History Teachers as Mediators between Collective and Individual Memory in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Lithuania

This project ran from 2008 to 2013 and was sponsored by the Volkswagen Stiftung and headed by Dr Barbara Christophe. It analysed which interpretations of the socialist past compete for interpretive dominance in three societies on the periphery of the post-Soviet region, more than twenty years after the collapse of the USSR. The empirical focus lay on school history textbooks and the life stories of history teachers. The project filled a theoretical gap in commemorative and memory research which has for some time increasingly turned towards practices of remembrance. Thematically it concentrated on socialism, a period for which there is still no universally accepted pattern of interpretation in the post-soviet region. The geographical focus lay on Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Lithuania; which each represent a manifestation of memory culture that is fundamentally and theoretically different from the others. In Georgia a hegemonic narrative of the interpretation of socialism prevails which makes almost no attempt to include divergent experiences. By contrast, in Lithuania we found two opposing versions of the history of socialism. In Kyrgyzstan there is, as in Lithuania, no hegemonic interpretation of the Soviet past, but also no evidence of any public controversies regarding interpretation.

One of the most significant findings is that remembrance of socialism in each of these three peripheral post-Soviet countries (Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Lithuania) is contentious in terms of communicative memory and that textbooks, which are a vital medium of cultural memory, are dominated by disparities.

Georgian textbooks incorporate two complementary narrative threads which support and reinforce one another. The first thread describes the Soviet regime as foreign rule founded in force and violence. The second thread portrays Georgian society as a community of conspiring resistance fighters. This possibly draws upon a vague notion of resistance ironing out disparities. Whoever describes all Georgians as victims of the Soviet system can then no longer differentiate between those that feared they would be killed and those that feared the loss of privilege or position. Consequently even the former leaders can safely claim their place within the national victimhood.

Kyrgyz textbooks project two opposing images of enemy and self when covering Soviet history. The USSR is sometimes the paradigmatic colonial villain and sometimes the well-meaning older brother. Kyrgyz customs and traditions are deemed on the one hand to be the epitome of all that is feudal and backward, yet on the other they are the spur that would have enabled the Kyrgyz to pull themselves out of moral degradation had their culture not been so thoroughly destroyed by Soviet colonialism.

In Lithuania there are not only opposing narrative threads but also entirely opposing storylines. There are two conflicting types of textbooks which differ in their opinion of what kind of behaviour they construe to have been appropriate under the soviet dictatorship. One praises those that progressed through the soviet institutions as valid modern-day moral paragons. The other sees those that adapted to the system as traitors who allowed themselves to be corrupted by the promise of better accommodation and therefore contributed to the moral evisceration of their own country. The partisans and dissidents, i.e. those who rejected the system, are praised as heroic figures.

Aside from these differences Lithuanian textbooks are otherwise very similar. None carries its own point of view to extremes. They all use a strategy of ambivalence to avoid potential conflicts in areas of remembrance culture. Critical sections therefore generally contain passages in which the voice of the respective other can always be heard if one listens carefully enough.

The teacher interviews were analysed with regards to their interaction with the textbook discourse. The findings showed that in Lithuania the institutionalised conflict between two opposing versions of history has resulted in a productive analysis of the individual’s role within the former system. However in Georgia such interaction is hampered by the broad and vague notions of resistance circulated in public discourses. Influenced by a textbook discourse which affords little significance to the fall of the USSR, Kyrgyz teachers also see little cause to critically reflect upon their own past.

Two successful theses and a series of publications resulted from the study.


Damira Umetbaeva: “Negotiating Kyrgyz Nationhood: of History Textbooks and History Teachers Attitudes towards the Soviet Past”. Viva voce examination at the faculty of social and cultural sciences at the European University Viadrana in December 2015.

