When Monument Battles Go Digital: Russian–Ukrainian Conflicts over Material Heritage on Telegram

The article, co-authored by Anastasiya Pshenychnykh, Alena Pfoser, and Sabina Mihelj, appeared in the journal Social Media + Society online first. In the context of increasing conflicts over material heritage around the world, this article examines the role digital media play in battles over monuments. The rise of digital media brought significant changes to the cultural dynamics of heritage conflicts, which have not been adequately addressed in existing literature. Bringing together work on monuments, (digital) memory conflicts, and digital activism, we identify three key dimensions of monument battles in which the impact of digital media is most clearly visible: (a) participation, democratization, and deterritorialization; (b) reframing and contestation; and (c) mobilization and the online-offline movement of heritage battles. We illustrate these arguments drawing on a critical discourse analysis of monument battles on the messaging application Telegram in the context of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, using a sample of 940 posts from both pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian channels. We demonstrate that despite potentially providing space for alternative memory interpretations, online memory contestations over heritage contributed to the construction of polarized and mutually exclusive worlds.

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