Springe direkt zu Inhalt

Dr. Andrei Zavadski

Image Credit: Roger Eberhard

Dissertation: “Mnemonic Counterpublics: Challenging the Political Regime in Russia with Memories of the 1990s"

Andrei Zavadski is a multidisciplinary researcher working at the intersection of memory studies, public history, and media studies. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage (CARMAH), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. He graduated from Moscow State University of International Relations (MGIMO-University) with a B.A. in Regional Studies (2009) and holds a dual M.A. in Public History from Moscow Higher School of Social and Economic Sciences and Manchester University (2014). In 2015-2019, he worked as a researcher at FU Berlin’s Institute for Media and Communication Studies (Emmy Noether Research Group “Mediating (Semi-)Authoritarianism – The Power of the Internet in the Post-Soviet World”), where he defended his Ph.D. titled “Mnemonic Counterpublics: Challenging the Political Regime in Russia with Memories of the 1990s”. He is a co-editor of “Politics of Affect: The Museum as a Public History Space” (2019, in Russian). Based in Berlin, he currently works as an editor at The Garage Journal: Studies in Art, Museums & Culture and is also a regular contributor to Colta.ru, openDemocracy Russia, and other publications. 

Dissertation: Mnemonic Counterpublics: Challenging the Political Regime in Russia with Memories of the 1990s

This dissertation examines mnemonic dissent in non-democratic contexts. Set at the intersection of communication studies and memory studies, it looks at how shared memories of the past can become a constituent element of counterpublic spheres emerging in authoritarian regimes. The work proposes, theorises and employs the concept of “mnemonic counterpublics.” Conceptualised as collectives that recognise their own exclusion from dominant publics with regard to particular ways of remembering the past and seek to overcome that exclusion, mnemonic counterpublics facilitate the articulation of alternative and dissenting discourses within a country’s multiple public sphere. In contexts with an overarching historical politics that instrumentalises the past in order to legitimise and stabilise authoritarian rule, such efforts are able to challenge not only the dominant ways of remembrance, but also the political status quo more broadly. The work addresses four gaps in the extant literature: 1) the lack of research on the emergence of counterpublic spheres in non-democratic contexts; 2) the lack of research on the relationship between counterpublics and (collective) memory; 3) the lack of research on how the digital—the internet and related technologies—impacts the emergence and functioning of counterpublics; and 4) the lack of research on how digital memories function in authoritarian contexts and what role they can play in the emergence of counterpublics.

Designed as a critical case study, this dissertation examines the emergence of mnemonic counterpublics in the multiple public sphere of Russia. At the heart of the analysed counterpublics are memories of the 1990s that run counter to the country’s official memory politics. The Russian authorities have reduced the remembrance of the first post-Soviet decade to the narrative of likhie 90-e (“turbulent, rowdy 90s”), which presents the 1990s almost exclusively as a time of political chaos, economic downfall and criminal violence. Omitting the decade’s unprecedented freedoms and other positive aspects, it unfavourably compares the 1990s to the time after Vladimir Putin came to power and thus contributes to the legitimisation and stabilisation of his rule. This analysis dissects efforts that resist such an imposed view of the decade. It examines a number of offline and online media projects that actualise countermemories of the Russian 1990s and thus not only challenge the authorities’ historical politics, but also question Russia’s political present.

Focusing on three subunits of analysis—the countermemories of the 1990s actualised by Colta.ru, the Yeltsin Center, and Open University, this project demonstrates the existence of mnemonic counterpublics in Russia. It uncovers similarities and differences between the three projects’ remembrance strategies and, consequently, between the countermemories they actualise. As a result, three variations of mnemonic counterpublics are unravelled and discussed. It is argued that unlike in democratic contexts, where the emergence of publics and counterpublics depends on the organisation of civil society, in authoritarian regimes it is more dependent on, and defined by, their relationship to the state and state actors. Among other things, this analysis uncovers that co-optation—one of the methods increasingly used by authoritarian regimes to keep dissent under control while simultaneously maintaining a democratic façade—can also characterise counterpublic spheres.

This dissertation views the offline and online elements of the projects in question as intertwined. It is shown that in the authoritarian context of Russia, counterpublics are more likely to emerge in digital environments, with the affordances of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other platforms playing a crucial role in the process. However, they have more chance to be sustained—and thus, more potential to overcome their own exclusion and challenge the political status quo—if they have offline manifestations. Finally, it is argued that affect and emotions are important to the emergence of counterpublic spheres. Usually viewed as spaces of rational discourse, counterpublics in fact have an inherent emotional dimension, as their emergence is based on the articulation of feelings of exclusion. Besides, memories are closely connected to sentiment as well. This analysis shows that mnemonic counterpublics’ participants can employ affective and emotional tools and techniques (nostalgia, for instance) in order to enhance the effectiveness of discursive practices in which they engage.

