Photo credit: Johanna Dahlin
On the former Volkov and Leningrad fronts east of St Petersburg, a city which under the name of Leningrad was subjected to a more than two year siege, soldiers are still lying covered in dirt but unburied on the battlefields. Voluntary search brigades are working to find and bury the remains of these soldiers. However, burial is not the sole objective, the search activity is also focused on trying to identify the recovered human remains. Attempts are made to find the relatives of the identified soldiers, but the act of identification – to establish the name as the expression is in Russian – is a goal in it self.
A significant source of national pride
My research gives special attention to the Russian search movement; focusing on the activities of one St Petersburg based group, the search process, identification and burial. The memory of the war and the victory is a significant source of national pride in Russia, and Victory Day on May 9th is a public holiday that is celebrated widely. The horrendous death toll, the enormous suffering and the sacrifice all contribute to making the war sacred, then and now. War becomes a part of people’s lives even if they did not experience it themselves, and there is a strong sense of duty to remember. Dissemination efforts are directed at younger generations.
Between tragedy and triumph
Burials and other rituals are focused on bringing closure to events that to some extent still are open. The war was a great catastrophe bringing unimaginable levels of suffering. However, in much of the official rhetoric the suffering in downplayed in favour of patriotic triumph. There is tension between tragedy and triumph, suffering and glory, which to some degree corresponds to public and private memory of the war. There is a complex interplay between these entities, simultaneously enforcing and contrasting one another.