Dranske Island on Rügen, Germany. Photo: Klugschnacker/Wikimedia commons.

Reviews Post-military Islands in transformation. Leaving the past aside

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds 1, 2014 pp 76-77.
Published on balticworlds.com on maj 6, 2014

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After the end of the Cold War, a large-scale disarmament commenced in the Baltic Sea area, one of the most militarized regions of Europe. Simultaneously, a reconstruction of the Baltic Sea as a Sea of Peace was started. Beate Feldmann Eellend’s thought-provoking PhD dissertation covers three post-military landscapes in this area: Deyevo on Saaremaa (Estonia), Dranske on Rügen (Germany, former GDR), and Fårösund on Gotland (Sweden). The goal is to visualize how the military landscape of the Cold War is being transformed to conform to modern Europe. More precisely, Feldmann Eellend investigates what “the planning visions mean in the everyday life of human beings” (p.15). The specific research aim is to elucidate the challenges posed to planning in the transformation process. The study is structured around three issues: how the coastal landscape of the Baltic is disarmed and transformed into a civilian landscape of consumption; how plans and everyday practices are formed in a field of tension between experiences from the past and expectations for the future; and how parts of the past are enhanced or forced aside in the transformation.

In a theoretical sense, the author is ambitiously working with two main threads, on the one hand, theories emphasizing that space is formed by relation and process, and, on the other, theories of “memory politics”. Henri Lefebvre’s spatial triad (consisting of perceived spaces, planned spaces, and lived spaces) occupies a prominent position in the thesis. To this basis of spatial theory are added concepts taken from Rheinhard Koselleck: time interface, spaces of experience, and horizon of expectation. Time, like space, is seen as relationally created, meaning that history and future are time dimensions encompassing different possibilities for interpretation, memory, and conflict. Contemporary questions always influence the memory of the past and “in this process those conflicts of memory politics appear that emerge in the construction of collective memories” (p. 19). Another concept, collective memory, thus takes a central position in the thesis. While the theoretical approach is ambitious, there is a certain unclearness concerning the use of concepts. Among other things, the reader has to relate to practices of memory, everyday practices, and spatial practices. A more distinct discussion of the different forms of practices would have enhanced the thesis.

The thesis relates to three different field of inquiry: The first is ethnological and anthropological research concerning Europeanization and regionalization. There is, according Feldmann Eellend, a need for ethnological research visualizing “the political and cultural connections between processes of Europeanization and regionalization at local, national, and macro-regional level” (p. 23). Secondly, the thesis is related to (mainly) ethnological research on cultural heritage and planning. It seems as if the relation of the thesis to planning research is particularly important. Planners are considered to have a great need for knowledge about values, experiences, and relations typical of everyday life. Without this knowledge, human needs cannot be dealt with, which is seen as a problem of democracy.

The thesis is also related to the field of cultural military history. Feldmann Eellend asserts that few ethnologists have shown an interest in the military. Her scrutiny of the previous research that does exist seems well argued for, but it is not clear in what way earlier research has been of value to the thesis. To be sure, the author says she enjoyed examining the ethnological research on regionalization processes and “sees connections to” parts of anthropological research on cultural processes at the juncture of local, national, and macro-regional levels (p. 23). But what is meant by getting enjoyment from previous research? In this connection, the research process should have been discussed in more detail.

The author interviewed around 20 people (ordinary inhabitants as well as local politicians) but she also worked with photo documentation. In addition, she collected archival material, newspaper articles, and planning documents, and she also studied local chronicles, brochures, and magazines of local associations. It is thus obviously a rich and multi-faceted material that forms the foundation of the thesis. The method she uses is the so-called mobile searchlight, characterized by an interplay between different categories of material in order to visualize a field. For this reason, a more detailed discussion of how this rich material was combined and activated in relation to the theoretical premises of the thesis would have been advisable. It is also difficult, at least to some degree, to understand how fieldwork was carried out in the different localities. In addition to these problems, there is a certain lack of clarity concerning the process of selection and why these three places were chosen as study objects.