The findings of this dissertation can be applied to other non-democratic contexts, depending on the space for voicing dissent within a specific regime and the importance of the historical politics within it. Further research on mnemonic counterpublics offers significant potential for a better understanding of how memory-driven dissent works in non-democratic contexts and to what extent it can translate into political resistance and collective action more broadly.


Robbe, Ksenia & Zavadski, Andrei (forthcoming 2022) ‘C’mon, turn Swan Lake on: Memories of the 1990s at the Belarusian protests of 2020. Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media.

Zavadski, Andrei & Dubina, Vera (2021) Eclipsing Stalin: The GULAG History Museum in Moscow as a manifestation of Russia’s official memory of Soviet Repression. Problems of Post-Communism (published online first). Part of a special issue on the Gulag and Soviet repression in Russian museums, edited by Sofia Gavrilova and Andrei Zavadski (forthcoming in 2022).

Zavadski, Andrei & Dubina, Vera (eds) (2021) Vse v proshlom: teoriya i praktika publichnoi istorii [All Things Past: Theory and Practice of Public History]. Moscow, Novoe izdatelstvo.

Litvinenko, Anna & Zavadski, Andrei (2020) Memories on demand: Narratives about 1917 in Russia’s online publics. Europe-Asia Studies, 72(10): 1657-1677. DOI: 10.1080/09668136.2020.1791801.

Zavadski, A., & Töpfl, F. (2019). Querying the Internet as a mnemonic practice: how search engines mediate four types of past events in Russia. Media, Culture & Society, 41(1), 21–37. 

Zavadski, A., Sklez, V., & Suverina, E. (eds.) (2019). Politika affekta: Muzei kak prostranstvo publichnoi istorii [Politics of Affect: The Museum as a Public History Space]. Moscow: Novoie Literaturnoie Obozrenie. 

Zavadski, A. (2019). "Pamiat' na steroidakh": memory studies i novaya ekologiya nauchnoi zhizni. Letnyaya shkola "Mnemonics 2018: Ekologii pamiati (Lyovenskiy katolichskiy universitet, Belgiya, 22-24 avgusta 2018 g." [“Memory on steroids”: memory studies and a new ecology of academic life. Summer school “Mnemonics 2018: Ecologies of Memory” (KU Leuven, Belgium, August 22-24, 2018)]. Novoie Literaturnoie Obozrenie. №2 (156).

Zavadski, A., Isaev, E., Kravchenko, A., Sklez, V., & Suverina, E. (2017). Publichnaia istoriia: mezhdu akademicheskim issledovaniem i praktikoi [Public History: Between Academic Research and Practice], Neprikosnovennyi zapas, 112(2). 

Giesen, A., Zavadski, A., & Kravchenko, A. (2016). Mezhdu rabskim trudom i sotsialisticheskim stroitel'stvom. Zametki o tom, kak v ekspozitsiiakh nekotorykh rossiiskikh muzeev reprezentirovan trud zaklyuchennykh Gulaga [Between Slave Labor and Building Socialism: Notes on How the Labor of Gulag Prisoners is Represented in Certain Russian Museum Exhibitions] // Novoie Literaturnoie Obozrenie. Special issue "Rabstvo kak intellektual'noie naslediie i kul'turnaia pamiat'" (Slavery as Intellectual Legacy and Cultural Memory). №142, Vol. II. 

Zavadski, A. (2015). Nam nuzhna svoia Assman [We Need Our Own Aleida Assmann]: Review of the book "Dlinnaia ten’ proshlogo: Memorial’naia kul’tura i istoricheskaia politika [The Long Shadow of the Past: Memory, Culture and Memory Politics]" by Aleida Assmann // Zhurnal issledovanii sotsial'noi politiki [The Journal of Social Policy Studies]. №3. Vol. 13.P. 501-508.

Zavadski, A. (2015). Pis’ma iz lageria kak sposob sokhranit’ sebia: sluchai khudozhnika Grigoriia Filippovskogo [Letters from the Gulag as a Survival Technique: A Case of the Artist Grigorii Filippovskii] // Laboratorium: Journal of Social Research. №1. P. 147-157.

In the media

Zavadski, A. (2018). Ego-intellektualnost': pochemu my drug s drugom ne razgovarivaem [Ego-Intellectualism: Why We Do Not Talk with Each Other] // Colta.ru. 

