The Czech town of Jáchymov.

The Czech town of Jáchymov.

Okategoriserade Remembering & reimagining rural communities

Each contribution in this special section here presented, provides different cases and different ways of considering the tensions between local communities and national policies, between pasts that ground people and pasts which hold them back, and between the survival or memorialisation of one form of heritage and its reimagining in another form for other ends. However, for all contributors the heritage itself, and especially various processes of heritagization, are “not about the past but about the use (and abuse) of the past to educate — and at times inculcate — the public.”

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2019:4, pp 19-22
Published on on February 25, 2020

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The scientific image and reflection of rural communities has recently undergone a major change in Central Europe and Eastern Europe. From predominantly ethnographic research and the study of past relics, ethnologists, anthropologists and other scholars studying the terrain have more recently shifted towards interpreting the dynamic cultural and social changes that the region is experiencing. It is for this reason, among others, that we have chosen the theme for this special section. The selection of published contributions steem from a conference devoted to transformations of urban and rural landscapes and society. Over four days in November 2018, more than 40 researchers representing countries spanning from Ukraine to the United States, and from Sweden to Serbia, gathered in Prague for the international conference Spaces and Places in Transition: Urban and Rural Transformations in Central and Eastern Europe. Organised by the Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies, Södertörn University, under the auspices of SIEF (International Society for Ethnology and Folklore) working group Space-lore and place-lore.1 A key theme running through the conference was the connection between landscape and identity, and how particular social fantasies acted out upon spaces try to hegemonize certain values and erase or ignore certain histories or peoples in the process — including religious groups, industrial workers, residents of both rural and urban communities, or those whose political views may be considered outdated. Many presenters highlighted a problematic trend regarding the externalisation of agency that denies or limits the voice and ability of local community members to influence decisions that affect the places in which they live.  The connection between landscape and identity was especially at the fore during the second day of the conference and its theme of Remembering and Reimagining Rural Communities, from which this special section was inspired. As the keynote, Andrew Butler argued, understanding the changes facing rural communities in the current day is difficult to do without also engaging in an exploration of transnational intertextuality — wherein the transformations which are occurring are not only local, but part of global processes and linkages.2 The linkages between heritage and tourism in many rural communities have had a tendency to reduce local residents to spectators of change, as decision-making and ownership in these communities has become increasingly externalised, with the fate of communities often being made in distant cities or in other countries altogether. Cultural geographer Mariusz Czepczyński devoted his keynote speech to the transformations occurring in urban spaces. He suggested a rejection of the term “post-socialism” and its emphasis on the perception of processes in Central and Eastern Europe in the context of global capitalism, tourism and neoliberal time and space regimes. It is a similar rejection of a particular ‘post-socialist’ trajectory in Central and Eastern Europe, which is often used to ‘other’ that which occurs in the region from contemporary realities elsewhere in the world, that underscores each of the contributions which follows.

In this special section in Baltic Worlds, we see this in In László Mód’s essay, through the impact of global viticulture practices, American aphids, and Soviet supply chains on a winegrowing region around Lake Balaton; in Edita Štulcaitė’s article it is international trends in heritage tourism and homestays affecting the Tusheti highlands and traditional transhumance practices and agricultural autonomy; and in Andrii Nekoliak’s article it is the political relations between Ukraine and Russia post-EuroMaidan and the re-writing of local topographies in the provincial town of Shyskaky. In following these international actors and transnational processes, each article contributes to the field of critical heritage studies, “addressing critical issues that face the world today, the larger issues that bear upon and extend outwards from heritage”. As we see in particular in Štulcaitė’s article and its exploration of ‘heritage regimes’ and governmentality, critical heritage studies offer us a lens through which give nuance to the questions of how and by whom heritage is made and legitimised, “what these discourses tell us about the present rather than the past”, and the implications this has on the everyday lives of people living in and affected by heritage policies and heritage politics (Štulcaitė, this section). All three contributions clearly show that (of course not only) rural heritage “is always bringing the past into the present through historical contingency and strategic appropriations, deployments, redeployments, and creation of connections and reconnection”.

