Constructing the “Usable Past”: the Evolution of the Official Historical Narrative in post-Soviet Russia
The chapter describes the evolution of the memory policy of Russian Federation over twenty five years focusing at development of the official historical narrative, i.e. a semantic scheme that describes the genealogy of the macro political community constituting the Russian state, and “explains” how its past “determines” its present and future. The construction of the new official narrative takes place in official speeches, but also brings into play another instruments of memory politics, such as state symbols, national holidays, official and unofficial rituals, Memory Laws ( i.e. legislation that restricts particular ways of public representation of some historical events or processes) etc. As far as since the late 1980s the national past was a matter of fierce debates, an elaboration of the official narrative is unavoidably a matter of choice between competing interpretations presented in the public discourse.
The evolution of the official memory policy in post-Soviet Russia is clearly divided into two large periods that are characterized by different conceptions of the historical official narrative – that of “the new Russia” and of “the thousand-years-long Russia”. These periods roughly coincide with the presidency of Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin – Dmitry Medvedev. In spite of the fact that the vectors of the symbolic politics changed, the ruling elites in both
In the 1990s the official narrative had integrated discourse about “trauma and crime” as a part of legitimization of the post-Soviet transformation, but it could not manage to consolidate the nation. In the 2000s the choice was made for apologetic principle of work with collective past which resulted into the eclectic construction that marginalize the topic of “trauma and crime”. In the 2010s we can see some attempts to make the official narrative more consistent which brings ambivalent results. On the one hand, in the context of the current international conflict the apologetic conception of the national past is securitized as a “weapon” against the alleged foreign and domestic enemies. On the other hand, a new round of discussions about the national history opens some windows of opportunities for actors struggling for “coping with difficult past” agenda.