Rituals of Memory-Political Deterrence:
Memory Laws in Eastern Europe (in the 2000s)

This case study expands the application of deterrence to ontological security, more specifically to mnemonical security. The focus is on the mutually targeted memory laws in Eastern Europe in the 2000s. As instances of legislations that govern the permissible boundaries of remembering the past, including punitive measures to dissuade the denial of historical atrocities and bans prohibiting the use of totalitarian symbols of the past, memory laws can be understood as ritualised collective remembrance practices which pertain to identity, community and solidarity-building. Memory laws seek to provide a suitable autobiographical story of origin and thus legitimate a particular political authority. Self-exculpatory memory laws have in particular emerged as international, not just domestic deterrence devices in the diverse contestations over the legitimate narratives of the 20th-century wars and totalitarianisms.

This case study will focus on the proliferation and mutual entanglement of punitive memory laws in Russia and Ukraine, against the backdrop of their related political contestations of historical narratives in the past decade.

Questions addressed:

  • How do states address their self-defined threats to ontological security by means of dissuasion? 
  • How is deterrence signalled and the credibility of warnings, threats and promises communicated in memory politics?  
  • What types of memory-political deterrence can be identified? 
  • Which repertoires of memory-political dissuasion are prevalent in contemporary Eastern Europe? 
  • How is the costliness of memory-political deterrence signals politically and culturally determined? 
  • How is memory-political deterrence related to other modes of practicing deterrence?