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Book description

Laws against Holocaust denial are perhaps the best-known manifestation of the present-day politics of historical memory. In Memory Laws, Memory Wars, Nikolay Koposov examines the phenomenon of memory laws in Western and Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and Russia and exposes their very different purposes in the East and West. In Western Europe, he shows how memory laws were designed to create a common European memory centred on the memory of the Holocaust as a means of integrating Europe, combating racism, and averting national and ethnic conflicts. In Russia and Eastern Europe, by contrast, legislation on the issues of the past is often used to give the force of law to narratives which serve the narrower interests of nation states and protect the memory of perpetrators rather than victims. This will be essential reading for all those interested in ongoing conflicts over the legacy of the Second World War, Nazism, and communism.


‘Nikolay Koposov is, by his personal experience and his international culture and mostly by his talent as both a philosopher and an historian, the most well equipped man to dominate such a large and topical subject.'

Pierre Nora - Académie Française

‘In Memory Laws, Memory Wars, Nikolay Koposov offers the first comprehensive history of the creation of laws regulating memory and memorial practices in both Western and Eastern Europe, beginning in the period after World War II with acts forbidding Holocaust denial, but then extended to topics relating to national traditions, racism and ethnicity more generally. Koposov's book is essential reading for anyone interested in the varied components that constitute modern historical understandings of the past.'

Gabrielle Spiegel - The Johns Hopkins University

‘One way to describe Nikolay Koposov's book on memory laws is masterful; others would be ground-breaking, thorough, illuminating, and compelling. I literally could not stop reading it. As historian rather than lawyer, Koposov explores a terrain upturned by the democratization and denationalization of history writing that elevated the concept of victimhood and therefore the protection of those who suffered or might suffer from false or hateful revisions of history. Criminalization of the past, however, conflicted with freedom of expression. In this extraordinary work, Koposov illuminates the tensions between acceptable and unacceptable pasts and the problem of what to do about them. Be careful what you wish for.'

Ronald Grigor Suny - University of Michigan

'Specialists might be aware of particular memory laws, but few of us have realized how general the phenomenon has become. In this first comprehensive study of the legislation of the past, Nikolay Koposov brings to bear thorough empirical study, a broad comparative sensibility, and the semantic care one would expect from a major philosopher and student of literature. The result is an indispensable handbook of an important European phenomenon.'

Timothy Snyder - Yale University, Connecticut

'Memory Laws, Memory Wars is a timely and illuminating assessment of the legal measures prohibiting Holocaust denial from their beginnings in Western Europe to the emergence of quite different memory laws in Eastern Europe and today’s Russia. Sober, nuanced, and international in scope, Koposov judiciously confronts the hard questions posed by the expansion of memory laws: Do public uses of memory promise a more democratic and humane relationship to the past, or do they represent novel ways of whitewashing past crimes?'

Anson Rabinbach - Princeton University

'This is an excellent comparative study of the role of memory laws in contemporary European societies and politics, with special attention for the right wing movement in Eastern Europe and the Ukrainian crisis. It paints a wide canvas of the struggle between free speech versus hate speech and denial, and illuminates the dilemma presented by memory laws in both liberal societies and authoritarian states. It is an important book for understanding the relation of collective memory and nationalism. Kosopov’s combines detailed description with incisive analytical perspectives. This is a rewarding text for the historian as well as for the general reader.'

Elazar Barkan - Columbia University, New York

'Koposov (Emory) studies the politics of national memory laws centered on ‘legislation penalizing statements about the past'. His review of European memory legislation is highly recommended.'

D. P. Forsythe Source: Choice

'Koposov shows in great detail how as memory laws spread from West to East they became ever less democratic and ever more despotic, weapons not of the weak, but of the strong, used to silence competing narratives about the past and to foster a mythical national history, often one of both unrivaled victimization and awesome heroism, as has been most fully realized in the last years of the Putin regime. A deeply researched, nuanced, and rich work, Memory Laws, Memory Wars makes clear the dangers in trying to legislate our understanding of the past.'

Douglas Smith Source: Los Angeles Review of Books

'Koposov has written a challenging book on a new and unfamiliar topic. It deserves to be widely read.'

Erik Jones Source: Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

'A sweeping and thorough study … this book ought to be read from cover to cover by those interested in both Eastern and Western Europe as it is a model of comparative history … a short review can neither do justice to the complexity of the volume’s argument nor fully convey the author’s erudition on the subject.'

Kathleen Smith Source: The Journal of Modern History

'Koposov offers useful insights into the historical conditions that make memory malleable and instrumentable, especially by authoritarian nationalist politics, at our current conjuncture.'

Saygun Gökarıksel Source: H-Net

‘Koposov’s book provides a foundational text in European memory laws, recalling known arguments and shedding new light on the power these laws can have on a country’s self-consciousness and national identity, as well as on its foreign policy in Eastern Europe … His book is timely as it offers an additional layer of understanding to policy making and national narrative making, particularly in countries which have recently been experiencing a democratic backsliding.’

Jennifer Ostojski Source: Interdisciplinary Political Studies

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