Alexei Miller - Doctor of History, is Professor at the Department of History, European University in St. Petersburg; Visiting Professor at the Central European University (Budapest).
Manipulative use of history becomes one of the central issues in today’s political language. When the Nord Stream gas pipeline is described as a new Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, this devalues people’ memory and paralyzes their ability to conduct a substantive political discussion.
National historical narratives describing the grandeur of “our” nation and its struggle for good against evil are the intrinsic ailment of history. But there are also historians who take such narratives with a grain of salt. If society prosecutes historians who lay the groundwork for critical public dialogue about the past, it will lose the only effective remedy for national narcissism.
Today historical memory policy is facing its deepest crisis of the post-Soviet era. It is quite possible that in the historical perspective 2014 will be perceived as the beginning of the long process of mobilizing civil society on a platform that will be not only anti-liberal, but also nationalist.
History of Russia narrated as a sequence of only horrors and failures or, on the contrary, as a continuous string of victories and successes is equally unproductive for forming the individual and collective identity.
The Ribbon of St. George, which was re-invented in 2005, modernized the symbolism of Victory Day and focused attention on the heroism of soldiers, an indisputable part of the military myth more acceptable by Russians than the traditional VD symbols tied to the Soviet past.
The intensity of “historical wars in Europe” has decreased since 2009, but the process could still be reversed. It is still very likely that history will be used as a tool for political disputes. Reverting to extremely aggressive, conflict-prone and destructive methods of historical policy is still a realistic threat.
History will likely become an important, if not decisive, ideological element in reformatting the entire social and political sphere in Russia – something that is practically inevitable twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and because the related emotions and images are gradually disappearing from most peoples’ short-term memories.
The ruinous consequences of history politics in Russia may be much tougher than in other countries: the weaker pluralism and democracy, the fewer opportunities society and the guild of historians have to resist history politics. If interference of politics in history continues to develop at such a fast rate and in the same vein as in the past two or three years, Russia will suffer a major setback.
Nobody knows what may happen if the Ukrainian policy continues developing along the nation-state course. For the more than eight million people who consider themselves to be Russians, the important thing is not the change to Ukrainian identity, but the loss of living comfortably in case they maintain their Russian identity.
There is a great risk of getting mired in counterproductive discussions about the frontiers of the European model of historical development. References to the history of one region or another or one nation or another as “European” or “non-European” are unscrupulously used today inside the EU itself and along its periphery when it comes to discussing whether the region or nation deserves to be a member of a united Europe.
At a roundtable event in Moscow, top experts debated the “hypocritical” and “insincere” foreign policies of both Russia and the West in the post-Cold War era.
Vladimir Putin has mentioned several times that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a geopolitical mistake. Although these words were often interpreted as his desire to constitute that country, there is little reason to believe this.
The April 16 referendum will focus on power distribution rather than institution building. In other words, the organizers saw it as an opportunity to expand the President’s powers and allow him to rule longer. In their turn, Turks perceived it as an institutional choice to contribute to the development of the state.
If the larger picture defies prediction, the immediate future is scarcely more transparent. In the U.S. case, the known unknowns are numerous. They begin with the question of how much deck furniture Trump is willing to overturn in order to pursue an “America First” strategy.
In the wake of the For Fair Elections protest movement in Russia in 2011-2012, the Kremlin initiated a new strategy of state-society relations that was aimed at diminishing the propensity for protest in the next election cycle.
Belarus’ traditional structural dependence on Russia is increasing, and Minsk’s freedom of maneuver continues to shrink.