A Trial in Absentia: Purifying National Historical Narratives in Russia

Olga Bertelsen


This study explores contemporary Russian memory politics, and analyzes the ideological underpinnings of the 2011 Moscow court verdict that criminalized a Ukrainian scholarly publication, accusing it of inciting ethnic, racial, national, social, and religious hatred. This accusation is examined in the context of Russia’s attempts to control the official historical narrative. Special attention is paid to the role of Russian cultural and democratic civic institutions, such as the Moscow library of Ukrainian literature and Memorial, in the micro-history of this publication. Deconstructing the judicial reaction of Russian lawmakers toward the Ukrainian publication, the study analyzes the Russian political elite’s attitudes toward the “Ukrainian” historical interpretations of Stalin’s terror and other aspects of common Soviet history, and demonstrates the interconnectedness of the preceding Soviet and modern Russian methods of control over education, history, and culture. Language and legislation play an important role in Russian memory politics that shape the popular historical imagination and camouflage the authoritarian methods of governing in Russia. The case of the Ukrainian publication is contextualized by examining the cult of chekism and the discursive significance of anti-Ukrainianism, salient elements in Russian memory politics that have transcended national borders.


Russia; Ukraine; memory politics; extremism; ckekists; ideological subversion

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18523/kmhj73942.2016-3.57-87


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