CfP: Victimhood - Acknowledgement - Politics of Memory: Struggle over the Memory of Suffering

CfP: Victimhood - Acknowledgement - Politics of Memory: Struggle over the Memory of Suffering

3-5 September 2023, Hannah-Arendt-Institut für Totalitarismusforschung Dresden

The second half of the twentieth century saw a change in the concept of victimhood in post-socialist and post-conflict countries. Although victims are often perceived through the prism of their trauma and passivity, attention is currently focused also on their active role in the transitional justice and their social mobilization. It turns out that victims and their organizations have been playing an important role in democratic transition and public history and appeared on the political scene as distinct and powerful groups and managed to achieve some of their main goals such as compensations, rehabilitations, redress and acknowledgment. Representatives of victim associations (especially former political prisoners and their offspring) have also turned into ‘guardians of memory’. Their role is to share their experience and simultaneously defend the image of the group and the association. Their main goal is not only to integrate the history of the victims and survivors of the state socialist dictatorship into broader political and national history, but to enforce their version of the past as the dominant narrative as well.

The aim of the interdisciplinary conference is to focus on associations of victims of post-socialist countries in the east central Europe. The conference will focus on what role victim organizations (political prisoners, victims of repression of state socialism) played after the year 1989, what were their goals and activities to achieve recognition and redress. The conference aims to explore these organizations as participants in public life and the formation and maintenance of collective memory, as well as how these associations sought to emphasize and use or promote their collective memory and interpretation of history in the political process and contribute to the democratization of society.

Academics from various disciplines have contributed to a growing body of literature on victimhood in recent years. Together, these studies analyse the concept of victimhood in different geographical and historical contexts. This conference seeks to bring together scholars from various academic disciplines (history, psychology, sociology, political science and anthropology) working on aspects of the victimhood, victim organisations, victim trauma, victim politic and transitional justice in the post-socialist countries. We propose to follow three broad tracks to identify how victimhood was shaped, how the victims and their organisations acted as political actors in demands for redress and acknowledgement. We are also interested in the consequences of constructing victimhood in the democratic transitions, both positive and negative. The goal of this conference is:


1.Victimhood as a social construct

We consider victimhood as a socially and politically constructed category and characterize victimhood as a form of collective identity based on harm caused by an individual, group or state and therefore our aim is to focus on the questions of how and why some people transform their trauma into a collective identity. Because the victimhood is not only a moral and legislative matter, but also to a significant extent political, we want to study how political and social context shaped the narratives of victims and influences the form of victimhood. We are also interested in the questions such as, how victims define themselves and why some victim group received the victim status and obtained political and social acknowledgement and various advantages, while other groups not.

2.The role of victims in transitional justice and democratisation

As various studies have shown, victim organizations adopt different strategies and become active political actors. We are interested in the roles that of victims and their organization played in the transitional justice. In this regard, we would like to explore how victims shaped the democratisation process, their involvement in the legislative process, their strategies and objectives. How they influenced the legislative changes regarding rehabilitation, restitution, compensation and recognition? We are also interested in victim associations as participants in public life and the formation and maintenance of collective memory as well as how these associations tried to emphasise and utilise or promote their collective memory and interpretation of history in the political and educational process.

3.Shadows of victimhood

While the victim organizations are rightly understood as legitimate representatives of victims and their claims, their influence on democratic political developments can be controversial. Their activities on the one hand helped society cope with the difficult past, but on the other brought to public space a polarized narrative that was not limited to members of the Communist Party, but to other ethnic, religious, and sexual minority groups as well. They presented their statements from a position of moral superiority as the victims of communism, and any condemnation of their views was seen as belittling their experience and relativizing their suffering. The conference aim is to better understand how narratives of victimhood in various post-socialist countries exacerbated affective polarization.

Proposals of 300–500 words, accompanied by a short biographical note, should be sent by January 30, 2024 to the following addresses: As we plan to have commentaries for each session, papers of 2,000 words are required to be pre-circulated by October 1, 2024.

Decisions will be announced no later than February 28, 2024.

Funding is limited for people from Europe, but we are open for other participants from other non-European countries and we are offering the digital participation.


Organised by: 

Hannah Arendt Institute for Totalitarianism Studies at TU Dresden (HAIT)
Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague (ÚSD)



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