In chapter 2, “EUropeisk rumslig planering” [EUropean spatial planning], the focus is on the macro-regional level. The EU is defined as a power striving for a “united and competitive” Baltic Sea region. This endeavor characterizes the visions and strategies that mark the planned space. Feldmann Eellend analyzes the European Spatial Development Perspective, as well as the conversion networks Convernet and ReMiDo, quite well. According to these networks, the post-military landscapes ought to be transformed into attractive places for tourism and recreation. In this connection, the cultural heritage would be important, but “only in terms of fortifications and fortresses mainly from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries” (p.56). A conclusion therefore is that the transformation, as it is expressed in the planned space, adds to the formation of a homogenous EU space that hides parts of the history of the 20th century.

In chapter 3, “Garnisonens kollektiva minne” [Collective memory of the garrison], the space of planning is abandoned and the focus is rather on perceived space. The chapter addresses mainly “the practices of memory that were formed in the transformation processes by the people remaining in the post-military landscapes” (p. 57). The collective memory appears rather bright. Although the supply of housing, goods, and other services was socially layered, “collective memories were formed by experience of an everyday life with good social and economic resources” (p.82). Feldmann Eellend asserts that “these memory practices […] permit the visualization of the political role of collective memories in the transformation of the military landscapes” (p.83). The discussion of collective memories in this chapter is important for the thesis in general, and is particularly interesting. A more developed source-critical discussion in relation to the analysis of the material would nonetheless have made the analysis in the chapter more powerful.

The following chapter, “Vision om rekreation” [Visions of recreation], focuses on what happens when the perceived space meets the planned space. The thesis shows that locally formed visions have as their goal the transformation of the military landscapes into competitive places in the Baltic Sea region. The local visions are thereby “in interplay with the macro-regional visions” (p. 117). The author asserts that there is a lack of “critical reflection concerning the parts of the past that are selected or obfuscated” (p.92). A consequence of this is that the population expresses feelings of exclusion, but they also develop skepticism towards the transformation. The study thus makes visible a gap between, on the one hand, “the expectation in the future visions of attractive recreation” and, on the other, an “affective memory with experience of an urban military workday” (p. 118). This is perhaps one of the more important conclusions of the thesis, since one of the lessons one hoped would crystallize from the work involved the challenges to planning in the transformation processes.

In chapter 5, “Postmilitära statusförskjutningar” [Post-military status displacements] the analysis is deepened with a particular focus on social and cultural status displacements. Deyevo and Dranske were subject to a material dismantling. Military equipment disappeared with the troops, and the buildings were subject to vandalism, increasing decay, and in some cases demolition. They represented the wrong historical period and were seen as unattractive. Viewed in the light of this status displacement and material dismantling, the memories of the inhabitants gain a particular meaning: Collective memories of a relatively satisfactory everyday life can be understood as a type of “reinstatement memories”. Cultural memories, that is, the history mediated via nonprofit museums and booklets on homestead history, function in a similar capacity.

Chapter 6, “Motsträviga rum” [Reluctant spaces] contains a discussion that sums up the dissertation. It commences with two important questions: What creates the gap between visionary plans and everyday practices? And what consequences might this gap have for people in lived space? The dissertation refers to critical research showing that Europe is on the way to becoming a Monotopia, since it is only certain parts of the past that are being defined as cultural heritage, that is, the aspects that have economic value as an attraction. Given that there is a risk that collective memories are at risk of exclusion, it is doubtful that a strong macro-regional identity is being created. Instead, there is a risk of “a type of cultural amnesia” (p. 155) and a widening gap between the planned and the perceived space. In order to create a socially sustainable society, planning must consider both “structural market forces and human values” (p.162). For the EU, this is an important task. Without consideration of peoples’ experiences and collective memories, no legitimacy is created: “Not until the targets and norms of the EU gain meaning and acceptance by people at a local, everyday level can they be implemented” (p. 167). The author thus turns a much needed, critical eye towards those political processes that risk leading to exclusion and cultural amnesia. ≈

+ Beate Feldmann Eellend: Visionära planer och vardagliga praktiker: Postmilitära landskap i Östersjö-området (Visionary plans and everyday practices: post-military landscapes in the Baltic Sea region). Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis. Stockholm Studies in Ethnology 7, 2013. 157 pages, ill.