Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Alternative History Helping Russians to Cope with Soviet Union’s Collapse and to Talk about Russia’s Future, Abramov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 20 – Alternative histories contained in novels, stories and films are often dismissed by scholars, but they form one of the most popular segments of the book market in Russia and in recent years have been helping people there to cope with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the past and to talk about what kind of a Russia they want in the future, Roman Abramov says.

            Because that is the case, the HSE scholar says, they are properly a subject for sociological research, proving insights that are not available from any other source. (See his article, “Russia Fantasies in the Genre of Alternative History as a Reflection of Mass Consciousness” (in Russian; Sotsiologicheskiye issledovaniya, 4 (2023): 106-116; full text at; discussed at

            According to Abramov, alternative history arises from resentment about events in the past and uncertainty about how to discuss the future except in terms of a past that for one reason or another has been lost – and that past in most cases is not so much individual as the collective past of the entire nation or country.

            Not surprisingly, such history often is constructed around conspiracy theories in which groups hidden from others are held to be responsible for what happened, something that allows those who read these novels to avoid taking responsibility for what has happened but rather encourages them to engage in witch hunts, first in fiction and then in real life.

            According to Abramov, “the task of sociologists today is to find additional sources for understanding what has been occurring with Russian society and to understand the ideological, mythological, and value roots of what mass culture behind the superficial level.” Making use of alternative history novels is an especially valuable way to go.

            Abramov does not address the likelihood that those who are attracted to alternative histories may be more open to accepting the rewriting of history by the Kremlin, but that is certainly a possibility – and one that Vladimir Putin and his team have certainly exploited in recent years.

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