Evidence drawn from the intersection of historical memory and politics in Russia underline not only on-going framing battles over the Soviet past. The evidence suggests that the Kremlin is unwilling to develop and impose on society historical narratives which promote chauvinism, hypernationalism, and re-Stalinization. Although such an agenda has some support among incumbent elites and in society, it remains subordinate in terms of political influence as of early 2016. Instead, the regime is now extending support to groups in society and the political establishment which favor a critical assessment of the Soviet era, including Stalinism. This emerging criticism of the Soviet past serves a number of important goals of the leadership, including re-engagement with the West.
To this end, the Kremlin recently approved new history textbooks critical of the Soviet past as well as a significant program that memorializes the victims of Soviet repressions. Yet the regime is unlikely to usher in thorough de-Stalinization which would threaten its power. Instead, the Kremlin is attempting to assemble a grand narrative that approves, as well as criticizes – in different measures – each of the regimes that existed in the 20th century (tsarist, communist, and post-communist). This incipient narrative constitutes a form of bricolage, which involves the retrieval and reassembly of diverse, often conflicting, elements to solve a problem. Here the problem is the long-standing, divisive issue of how to evaluate the history of 20th century Russia and its different regimes. The Kremlin now seeks to knit together the diverse identities of these regimes through the unifying historical thread of the Russian state. This act of bricolage also seeks to reconcile the contradictions within each regime: elements of the new narrative can be expected to condemn the inhumanity of Stalin and Stalinism while other facets will extol industrialization and the Great Patriotic War as the achievements of Russian-led Soviet society. From this perspective, neither re-Stalinization nor de-Stalinization is likely to occur in Putin’s Russia. Nevertheless, if recent initiatives remain in place, critical assessments of Soviet foreign and domestic policies will become increasingly commonplace.