Reparation vs. and Decommunization? Globalizing Post-Socialist Mnemonic Battles by Using the Framework of Decoloniality in the Realm of Statue Wars

This paper investigates both the conceptual and the rhetorical turn in the public debate over statue wars in Czechia since the new emergence of Black Lives Matter movement. In the immediate aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, the Czech mainstream media landscape experienced a significant increase of news articles covering the acts of removal, turning down, intervention, protests, and other performative events revolving around monuments and statues in public space. Local media reported about various international events of this kind, mostly referring to the USA, its history of slavery, and contemporary efforts to commemorate the victims of police violence against the Afro-American communities. At the very same time, two important local events took place in the capital city of Prague.
In June 2020, an anonymous activist wrote in red “Black Lives Matter. Churchill was a racist.” over the statue of Winston Churchill. The graffiti was removed immediately and only a few photographs left document the scene right after the intervention. By this act, for the first time, the Czech public urban space experienced the activist intervention driven by the racial justice program appropriated from abroad (despite the long history of systemic discrimination of Roma communities in Czechia). Only two months ago, in April 2020, the long protest history over the existence of the statue of general Ivan Stepanovich Konev was ended by its official removal on behalf of the Prague municipality. Before this final act, the statue established itself as a venue of frequent anonymous activist interventions (resulting usually in spraying over the statue various slogans whose aim was to remind the dark military career of the general), protests of opponents and supporters of the statue (profiling themselves as opponents and supporters of the past and the present Russian politics and its international cultural influence), and official acts run by the local municipality to prevent the venue from further interventions (like covering the statue or installing an informative plague). The removal of Konev´s statue happened to be the very act of decommunization of public space, the first one in the 21st century debated so heatedly as if the transition era had just begun unfolding.
The paper juxtaposes these two performative public events by analysing first, their media coverage and their framing for Czech audience. Secondly, it examines digital debates among readers of the analysed articles to learn how the audience itself frames these events. The paper suggests that the emergence of BLM (and other social justice movements, especially Decolonize This Place) has significantly changed the understanding of the current mnemonic battles and statue wars happening in the post-socialist context. It shows and explains how the postcolonial notion of decoloniality has been appropriated and employed by the post-socialist discourse of decommunization, allowing these two historically and politically distinct formations to interpenetrate while creating a specific hybrid formation of “reparative repetitive history of victimhood”. The latter’s features and communication strategies are described here against the backdrop of the emergence of illiberalism, ethnic nationalism, and populism.