This article sheds theoretical and empirical light on the ritual media events constructed around the deaths of three Cold War political leaders in the 1980s: the Finnish president, Urho Kekkonen (1900–1986), the Swedish prime minister, Olof Palme (1927–1986), and the Soviet Union general secretary, Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982). Investigating news articles published in the first days after the news of each death broke, as well as news articles on the funeral for each and the immediate aftermath, this study utilises historical news television and print media material, obtained from the national and media archives in Finland, Sweden and Russia. By bringing the study of media culture and history into a dialogue shared with anthropology and political history, this article produces new knowledge on the workings and outcomes of ritual media events in the context of Cold War history. The article places special emphasis on Victor Turner’s ritual analysis and the ways in which power was symbolically transformed in these societies with different political and ideological histories.
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