• Presidents, Soldiers, and Celebrities: An Analysis of Post-Communist Monuments to Foreigners

    • July 23, 2018 - 2:47 pm
    • Foreigners, Former Yugoslavia, WWII
    • Comments Off on Presidents, Soldiers, and Celebrities: An Analysis of Post-Communist Monuments to Foreigners

    by Isabel Post

    ARIA Undergraduate Researcher at McGill University

    What do Hillary Clinton, James Joyce, and Michael Jackson have in common? For one thing, they’re all memorialized in the post-Communist world. A search through the Post-Communist Monuments Project’s database illustrates the prevalence and content of monuments to foreigners in this space. In this article, I’ll discuss the distribution of nationalities of the figures memorialized as well as the contexts for their memorialization. Finally, I will explore the social significance of a recent spate of monuments to foreign celebrities.

    I focused my analysis on the memorialization of nationals not of the Communist/post-Communist states in order to identify patterns in their commemoration. In total, only a small percentage of entries in the post-Communist monuments database concerned monuments dedicated to foreigners; the figure stands at 4.17 percent, or 82 out of 2036 “newsworthy” monuments between 1984 and 2009. Generally, I did not include monuments to nationals of neighbouring Communist states (for example, a monument to Lenin in Ukraine) in this statistic. The number may seem low, however considering the fact that only 2.5 percent of the database’s entries go to women, it’s a significant figure.

    What country’s nationals are most represented in these monuments? There was plenty of overlap of media coverage on the same monument, so it doesn’t stand to quantify the entries. However, the number of monuments as a percentage of all monuments to foreigners is distributed as following: French (8 %), British (10%), American (24%), Japanese (16%), Swede (10%), Austrian (2%), Irish (4%), French (4%), Danish (2 %), Norwegian (2 %), West German (4%), Turkish (4%), Italian (10%), Venezuelan (2%), and Spanish (2%). While these figures can’t represent the actual distribution of monuments in the post-Communist world by nationality, they can speak to a general trend favoring Americans and Western Europeans.

    As shown by the data, while it seems that a foreigner’s best bet to being memorialized in the post-Communist world is to be from the United States or Western Europe, there is no particular nationality that dominates the category. More conducive to likelihood of memorialization is the experience of that individual that warranted their memorialization-- in other words, the content of a life lends itself better to likelihood of memorialization than nationality does. Of these monuments to foreigners, most commemorate military and civilian casualties of war. Within this category, most of these people lost their lives during World War II (including the Holocaust), followed by World War I, and finally the Yugoslav Wars. Other tragedies include the September 11th Attacks and imprisonment in the GULAG system. The next most common subject type is occupied by political actors, including politicians, diplomats, and military generals. Finally, a minority of monuments to foreigners commemorate writers, musicians, and other artists.

    It seems that nationality does not have bearing on what type of actor is commemorated. For example, monuments to Americans were primarily memorials to military servicemen but included artists and politicians. Japanese honoured were just as likely to be civilians as servicemen; several monuments were erected to Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who saved an estimated 6,000 Jews from murder during Holocaust. Tied for third place are monuments to British, Swedish, and Italian nationals. There is no distinct “type” of subject among these nationalities either-- for example, just under half of Monuments to Italians focus commemoration on a military figure or the military past of a figure otherwise occupied. The remainder includes such varied subjects as the 1000 Italians who perished in the GULAG system and poet Dante Alighieri.

    As Izabela Steflja writes in “To History or Hollywood: Monuments to Foreign Celebrities in 21st Century Balkans”, “Popular memories and their expressions, including monuments, exist because a specific community believes that an object, individual, or space is significant enough that it should be passed onto the next generation.” Civilian and military casualties of war, indigenous or foreign, are easily defensible as being worthy of commemoration for future generations; An example of such a defense might be that a nation’s war dead command the same respect as is attributed to the nation. More difficult to rationalize-- and therefore perhaps more socially significant in their creation-- are monuments to foreign artists and celebrities. Examples such as the James Joyce statue in Ljubljana and the Sylvester Stallone statue in Žitište, Serbia raise questions as to what leads to the commemoration of a figure, particularly when they are not tied to the geographic location of the monument. Steflja’s article treats the “spate of monuments” to western celebrities in the former Yugoslavia as a unique phenomenon and the result of “turning toward the outside”, or perhaps even a reflection of the idea to “think globally, act locally.” Critically, Steflja argues that in the Balkans, these have been civil-society led movements to memorialize these figures. Reception, however, has not been overwhelmingly positive: Steflja cites an artist’s criticism that through these monuments, “history is being replaced by Mickey Mouse.” Previously discussed data suggest that this is not the case, but rather that “legitimate” history is still very much the main focus of monuments to non-indigenous entities in the post-Communist world.

    To conclude, while monuments to foreigners in the post-Communist world are a minority, their prevalence in the collection of “newsworthy” monuments suggests they are relatively common. While there is no one nationality that dominates the grouping, Americans and Western Europeans are the focus of most of these monuments. The monuments are most likely to commemorate victims of the World Wars and the Holocaust, but political figures feature prominently as well. Finally, as discussed by Izabela Steflja, more recently constructed monuments to foreigners, unable to be attributed as war memorials, are likely reflective of an ideological shift towards openness and global citizenship, as exemplified in the Western Balkans.


    Izabela Steflja (2015) To History or to Hollywood? Monuments to Foreign Celebrities in Twenty-First Century Balkans, Europe-Asia Studies, 67:8, 1302-1327, DOI: 10.1080/09668136.2015.1075962

    Yekaterina Sinelschikova (2018) From Marx to Michael Jackson: Which Foreigners Are Honored with a Statue in Russia?" Russia Beyond. January 02, 2018.. https://www.rbth.com/arts/327205-foreigners-monuments-in-russia.