László Mód’s contribution to the Balaton wine region shows that the recent processes of heritagization are actually just the last in a number of several supra-regional and global processes that have affected this area over a long period of time. Of course, the very introduction of vine cultivation in the distant past has fundamentally changed the landscape as well as local and regional social structures. However, Mód shows that these were mainly natural and later cultural processes at the end of the 19th century and in the course of 20th century, which are crucial for the present transformation. The first truly global process was the Phylloxera epidemic, which at the end of the 19th century radically reduced the range of vineyards. After World War II, the landscape has been changed as a result of ideology: the collectivization and the destruction of private agriculture resulted in significant changes in land use and settlement structure, as well as the loss of intangible heritage, especially knowledge of vine growing and religious habits. Moreover, even recent changes leading to the transformation of Lake Balaton and in particular the Vörösmál vineyard hill, which is the focus of Mód’s essay, have a much broader background. They are both part of the heritagization of traditional agricultural practices, the transformation of a large part of the agricultural regions in Europe into tourist and recreational areas. In this case it leads not only to the changes in buildings (e.g. conversion of production buildings into cottages, holiday homes), but the interest in heritage/heritage landscape actually threatens and slowly erases intangible heritage and alters the physical vineyard landscape. On the basis of this, of course, the region could be perceived as a conflicting case of contemporary transformation of bio-cultural landscape and heritage, which is one of the contemporary issues under study. However, Mód’s essay raises a different important issue. Especially that of the relationship of local permanent dwellers to tourists or owners of recreational properties, which is — not only in this case — rather complicated as a result of different class, and status, expectations placed upon of rural experience.


A similar tension is also the starting point for the first of two peer reviewed articles in this section. As Edita Štulcaitė explores using the case of the village of Dartlo, in the Tusheti highlands of Georgia, there is a tension between local benefit and national interest that emerges through the concerted effort of the Georgian government to promote tourism in the region. This tension appears not to have arisen from expectations placed upon the local community by an existing influx of tourists from within the country, but rather as part of intentional government policies directed towards economic development and integration into global tourism markets. In following these developments through both policies implemented and interviews with local residents, Štulcaitė argues that direct government intervention in the local heritage of the Tusheti highlands, and the efforts to commodify this in the national interest, appear to be altering that very same heritage by restricting traditional ways of life associated with it. As part of this argument, she highlights a tension between public welfare and economic development, showing that while for local residents the national government appears to be absent from any influence in the region, they are actively present through their work to reshape the local economy and activity of residents, providing incentives for development of guesthouses and hotels, and thereby promoting entrepreneurship and individual responsibility. While these qualities may have their positive attributes, Štulcaitė problematises the reliance on international tourism and international development funds that are required to make this possible and sustainable. By orienting the community towards a tourism-based economy and the provision of hospitality services, Štulcaitė’s article demonstrates that a commodifiable form of tangible heritage — in the form of guesthouses — is prioritised over intangible heritage in the form of traditional agricultural livelihoods and transmigration. In a similar vein, it appears that the positive aspects of this economic development come with trade-offs in terms of autonomy, as it requires a shift away from local networks of commerce and seasonal residency to integrate into global economic networks as year-round providers of tourism-related services and experiences.

Finally, moving from the top-down impacts of heritage policy in the context of international tourism, the second of the peer reviewed articles focuses on memorials and the interplay between local and national politics in post-EuroMaidan Ukraine, where we also see the role of international politics in driving the ‘nationalisation of the past’. In his article, author Andrii Nekoliak discusses how recent political events have changed national policies about “who can remember what” and how the past is authorised to be memorialised, analyzing ‘memory work’ or the ‘management of memory’ as visible through national decommunization policies implemented in post-EuroMaidan Ukraine. In doing so, he takes a polemic stance against a common assumption that changes to memorial landscapes in Ukraine since 1989 are primarily a product of top-down political impact. Nekoliak instead argues that a closer look at a specific case allows us to trace how “various memory actors do their memory work on the ground”. Rather than simply ‘doing as told’, Nekoliak shows how local political and semi-political actors negotiate and adopt politics from above, and in so doing discover that what was acceptable in the post-soviet period became no longer acceptable after the EuroMaidan protests of 2014 and their implications for relations with Russia. As such, the challenges of implementation that arise in the provincial town of Shyshaky demonstrate that despite the language used, de-communisation memorial policies are in fact more concerned with de-Russification than de-communisation — not only about distancing or getting rid of Soviet symbols but also erasing traces of imperial legacy and Russian presence from the memory landscape. Further, in Nekoliak’s discussion of ‘topographies of memory’, we are able to see how memorials that are treated as exceptions in national policy — particularly those pertaining to the Great Patriotic War and the Nazi liberation movement, and the ways in which these are edited or recontextualised to remain acceptable — enables us to see the frontiers or borders of the contemporary memorial landscape.

