Daina S. Eglitis (George Washington University)
This work examines the historical case of Latvian women in the Red Army in World War II, situating the case in the sociological literature on collective memory, gender, and power. This work attempts to return a more nuanced, complex history to the Latvian women of the Red Army, a group whose pre-war and wartime experiences do not “make sense” in terms of either the dominant Soviet or post-Soviet narratives of history. Their history has been largely silenced by the hegemonies of collective memory in both the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. In the former, Marxist-Leninist historiography privileged the collective subject of the (usually Russian) Soviet patriot and, in particular, the heroic (male) soldier. In the latter, the dominant narrative of history is iterated through a historical lens that elevates the resistance of Latvian patriots and the victimhood of Latvian people and marginalizes that which is inconsistent with the history that was reclaimed after the end of communism. In examining the little-recognized case of women of independent interwar Latvia who volunteered for service in the Red Army, the paper highlights ways in which the nexus of ascribed characteristics like gender and ethnicity underpin marginality in the hegemonic historical narratives of two different eras. It introduces the concept of unruly actors, those whose social actions violate the roles and characteristics ascribed by the dominant culture to their gender, ethnicity, or other grouping and, in this way, undermine the unproblematized construction of the overarching historical narrative of a community, nation, or country.