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Title: Monument Wars: Forging National Identity in 21st Century Estonia, Hungary and Poland
Authors: Eckholm, Cara
Advisors: Katz, Stanley
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2014
Abstract: After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union, protestors affirmed their rejection of Communism by demolishing many of the monuments built by their former oppressor. “Where’s Lenin?” became a joke across Eastern Europe. In this thesis, I contemplate a follow-up question: “Who has taken Lenin’s place?” The political upheaval of the early 1990s dramatically reconfigured the region, resulting in newly independent states that embarked on the task of creating a fresh identity and a physical iconography befitting their freedom. But that post-Communist transition officially ended in 2004 for some states, when they joined the European Union. I explore the capitals of Estonia (Tallinn), Hungary (Budapest) and Poland (Warsaw) to show how, in the past decade, political actors have again used monuments as a means of re-imagining their nations. Just as the fall of Soviet-imposed Communism created a critical juncture for national identity in the early 1990s, so too the accession to the E.U. in 2004 unleashed new currents. Estonia, Hungary and Poland had proven their fit for Europe, and were simultaneously empowered in their relations with Russia. A nationalist drive to remove remaining Communist monuments—mostly Soviet World War II memorials—was invigorated. But when Estonia acted on that impulse in 2007, leading to calls for similar action in Hungary and Poland, it set off domestic clashes and also elicited a barrage of reprisals from Russia. In response to the E.U.’s eastward expansion, Putin has tried to regain influence in the former Soviet bloc, and the revived threat of Russia has fueled new debates over how to portray the Communist past. At the same time, Estonia, Hungary and Poland have struggled to define their new sense of self. Nationalist political movements have again played a major hand, now fighting the ascending liberal-European vision of society embodied in E.U. norms. Nationalists have designed monuments that incorporate foundational myths, grounded in tales of victimization at the hands of foreign powers and the heroism with which local populations fought those invaders. Opposing political movements have responded with their own structures, choosing to champion more forward-looking ideas. In Estonia, Hungary and Poland, monuments are still pawns in deeper fights over national identity. My thesis illustrates how, even in three places where a new political system is seemingly established, sorting out the competing pulls of Europe and Russia is an unsettled proposition. And it shows the difficulty, in plural societies, of constructing national symbols that reflect the voices of all. It naturally raises the deeper question of how best to achieve that end.
Extent: 163 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2017

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