Death Online in Contemporary Russia : Memory, Forgetting 
and the Connective Presence of Mourning on the Internet

Abstract: This dissertation explores the ways in which online technologies transform communal commemoration and grief practices in the Russian-speaking world, and what the existential implications of these changes are for individuals and society. This aim is rooted in the theoretical framework of existential media studies complemented by digital memory studies and death online studies. Expanding upon the Heideggerian concept of presence, I develop the analytical concept of connective presence online. Emphasising that in Russia this terrain is best described in terms of political existence, I argue that connective presence modifies the ubiquitous politics of default amnesia in the nation.The communal aspects of memorialising the dead online are approached through analyses of three memorial websites, dedicated to different themes: the Soviet repressions, the Nord-Ost siege, and the contemporary social networking sites. The overarching methodological approach of virtual ethnography combines long-term observations with socio-historical and cultural contextualisations. The analytical part is a cultural analysis consisting of close readings of the websites’ materials, and a thematic analysis of the contents and practices. This dissertation demonstrates that online technologies enable communal commemoration, contributing to how bereaved seek, lose or achieve a sense of ‘existential security’. It highlights three overarching themes of connective presence online: between the living and the dead, between the mourners, and as motivation for action. The research finds that Russian political memory culture is potentially challenged by digitalisation through bringing back the virtue of remembering, by leading to the appearance of reconnected presence, and with its potential for resolving existential struggles of mourners. This study proposes that in the Russian-speaking world the post-scarcity digital memory culture is not necessarily a problem that needs to be solved through the right to be forgotten, but a source of mending the broken memory culture as the difficulties to forget in the digital environment can seriously alter the current political memory work. It suggests that connective presence could be interpreted as a version of Heidegger’s authentic Dasein for the digital age, as caring for each other in a mutual experience of shared vulnerability, and as a result aiming at resolving bigger politico-existential issues in the Russian Federation.