Departures Podcast featuring Jade McGlynn, author of ‘Memory Makers’

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As Russia’s catastrophic war in Ukraine lurches its way toward another winter, an interesting debate is emerging regarding some of the fundamental ideas of Russian nationalism which has underpinned Vladimir Putin’s casus belli, often including specifically misleading characterizations of history being used as a mobilizing force.

In considering the relative complacency if not broad support for the war among the general public in Russia, there has been a consistent narrative spun out by the state – one of Western conspiracies, distrust, and patriotic duty.

This week on the podcast we welcome Dr. Jade McGlynn, the author of the excellent new book, “Memory Makers: The Politics of the Past in Putin’s Russia,” who has accomplished a seminal work of research on the subject.

In her conversation with host Robert Amsterdam, Dr. McGlynn argues that peope’s understanding of the past is becoming a core part of their identity, and this in turn becomes a security issue. “A historical disagreement is not just a historical disagreement, but instead is seen as almost an existential attack,” Dr. McGlynn says, and this is a type of mobilization that can be observed in many countries outside of Russia as well.

“Most people want to belong to a community, they want to feel like they have somewhere they belong that can trace its heritage into the past, and feel good about that belonging,” McGlynn argues. Unfortunately, many of the more traditional political figures appear to have lost touch with the importance of belonging, she argues, and left this space open for manipulation by demogogues and other extreme forces.