Ordinary Tragedy: “Perestroika” of Collective Memory about Chernobyl Disaster in Belarusian History Textbooks

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Andrei Dudchik
Marharyta Fabrykant


The paper focuses on discursive strategies that are used by authors of history textbooks to construct Belarusian collective memory of Chernobyl disaster within the more general narrative framework of the historical legacy of “perestroika”. Discourse and narrative analysis of the relevant chapters of five secondary school and nine university textbooks of the time period between 1995 and 2011 has revealed two distinct discursive strategies within a common narrative framework. First, the “organicist” discourse positions Chernobyl disaster as a threat to the Belarusian gene pool and thus invokes the sociobiological version of ethnic nationalism within biopower and biopolitics discourse. This strategy emphasizes the preserver of collective memory as a passive sufferer. The second, opposing strategy presents the Chernobyl disaster as one of the initial conditions, rather than the consequence of the preceding historical period, and offers a role of active struggler. Both strategies construct collective memories of tragedy as a form of historical continuity.


Keywords: Chernobyl disaster, perestroika, Belarus, discourse, narrative, biopolitics, collective memory.


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Special Issue: Memories, commemorations, and representations of Chernobyl