In each contribution, we see the recurrence of several questions: What is achieved by rewriting, reimagining, or re-membering the past? Why is this done and for whom? What is gained and what is lost in doing so? How do we reconcile the arguments made in favour of such changes with their effects on the livelihoods, identities, and senses of orientation in the world of the people they affect? Rather than attempt a definitive answer to any of these questions, each contribution provides different cases and different ways of considering the tensions between local communities and national policies, between pasts that ground people and pasts which hold them back, and between the survival or memorialisation of one form of heritage and its reimagining in another form for other ends. However, for all contributors the heritage itself, and especially various processes of heritagization, are “not about the past but about the use (and abuse) of the past to educate — and at times inculcate — the public.”

It is through such an understanding that a critical perspective on heritage and heritagization provides a common thread throughout each contribution. Bringing this theme together more comprehensively, the special section also features an interview with two researchers in the field of critical heritage studies – anthropologist and human rights lawyer Adriana Arista-Zerga, and geographer Mark McCarthy. In conversation with both researchers, a range of issues of relevance to heritage policy and heritage practices are discussed, including conflicting narratives of the past, efforts to heal from a traumatic collective past, and the inevitable tensions that can arise when heritage is connected to economic development in the form of rural tourism. In addition to raising some important considerations on these and other topics, McCarthy and Arista-Zerga also suggest several ways forward, providing examples of methods, initiatives, and policy opportunities. In doing so, both make the case for seeking a balance that protects heritage while also keeping it alive, which require respect for competing narratives of the past and efforts to accommodate alternative visions of the future.  ≈




See Paul Sherfey, “Urbal and rural trans-formastion”  in Baltic Worlds, Vol. XII, no. 1 (2019), 54—56.

C. Calderon & A. Butler, “Politicising the landscape: a theoretical contribution towards the development of participation in landscape planning”. Landscape Research (2019), DOI: 10.1080/01426397.2019.1594739; A. Butler, Caught between place attachment and global agendas: Discourses, identities and democracy in the landscapes of Scotland and Sweden. Keynote presentation at the international conference “Places and Spaces in Transition: Urban and rural transformations in Central and Eastern Europe”, November 8, 2018.

M. Czepczyński, Changing places, changing landscapes: Post-socialist spatial pathways and off-roads. Keynote presentation at the international conference “Places and Spaces in Transition: Urban and rural transformations in Central and Eastern Europe”, November 7, 2018.

S. Hirt, S. Ferenčuhová & T. Tuvikene, “Conceptual forum: the “post-socialist” city”, Eurasian Geography and Economics (2017); M. Müller, “Goodbye, Postsocialism!”, Europe-Asia Studies, (2019) 71:4, 533—550.

T. Winter,  “Clarifying the critical in critical heritage studies”. International Journal of Heritage Studies 6 (2013): 532—545.

H. Silverman, E. Waterton, and S. Watson, “An introduction to heritage in action”. In H. Silverman, E. Waterton, and S. Watson (eds.), Heritage in Action: Making the Past in the Present (Cham: Springer, 2017), 3—18.

M. Agnoletti & F. Emanueli, Biocultural Diversity in Europe (Springer, 2016).

Y. Poria & G. Ashworth, “Heritage tourism — Current resource for conflict” Annals of Tourism Research, (2009) 36: 522—525.

  • by Paul Sherfey and Jiří Woitsch

    Paul Sherfey is PhD-candidate in ethnology at Södertörn University. His dissertation project Cultivating Revolutionary Subjectivities: Politics, Heritage and Desire explores informal activism, using the case of collective gardens as a transnational political practice. Jiří Woitsch is PhD in Ethnology and History. Director of the Institute of Ethnology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, and also the editor-in-chief of the ethnological journal Český lid.

  • all contributors