photographs, it is not definite whether this will happen.
When I have an initial list of the monuments that I will include in the visual database, I will begin looking for primary and secondary resources, in order to explain the values that they have been imbued with throughout history: reasons for building, history of the depicted figure (if human), treatment of the monument, popularity as a visiting site, and lastly, popularity on the internet. Evidently, not all monuments have been treated in a similar fashion, so I may not be able to track the ever-changing values of every monument in the database. However, I will be ready to compromise and, at least as a base level, create a categorization of all the monuments.
After examining those features, I hope to reach certain conclusions about these monuments, based on the aforementioned questions. For instance – the different values imbued at different periods of time. Additionally, a major part of my monumental examination is focused on the role that the digital world plays in the preservation of a nation’s architecture, culture and history.
Throughout this whole process, I will try to be as flexible as possible due to the research question’s large scale and the consequent time-consuming data collection. The idea of a visual database, including categorization and examination of at least a dozen monuments from each country, is important to me, and therefore I will do my best to adhere to it. However, I am willing to compromise on my ideas regarding everything else.
Hopefully, I will face only minor bumps on the road as I embark on this ideological Eastern European journey!