It is the aim of this article to analyse the worship of the dead in the context of the post-Soviet religious revival in Russia. The paper focuses on certain interrelated manifestations of worshipping the “special dead”, martyrs and heroes, in which both religious and secular institutions are involved. Activities in canonisation of new martyrs who “shone out” during the Soviet period also imply the recovery of graves and the identification of the bodies of the (new) saints. They are similar to another secular form of politics of memory: the reburials of soldiers who perished during the Second World War. The physical remains of the anonymous dead are a cause of frustration and ambiguity. In both cases (the sacred and the secular ones), the aim is to achieve personalisation through the

identification of graves and remains. It includes both a physical process and a symbolic operation through which the bodies obtain the status and the aura of martyrs and heroes. It is a strategy of reconciling irreconcilable historical legacies and also a tool to positively reformulate traumatic experiences of the past. In doing so, the Orthodox project of constructing memory successfully contributes to the larger societal project of elaborating a positive vision of the past.


Russia, politics of memory, worship of the dead, religious revival, canonisation, post-socialism

How to Cite

Benovska-Sabkova, M., (2010) “MARTYRS AND HEROES”, Ethnologia Europaea 40(1), 42-57. doi:

Publisher Notes

  • This article was previously published by Museum Tusculanum Press.


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Milena Benovska-Sabkova (New Bulgarian University)



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