Historical events and social processes comprehended in terms of these myths could be directly confronted or transformed dialectically. An example of the former practice is the discrediting of the protest movement of 2011-12 as a revolutionary threat to statehood, which was supposedly overcome thanks to the patriotic unity of the people, verbalized through references to the memory of the patriotic wars of the last two centuries. An example of the latter is the description of Ukraine’s Maidan as a coup d’etat that brought “Nazis” to power, with whom Russia now must wage a people’s war for the liberation of Ukraine.
The potential from combining these mythological constructions seemed inexhaustible and made it possible to justify, confirm, neutralize and deny anything. They worked both diachronically and synchronically, giving meaning to the historical past and the political present. They could be used for both foreign and cultural policy. They were suitable for the analysis of international relations and for attempts to artificially synthesize the unity of the post-Soviet space under the patronage of Russia. They described the vices of the Western world and the virtues of the Russian world.
Referring to this or that myth or to a tactical constellation assembled from the individual elements of each of them, it was possible to explain: the cancelation of governor elections and the voter turnout threshold; interference in the internal affairs of neighboring states and the growing confrontation with the West; the annexation of Crimea and support for Belarus’s dictator Lukashenka; the liquidation of internal opposition and the expulsion of international NGOs; gas wars and memory wars; the adoption of laws against “insulting the religious feelings of believers” and on “prohibiting LGBT propaganda;” the revision of school curriculum and the rewriting of the constitution.
Russia is great, but there is nothing to remember
In the justifications offered by the authorities for the elimination of civil rights and freedoms in Russia, as well as for the ratcheting up of their aggressive foreign policy, there is hardly anything that could not be directly or indirectly (after one or two logical steps) reduced to these two myths – that about a victorious people’s war and that about a revolution that destroys the very idea of Russian statehood. Their dazzling synthesis, capable of contending with Hegel’s Absolute Idealism, was the mantra: “There is Putin – there is Russia; there is no Putin – there is no Russia.”
The limit to the explanatory capabilities of the war myth was revealed in the most unexpected place.