Regime legitimation, not nation-building: Media commemoration of the 1917 revolutions in Russia’s neo-authoritarian state

Chatterje-Doody, Precious N. and Tolz, Vera (2019). Regime legitimation, not nation-building: Media commemoration of the 1917 revolutions in Russia’s neo-authoritarian state. European Journal of Cultural Studies (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1367549419871346

Abstract

Scholars predicted that official Russian commemorations of the centenary of the 1917 revolutions would prioritise ‘reconciliation and accord’ between pro- and anti-communists. Such a frame might help construct a new post-Soviet Russian identity. Yet, in 2017, state-affiliated political and media actors gave accounts that contrasted with their previous narratives and with each other. Domestic state-aligned media were unprecedentedly negative about the revolutions’ events and enduring legacies, while Russia’s international broadcaster, Russia Today, emphasised the revolutions’ positive international legacies. We explain this paradox by arguing that regimes of commemoration are directly related to political systems: in neo-authoritarian regimes such as contemporary Russia, history is not used primarily for nation-building, but to build legitimacy for the ruling regime. Referencing similar practices in other neo-authoritarian regimes, we show how state-affiliated actors selectively co-opt interpretations of historical events that circulate in the global media ecology, to ‘arrest’ the ‘memory of the multitude’. Simultaneously, they reinforce core messages that legitimise the existing government.

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