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Cold War Cities

History, Culture and Memory


Katia Pizzi and Marjatta Hietala

The Cold War left indelible traces on the city, where polarities on the global stage crystallized and intersected with political and social dynamics predating and bypassing the Blocs. This collection taps into the rich fabric of memories, histories and cultural interactions of thirteen cities worldwide and the lived experience of urban communities during the long Cold War: activated and mobilized by atomic technologies, taking tourist photographs, attending commercial fairs, enjoying the cinema and the ballet, singing in choirs, paying respect in local cemeteries, visiting museums, and responding to town councils, unions and the local press. Literature, film, photography, the press, the monument, the cemetery, the factory, the ruin, the archive and the natural ecosystem are some of the key frameworks of cultural production elucidated here with a view to countering and exploding received myths about the Cold War.
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6 Chernobyl Diaries: Monuments, Ruins and Memories


Perhaps more than any other Soviet ruins, those of Chernobyl – created after the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986 – have come to embody, for the capitalist West, all the failures of state socialism in comparison with the West’s successes: a total lack of transparency, a utopian ideology that concealed technological ineptitude, and a callous indifference to the human and environmental consequences of industrial and social exploitation. Yet, recently, Chernobyl’s ruins have been commandeered by that same West in the service of postmodern culture: namely, as a backdrop for fantasy horror in the film Chernobyl Diaries (Brad Parker, 2012), a move that generated a storm of protest by some of the charities that support Chernobyl’s victims.1 What does this shift tell us about the legacy of large-scale ruins like those generated by Chernobyl, both for the West and for those who were directly affected by such ruination? If ruins are memorials, whose memories are contained in the ruins of Chernobyl?

The chapter will address these questions by considering the relationship between disaster, ruin and memory at Chernobyl, focusing on three significant mnemonic sites associated with the disaster: the destroyed reactor; the memorials erected on the Chernobyl site and others after the accident; and the ruined townscape of Pripyat, located a kilometre away from the reactor and which formerly housed Chernobyl’s workers. How to approach such an enormous site of ruination and to engage with its barely conceivable range of individual and collective memories? If Chernobyl’s ruins are...

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