Ethnic cleavage in politics and mnemonic tensions: an analysis of World War II commemorative practices in Latvia
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In Latvia, history and remembrance of World War II is a source of contestation between the ethnic Latvian majority and the Russian speaking minority. However, despite this prevailing idea of two conflicting positions, several studies on public opinion, suggest that the memory of Latvians and non-Latvians is more nuanced and different positons on 20th century history exist also within both ethnolinguistic groups. This thesis looks at commemorative rituals of the so called Legionnaire day on March 16, and the commemoration of end of World War II on May 8 and May 9 that represent mnemonic cleavages between Latvians and the country’s Russian speaking minority. Using Bernhard and Kubik’s (2014) theoretical framework of mnemonic actors and memory regimes, this study seeks to answer how the diversity of mnemonic positions within both ethno-linguistic groups is reflected in the political discourse. Next to that, opportunities of mnemonic reconciliation exist are examined. The overall conclusion is that both March 16 and May 9 present a fractured memory regime in Latvia. The mnemonic cleavages are drawn along ethnic lines but within the ethnolinguistic groups different positions were found as well. While May 9 is becoming a point of more intense mnemonic contestation and it is gaining more prominence, March 16 is increasingly abnegated by major political actors.