The great philosopher and war strategist Sun Tzu once told, that “every battle is won before it is ever fought”. This ancient phrase is the heart of every war, however, in the 21st century many of politicians, militants, and war strategists have forgotten it, or understood it very narrowly. There are heads of state that try or improve armament only but do not prepare citizens for psychological or more precisely – propaganda war. By defining the term of propaganda war I mean not only cyber warfare, but also politics of memory which is very important and this factor might be crucial these days.
Still, at least there is one example, who prepares for wars all the time – the president of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin has not forgotten it at all, and he might be a good example of politician who prepared his society for wars both physically and, I would like to emphasize – mentally. Putin understood it after the first day as the President and has been using it for almost 14 years. This card has been used not only in Russia but in the post-soviet countries: Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Armenia. Recently Putin started to use it in the Baltic States.
Historical Narratives in the 21st century Russia
After Putin was elected president of Russia in March 2000 he faced with various problems which Boris Yeltsin, the former president of Russia, and his predecessor had left for him. During that time Russia was in the deep economic crises, the Russian society was divided, and worldwide community had not accepted the country as a great world power anymore, and last but not least, people were not proud of being Russians’.
From the beginning Putin added to his agenda a fundamental aim: the recovery of political, economic, and geopolitical assets which was lost by the USSR in 1991. Newly elected president understood that distinction in the society regarding soviet past might complicate Russia’s domestic and foreign politics.
Putin understood that country’s recovery should start from its own people. He had to find out what will affect people to be proud of their country. And soon his “spin doctors” had found a solution: to reanimate people’s pride in their country’s past and more specifically in Stalinist period. Moreover, it was very important for his comrades who came to politics from military or various secret services (siloviki) because they wanted to uplift historical narrative which will help to vindicate and legitimate authoritarian regime which will arise after few years. Even so Putin and his comrades understood that their attempt to celebrate Stalin’s era openly might open wounds in the society. Since the beginning of Putin’s presidency his government did not obviously glorify Stalin as a man who modernized the USSR and won the Great Patriotic War over Nazi Germany. Instead of it, Putin and his associates tried to avoid Stalin’s issues especially regarding the period of Great Terror, mass killings during WWII, and the post-war exiles. They rarely mentioned him and if so they did, these kinds of mentions were more negative rather than positive.
Knowledge is power
The first significant step was when Putin and siloviki tried to rehabilitate Stalin’s period was in 2002. Putin’s spin doctors understood that education and politics of memory is the core of process which might shape people’s attitudes toward future authoritarian regime and citizens’ mobilization which might help him to fight against countries from neat abroad. The Russian government raised the debates over new officially sanctioned history textbook within approval of Stalin’s policy related to massive exiles. Politicians made a online casino statement that people of Russia needs to fight against “the distortions of history” in teaching the next generation. It was not the last attempt to publish books which had to help to rehabilitate Stalin and his ruling period.
In October 2007, Putin visited Butovo firing range where more than 20000 people were killed. At that place he made a statement regarding this massacre and told “that this sacrifice should not be forgotten”. However, during the speech, Putin did not mention the fact that Stalin gave the order to shoot people. After the visit and speech worldwide community thought that it is the turning point and the Kremlin will openly talk about the crimes committed during the Soviet era. Despite his speech in Butovo, Putin celebrated the anniversary of FSB, the successor to Soviet KGB and NKVD. Those secret service agencies perpetrated mass killings, including Butuvo and Katyn massacres. Putin did not mention what he had called “tragedy” that should not be forgotten as well as he did not reference the later decades when KGB persecuted dissidents and locked them up in labour camps and psychiatric asylums. He only said that our goal today is to remember the heroic pages in the history of our special services”
The Kremlin in 2007 promoted new history books for teachers and students. The primary authors of the new history textbooks were Alexander Fillipov and Alexander Danilov whom were related close ties to the Kremlin. One of the purposes of this book is rehabilitated Stalinist period reminding about the war against Nazi Germany. The books avoid any moral assessment of Stalinism, strongly suggesting that the end – preparing for the war with Nazi Germany – justified the use of mass coercion against soviet elites and society. Secondly, authors compare Stalin to Otto von Bismarck, observing that just as German leader forged a unitary state with “blood and iron” in the 19th century, “so the same did and Stalin”. This kind of argument justifies the institutionalized violence of the Stalin regime. Third purpose of the book is to diminish and to distrust West and particularly the USA. Authors these books portrayed Western promotion of democracy as a cynical cover of expansionism; the West attack on Yugoslavia in 1999 in defense of Kosovo “human rights” is described as a “rehearsal for future NATO actions against Russia or its allies…”. Writers try to justify Russia’s economic crises and the loose of its power as it was a big betrayal of the West, and it strengthen the perspective of Putin’s foreign and domestic policy: Russia faces a hostile international environment which requires the concentration of political and economic power in Russia.
Instead of conclusion
The recent history tells us, that investment to the politics of memory works mobilizing own citizens and shape their attitudes towards “near abroad countries”, and we are witnesses of this process – Russian’s have become nationalists, proud citizens of their country, and it helps Putin to reestablish lite version of the USSR. Kremlin used this card in near abroad countries. Kremlin used the card of Kosovo independence when invaded Georgia in 2008. Pro-Russian people in South Ossetia and Abkhazia had already positive approach to Putin’s and Russia’s policy. It was much easy for Russia’s military forces and politicians to establish new unrecognized countries where to new ‘frozen’ conflicts in South Caucasus and it might be appeared in a result new one in Ukraine.