Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Negotiating History: Memory Wars in the near Abroad and Pro-Kremlin Youth Movements

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Negotiating History: Memory Wars in the near Abroad and Pro-Kremlin Youth Movements

Article excerpt

Russian society is fragmented in terms of living standards, contact with the external world, access to information, and political and identity-based perceptions. It has very few elements with which to create a social bond or an ideological unity. In this context, the memory of World War II plays a key role as a driver of historical consensus. Polls conducted about this question are very revealing: in 1998, 70 percent of Russian citizens considered the victory of 1945 to be the most important event of the 20th century, and today that figure has reached 90 percent.1 There is also a large unanimity in Russian public opinion concerning the notion that the neighboring post-Soviet states blame Russia for multiple evils and tend to undermine the Soviet version of 20th century history. Since the second half of the 2000s, political tension regarding memory questions and their weight in the relationships between post-Communist states has grown, in particular in the Russia-Ukraine-Baltic countries and in Poland-two of the zones that were most affected by the violence of World War II and the brutal (re)Sovietization that followed.

Memory stakes also occupy a prime spot within the strategies of pro-presidential youth movements, particularly the group "Nashi"-who are at the core of this analysis, though not exclusively-to establish youth identities that are both contestatory and recognized by the political authorities and public opinion. Youth activists have no direct memory of the Soviet past; instead, their identity is shaped by a more global cultural context, through textbooks, films, media, and official and familial narratives. They thereby advance a mimetic and consensual interpretation of these memory wars, one that is in sync with the mainstream, and simultaneously give offan image of themselves as bearers of a specific youth counter-culture, one rather critical of older generations. Two central references have made it possible to gain this paradoxical place within society as they elicit near total unanimity from public opinion and the ruling elites in Russia: first, the remembrance of the Great Patriotic War; and second, the engagement in the struggle against the so-called falsifications of history by neighboring states.

This article examines the role played by the memory wars in structuring some youth movements, giving them a recognized status in society, and providing their members with specific identity logic. It discusses the focusing of these memory wars on the Near Abroad and the high-level politicization of the youth's historical debates. In conclusion, it inquires into the stakes of Russia's Europeanness for the youth movements, the role of historical narrative in creating powerful mechanisms of mobilization, the political dependency of movements claiming youth autonomy, and the absence of ideological and organizational barriers between the official and the more radical movements.2 This work is part of a several-years-long research project on youth politicization and youth memory of the Soviet Union that began in 2008. The studies are based on interviews with youth activists and observer participation in their activities, and the fieldwork has thus far been undertaken in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Petrozavodsk, and Vladivostok.

"Managed Democracy," Managed History

Public Memories, or Public Memory?: Fighting Against a Pluralism of Remembrance

The positive reassessment of the Soviet past has been especially visible, since Vladimir Putin's assumption of power, in the symbols of the Russian state (hymn, wreath, etc.), official commemorations, and public discourses, but the process had already begun during the second half of the 1990s.3 While the Perestroika years were enlivened by very contradictory debates on Soviet history, in the 2000s the accent was placed on the victory of World War II, Stalin's repressions being discretely set aside. During Putin's second mandate (2004-2008), the state tried to exercise stronger control over the memory debates and to silence dissident voices. …

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