Putin’s got a problem: He doesn’t know if he should or shouldn’t celebrate 100th anniversary of the Revolution of 2017

tags: Russia, Putin, Revolution of 2017

Mark Edele, Professor of History, University of Western Australia

... Putin’s government faces a dilemma regarding this past. The Revolution can neither be fully embraced nor fully disowned. Revolutions are anathema to Putin, who does not want to be swept away by a successful uprising similar to the Ukrainian Euromaidan in 2013-14. At the same time, Russia both legally and ideologically claims to be the successor state to the Soviet Union. And the Soviet Union’s founding event happens to be a revolution. The centenary cannot be simply ignored.

History, in Putin’s Russia, is not a mere academic pursuit. It is part of what La Trobe political scientist Robert Horvath calls “preventive counter revolution”: an attempt to nip in the bud any potential for a popular uprising. The past which Putin and his Minister of Culture, the maverick historian Vladimir Medinsky, most frequently deploy to this end is the “Great Patriotic War” against Nazi Germany.

As I argue in an article forthcoming in the journal History & Memory, their self-confident, patriotic rendering of the Soviet Second World War serves as ideological glue attaching the population to the government.

Could one do the same with the Revolution: write it into a positive history of contemporary Russia? It would be possible to embrace the February revolution as a legitimate, potentially democratic uprising, which also freed the nations of the empire from imperial control: a decolonizing as well as democratizing event. The Bolshevik revolution could then become an illegitimate coup bringing a criminal regime to power, which re-erected by force of arms the old empire under a new guise.

Such a narrative de-legitimizes much of the Soviet period, while celebrating the breakdown of the Soviet Union into 15 independent states in 1991 as the historical fulfillment of the promises of February 1917.

Such a version of the past finds few enthusiasts in today’s Russia. As historian Geoffrey Hosking has written, most formerly Soviet peoples experienced 1991

as national liberation. For Russians, however, who had lived in all republics and thought of the Soviet Union as ‘their’ country, it was deprivation.

This perception “still rankles today” and “underlies the current Ukrainian crisis.” ...

Read entire article at The Conversation

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