On the “Survival Drama” at the Bunker and Non-Nostalgic Memory of Socialism in Lithuania

Gediminas Lankauskas (University of Regina, Canada)

My paper is about the “survival drama” in the Bunker, an experiential theme park-museum located underground near the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Guided by professional actors, visitors participate in and “survive” a string of interactive performances of mock KGB interrogations, medical examinations, civil defence training, Soviet-era shopping, to mention a few.

I explore these enactments of socialist experience as commemorative events where the period of Communist rule is represented using memorial media ranging from visual imagery and discourse to acoustic and gustatory effects. While I pay close attention to ways in which the Bunker “drama” works to externalize memories of the Soviet era, my principal concern is with participants’ response to this subterranean side-show of socialism. These reminiscing subjects interest me as social actors who, provoked by the “drama”, engage with the socialist era as a biographical and historical past—a past to be remembered and forgotten.

The paper begins with a discussion of conceptual trends prevalent in anthropological memory studies recently undertaken in post socialist contexts. Then it moves on to critique the dominant paradigm of “nostalgification” which governs much of the research concerned with social remembrance in contemporary Eastern Europe. Combining ethnographic description and theoretical commentary, the second part of the paper offers several vignettes from the Bunker “survival drama”, and argues that after socialism there is more to individual and collective memory than nostalgia.

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