This article examines the use of the memorialization of Reagan in transatlantic relations – specifically in the commemorations of the Ronald Reagan Centennial Year in 2011 in Central and Eastern Europe. Extrapolating from the case of Hungary, the article argues that because of the contemporary political status of its drivers and its oblique message, the Reagan Centennial’s campaign in Central Europe can be called “shadow” memorial diplomacy, which in 2011 used the former president’s memory to articulate and strengthen a model of U.S. leadership and foreign policy parallel to and ready to replace those of the then Obama administration. This study can serve as an international extension of previous scholarship on the politics of the memory of Ronald Reagan within the United States, as well as a case study of the use of memory in international relations.
The Cold War that shaped the societies of late modernity had penetrated everyday life with constant messages about the nuclear threat and demonstrations of military power. On the one hand, Soviet republics such as Lithuania were occupied by the enemy of Western democracies, and the nuclear threat would apply to their territory as well. On the other hand, many people secretly sided with the West. But information about the world behind the Iron Curtain was filtered ideologically. Images of Vietnam War and civil unrest in Western countries were broadcasted by the state controlled media as a counterpoint to the orderly and optimistic Soviet life idealised in chronicles and photographs. This positive image was shown to rest on the victory of the Great Patriotic War as well as October Revolution. Those events were represented by iconic monuments in the public space as well as by memorialization rituals taking place every half-year. Their visual documentation was an important part of Soviet culture. Photo journalists like Ilja Fišeris were assigned to record the parades of May the 1st, the 9th and November the 7th. Art photographers treated such images as a tribute to authorities exchanged for a measure of artistic freedom. But in the 1980s, the memorialization rituals, the monuments and other ideological signs became the focus of “rogue” art photographers and cinematographers: Artūras Barysas-Baras, Vytautas Balčytis, Vitas Luckus, Alfonsas Maldutis, Algirdas Šeškus, Remigijus Pačėsa and Gintaras Zinkevičius. Their ironic and reflective images worked as dislocating counter-memorials against the stale reconstructions of the past. Referring to theories of Svetlana Boym, Verónica Tello and Ariella Azoulay, the paper discusses the complicated relationships between the different memorializations of war, including the absence of the Holocaust in collective memory.