Zavadski, A. (2018). Pamiat', molchi? [Memory, Don't Speak? On the Digitisation of Memory] // Colta.ru. 

Zavadski, A. (2017).  Alles, nur keine Revolution! Drei Ausstellungen zum hundertsten Jahrestag der Ereignisse von 1917 // Russland-Analysen.  And in English: Someone 2017: “Anything but Revolution!” // Syg.ma. 

Zavadski, A. (2017). Vremia slomalos' [Time Has Broken Down]: Review of the book "Raspalas' sviaz' vremen? Vzliot i padenie temporal'nogo rezhima Moderna" [Ist die Zeit aus den Fugen? Aufstieg und Fall des Zeitregimes der Moderne] by Aleida Assmann // Colta.ru. 

Zavadski, A. (2017). Neprikosnovennaia svyatynya ili objekt refleksii? [A Sacred Place or an Object of Reflection? On Berlin's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Yolocaust] // Colta.ru.  

Zavadski, A. (2016). Odni Drugie [Only the Other(s)]: Fear as a Staple of Russian Society // OpenDemocracy.net.  The English-language version: We're All Strangers Here // OpenDemocracy.net. 

Zavadski, A. (2016). Svoboda na oshchyup' [Touching Freedom]: Review of the book "Muzej 90-kh: Territoriia svobody" [Museum of the 1990s: Freedom Territory] by Katerina Belenkina, Ilya Venyavkin, Anna Nemzer, Tatyana Trofimova // Colta.ru.  

Zavadski, A. (2016). Moscow’s New GULAG History Museum: A Ghetto for Memory? // Lernen aus der Geschichte Magazin, "GULAG" issue. 

Zavadski, A. (2016). Webinar "A Ghetto for Memory? Moscow’s GULAG History Museum and Russian Politics of Memory" // Die Agentur für Bildung - Geschichte, Politik und Medien e.V.  

Zavadski, A. (2016).  Pamiat' o natsizme: mezhdu moralizatsiej i istorizatsiej [Memory of Nazism: Between Memorialisation and Historisation]: Review of the book "Novoie nedovol'stvo memorial'noi kulturoi" [Das neue Unbehagen an der Erinnerungskultur. Eine Intervention]" by Aleida Assmann  // Colta.ru. 

Zavadski, A. (2015). Rezervatsia dla pamiati? [Ghetto for Memory?]: Essay on the GULAG History Museum in Moscow //  Russkij zhurnal (russ.ru) 

Conference presentations

2019: Memory of the Holocaust in Museums and Beyond (four lectures). Winter School, SEFER Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization, 1-5 February, Moscow, Russia.

2019: “Queering the body. Emergence of the past that did not exist.” Co-authored with Katerina Suverina. Presented at the ALMS Conference 2019 “Queering Memory. Archives – Arts – Audiences. Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections: An International LGBTIQ* Conference”, 27-29 June, Berlin, Germany.

2019: “Co-opting countermemories? The Boris Yeltsin Museum in   Yekaterinburg”. Presented at the annual conference of the Memory Studies Association (MSA), 24-28 June, Madrid, Spain.

 019: “Memories on demand: Narratives about 1917 in Russian authoritarian publics”. Co-authored with Anna Litvinenko. Presented at the annual conference of the International Communication Association (ICA), 24-28 May, Washington, USA.

2018: “Fragmented revolution: Memory narratives about 1917 in Russian authoritarian publics”. Co-authored with Anna Litvinenko. Presented at the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA), 31 October – 03 November, Lugano, Switzerland.

2018: “Reinforcing Dominant Narratives: Search Engines and Representations of the Past”. Presented at the annual conference of the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies (BASEES), 13-15 April, Cambridge, UK.

2017: “Engaging with the Past Algorithmically: Searching the Internet as a Mnemonic Practice”. Presented at the annual conference of the Memory Studies Association (MSA), 14-16 December, Copenhagen, Denmark.

2017: “The Internet and Mnemonic Practices”. Presented at the conference “Internet Beyond Numbers”. Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, May 23-24, Moscow, Russia.

2016: “‘Turbulent Democracy’? Digital Memories of the 1990s in Russia”. Presented at the annual conference of the International Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), 27-31 July, Leicester, UK.

2016: “Shared Digital Memories of the 1990s as a Constitutive Element of an Emergent Counterpublic in Russia”. Presented at the LSE Media and Communications PhD Symposium 2016 “Everyday Politics and Media and Communications: New Approaches for Theories and Methods in the 21st Century”, June 30, London, UK.