Maja Razmadze: „Sozialismusdiskurse in der georgischen Transformationsgesellschaft. Ein Zusammenspiel von kulturellem und individuellem Gedächtnis“ (Socialism in a transforming Georgian society: The interaction between cultural and individual memory).  Viva voce examination at the faculty of social and cultural sciences at the European University Viadrana in February 2016


  • AUCA Bischkek, Kyrgyzstan (M. Ablezova)
  • Tbilisi State University, Georgia (P. Buchrashvili/I. Tschavtschawadze)
  • The Lithuanian Institute for History Vilnius, Lithuania (S. Grybauskas/A. Nikzentaitis)
  • Institute of Middle East, Central Asian and Caucasus Studies, University of St. Andrews, United Kingdom (S. Cummings)

Project duration

  • October 2008 – March 2013



1989-2009: Wider die Sprachlosigkeit oder wessen Geschichte zählt? In: Jule Reuter, ed.: Bewegte Welt – erzählte Zeit, Berlin 2009, p. 2-12.

Cohesion and Difference: Nation and Nationalism in Lithuania. In: Egbert Jahn, ed.: Nationalism in Late and Post-Communist Europe 2. Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2009, p. 215-239.

Ambivalenz als Ressource in erinnerungskulturellen Aushandlungsprozessen, In: Eckert. Das Bulletin, No. 7 (2010), 23-26.

Erinnerungen an Helden und Feiglinge. Vergangenheit und Gegenwart im litauischen Schulbuch, In: Osteuropa, No. 8 (2010).

Remembering Communism – Making Sense of Post-Communism. An Analysis of Discursive Strategies in Lithuanian Textbooks, In: Eckert. Beiträge 10/2010. Available online.

Geschichtsunterricht zwischen Kanonisierung und Kompetenzorientierung: Einige Überlegungen zu Deutschland und Litauen, In: Bildungskanon heute, Schriftenreihe des Netzwerk Bildung. Berlin, 2012, p. 143-148.

Verhandlungen über den Sozialismus. Geschichtslehrer als Schnittstelle zwischen individuellem und kollektivem Gedächtnis, In Eckert. Beiträge 1/2012, Available online.

Dviprasmiskumas kaip irankis? Lietuvos istorijos mokytojai kaip kulturiniu socializmo interpretaciju reiksmiu vertejai (Ambivalence as a Ressource? Lithuanian teachers as mediators of socialist cultural patterns of interpretation), In: Alvydas Nikzentaitis, ed.: Atminties daugiasluoksniskuma (The Complexity of Remebrance), Vilnius 2013, p.111-137.

Victims or perpetrators or both? How do history textbooks and history teachers in Post-Soviet Lithuania remember the post-war partisans? In: Randall Hansen, Achim Saupe, Anrdeas Wirsching, Daqing Yang, eds.: Historical Authenticity and Victimhood in Twentieth-Century History and Commemorative Culture, Toronto University Press, publication pending.

Was War der sowjetische Sozialismus? Konflikte um authentische Erinnerung in Litauen, In: Barbara Christophe, Christoph Kohl, Heike Liebau (eds.): Lokale Geschichte(n), (Macht-) Politik und die Suche nach historischer Authentizität, Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, publication pending.

Barbara Christophe, Lucia Halder: Concepts of the Past. Socialism, In: Annekatrin Bock, Eckhardt Fuchs. (eds.): Palgrave Handbook on Textbook Studies. London, publication pending.


Razmadze, Maya: Abgründe des Goldenen Zeitalters. Sowjetvergangenheit in Georgiens Schulbuch, In: Osteuropa 60, No. 8, 2010, p. 71-92.

Die sowjetische Vergangenheit zwischen offiziellen Geschichtsbildern und privaten Lebensläufen: Bericht einer Feldforschung, In: Eckert. Das Bulletin, No. 7, 2010, p. 26-28.

Erinnerungen an den Sozialismus – gemeinsame Vergangenheit im kontroversen Diskurs,In: Eckert. Das Bulletin, No. 5, 2009.


National Memory in Kyrgyzstan: Attitudes Towards the Soviet Past, In: Open Democracy Net, 2012. Available online.

Official Rhetoric and Individual Perceptions of the Soviet Past. Implications for Nation-Building in Kyrgyzstan, In: Regional Studies of Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia Volume 4, Number 1, 2015

Paradoxes of Hegemonic Discourse in Post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan: History Textbooks‘and History Teachers‘ Attitudes towards the Soviet Past, In: Central Asian Affairs 2 (2015), 287-306.

Project Supervisor

Project team

  • Maya Razmadze
  • Damira Umetbaeva


Barbara Christophe

Media | Transformation

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