Cold War, Hot Topic: Museum Representations of `Communism' in Post-Socialist Central and Eastern Europe
Garcia Morales, Zulma-Lin
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The Cold War era--post-WWII until 1989--presents an array of challenges to interpretation in museum exhibits because of the abundance of national, local and individual experiences it encompasses. In Central and Eastern Europe, the representation of Soviet Socialism or Communism in museum exhibitions is receiving increasing attention in an array of fields including museology, history and anthropology. Recent studies focus on the role of visual material, collective memory and politics in determining museum interpretation and narrative approaches. Given the upcoming 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of `Communism' throughout the region, the representation of the realities of Soviet Socialist life has a distinctive timeliness and discursive quality. This qualitative study explores the range of ways museums represent the Soviet Socialist period (post-WWII-1989) in Central and Eastern Europe. The study emphasizes museums that exclusively interpret this period, Communism museums, and highlights the narrative and interpretative frameworks these institutions employ to address difficult and nuanced histories in their exhibits. The study was conducted in August 2011, through onsite visits and conversations with museum representatives at four sites: 1) Muzeum PRL-u (Krakow, Poland), 2) Museum of Communism (Prague, Czech Republic), 3) Children's Museum at FEZ Berlin (Berlin, Germany) and 4) DDR Museum (Berlin, Germany). The study is augmented by an open-ended questionnaire from House of Terror Museum (Budapest, Hungary). The data were used to build five case studies. The results of these case studies illustrate that Communism museums are openly addressing difficult histories in their exhibits and are concerned with whether their interpretation matches visitors' perceptions of the Soviet Socialist era. The analysis highlighted trends in exhibit content (i.e.: daily life and oppression) and in interpretive frameworks (i.e.: oral histories and interactive elements). Communism museums are increasingly employing interpretative strategies such as firsthand accounts, immersive and interactive exhibits to provide context and foster a high level of visitor engagement. Limitations to generalizability include sample size, language barriers and the disparate locations of the study sites.
- Museology