20 years under Putin: a timeline

The return of neo-Stalinism and the conservative, Soviet philosophy of history, which (according to public opinion polls and blogs) can be observed in education and among many Russians, challenges a number of important changes that took place in the Russian mentality during the 1990s. Subverting the dominant paradigm of Russian history proved to be incredibly difficult: this powerful ideological machine and the worldview that comes with it were formed over the course of 150 years—from the writings of Nikolay Karamzin through government schools; from the ‘vaccination’ of Stalinist Marxism to late-Soviet Russocentrism and the perceived necessity of a sovereign ruler.



However, subverting this paradigm is necessary. The New Imperial History, an innovative project from leading Russian historians Aleksander Semyonov, Ilya Gerasimov, Marina Mogilner, and Sergey Glebov, challenges the prevailing approach to Russian history. The Institute of Modern Russia supports and sponsors this project.

The work of these historians is crucial today because the public perception of the past forms the foundation for the belief in the myth of nationalism. This is reflected in the policy of so-called “official nationalism,” which has gained force in Russia since 2000, when Vladimir Putin came into power. The formerly opposed statist and nationalist historical narratives have combined into a single, powerful ideological mechanism that seizes upon perspectives for the future and robs history of its critical potential. The New Imperial History also works in opposition to this dangerous phenomenon.


Left to right: prominent Russian historians Aleksander Semyonov, Marina Mogilner, Sergey Glebov and Ilya Gerasimov


It is easy to think that history separates people into nations. Political elites use this fallacy to rally people around a national or ideologically-oriented state. The approach of the aforementioned Russian historians takes Russian history as the foundation for critical dialogue on complex situations, alternative historical developments, and the factors that contributed to various political, economic, and cultural consequences.

In its final form, the collective project will be a book by Aleksander Semyonov, Ilya Gerasimov, Marina Mogilner, and Sergey Glebov. The book will feature contemporary historical essays and discussions on the post-Soviet space that present historical perspectives that don’t conform to linear, politically-manipulated narratives.

“History isn’t supposed to instruct, nor should be used to predict the future. History is supposed to create public opinion.” write the authors of The New Imperial History. “The point of teaching it shouldn’t be to present facts or convince students of an ideology—it should be creating a fertile field for historical imagination.”

IMR's Caterina Innocente spoke to Aleksander Semyonov and Ilya Gerasimov on what is “historical imagination,” why there can’t be tolerance without understanding that all people used to be “different,” and several lessons from history that could help the members of the opposition movement and all those dissatisfied with the status quo in Russia.