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Russia: Looking at History as a Continuation of Politics

Sitting in an ultralight aircraft, Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a Siberian crane during a September 2012 visit to north-central Russia, where the Flight of Hope research expedition aims to rebuild the population of the rare birds in their native habitat. In his desire to rebuild and showcase Russia as a global power, Putin often discusses national pride and the glorious periods in Russian history. (Photo: Russian Presidential Press Service)

The leading Bolshevik historian Mikhail Pokrovsky famously defined history as “politics projected into the past.” Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, is taking that concept, and running with it. 
 
The importance of history to the Kremlin was on full display at Putin’s recent meeting with young scholars and teachers of history at Moscow’s Museum of Contemporary History of Russia. Putin made it clear that he believes control of Russia’s past will enable him to command the future. Referring to Russia’s culture wars being fought against both external and internal foes, Putin stated; “We see attempts being made … to recode our society,” adding that these malicious actions aimed at change “always go hand-in-hand with attempts to rewrite history and shape it to particular geopolitical interests.”
 
In earlier meetings with Russian academics, Putin has advanced a two-pronged message on the significance of shaping and controlling historical narratives: “Past events should be portrayed in a way that fuels national pride” and “We cannot allow anyone to impose a sense of guilt on us.”
 

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Igor Torbakov is Senior Fellow at Uppsala University and at Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden.

Russia: Looking at History as a Continuation of Politics

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