In This Review

Mythmaking in the New Russia: Politics and Memory During the Yeltsin Era
Mythmaking in the New Russia: Politics and Memory During the Yeltsin Era
By Kathleen E. Smith
Cornell University Press, 2002, 223 pp

Collective memory can be the stuff of politics. In the battle to shape it, Smith argues, Russia's liberals have been dilatory and ineffective. The conservative opposition did a better job of memorializing Boris Yeltsin's assault on the parliament in fall 1993 than he and his allies did when trying to inscribe in the public imagination the heroism of summer 1991. Choosing June 12, the forgotten day in 1990 when Soviet Russia voted itself sovereign, as Russia's "Independence Day" has left the people either indifferent or puzzled. Running a contest to define the "Russia idea" failed predictably. Still, Smith's message in this interesting cut at the quest of Russian elites to find and exploit national identity does not suggest that the conservatives have gotten their way. Communist symbols and manufactured history no longer serve to bind a people together. The contest continues, and debunking the rallying points of others prevails over finding something positive to fill the void.