In this book, I ask why Holocaust memory continues to be fraught – ignored, appropriated, or obfuscated – throughout Eastern Europe, the principal location of the Holocaust. As part of European Union accession process, East European states were required to adopt, participate in and contribute to the already established Western narrative of the Holocaust. This has created anxiety and resentment in post-communist states, because this Holocaust memory has replaced the centrality of communist terror as the dominant narrative of the 20th century in Eastern Europe with a new focus on predominantly Jewish suffering in World War II. Influencing European Union’s own memory politics and legislation in the process, post-communist states have attempted to reconcile these two memories by pursuing new strategies of Holocaust remembrance where the memory, symbols, and imagery of the Holocaust become appropriated to represent crimes of communism.
Based on extensive fieldwork and analysis of museums and memorials, history textbooks, and public commemorations, the book presents in-depth case studies of Holocaust remembrance practices in Serbia, Croatia, and Lithuania, and then extends the discussion to other East European states. I demonstrate how countries of the region used Holocaust remembrance as a political strategy to resolve their contemporary “ontological insecurities” – insecurities about their identities, about their international status, and about their relationships with other international actors. Holocaust memory in Eastern Europe was never either about the Holocaust or about the desire to remember the past – during communism or in its aftermath – but instead about managing national identities in a precarious and uncertain world.
In my first book, I trace the design, implementation, and political outcomes of institutions established to deal with the legacies of violence in the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars. I document ways in which international norms to establish accountability for war crimes have been used to pursue very different local political goals. Responding to international pressures, Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia have implemented various mechanisms of “transitional justice”—the systematic addressing of past crimes after conflicts end. Transitional justice in the three countries, however, was guided by ulterior political motives: to get rid of domestic political opponents, to obtain international financial aid, or to gain admission to the European Union. I argue that when transitional justice becomes “hijacked” for such local political strategies, it fosters domestic backlash, deepens political instability, and even creates alternative, politicized versions of history. My findings point to the many paradoxical effects of international normative interventions in domestic politics of target states.
Serbian translation of Hijacked Justice, published by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, 2010.