Middle Ages in recent Russian historical policy
In Russian history, the period of the Middle Ages is the time from the 9th century to the end of the 17th century, that is, from Rurik and the origins of the state of Eastern Slavs (named for its capital “Kievan Rus” in the 19th century) – to the reforms of Peter the Great. Despite the fact that in contemporary Russia unconditional priority belongs to discussions on the history of the 20th century, after the collapse of the USSR, during several decades, we witness unprecedented public and scholarly interest in the history of the Middle Ages (including subjects like founders and first saints of Old Russia, interpretations of Norman theory, personality and deeds of Ivan the Terrible, ets.) Of particular interest to the history of the Middle Ages is characteristic not only for Russia, but also for the “new” post-Soviet states. They are busy justifying national identities, which implies constructing national histories in accordance with state historical policy. In the case of Russia, the situation with Medievalism looks even more complicated due to several reasons.
The first can be called “internal.” In modern Russia, there is a real renaissance of regional and national histories. Local authorities are actively using real and legendary anniversaries and memorable historical dates associated with the region in order to loudly declare themselves and receive additional funding from Moscow (in the case of celebration on the state level). Just like the Tatars and Bashkirs, who have already published fundamental multi-volume research on the history of their peoples, other nations of the Volga region, the Far North, the North Caucasus, etc. are actively engaged in the study of their historical and cultural roots. Middle Ages is understandably the beginning of their histories as it is the first period provided with written sources.
These local history and national history studies led to serious adjustments or even to a revision of interpretations on the history of Russia (including in the Middle Ages), which traditionally – both in Tsarist and Soviet times – was predominantly “Russian-centric”. Now we better understand the complexity and inconsistency of the genesis of Russian statehood, and also re-evaluate the contribution to the history of Russia of the Finno-Ugric, Turkic, Mongolian and other non-Slavic peoples, as well as input of Ukrainians and Belorussians. A good example is the revision of a one-sidedly negative attitude towards the Horde, and the rejection of the use of the term “Tatar-Mongolian yoke” in Russian textbooks.Under the conditions of the state historical policy being actively formed recently in Russia, one of the important, but difficult to solve tasks is the writing a all-Russian version of history, including its medieval period.
The second factor can be called an “external challenge”, it is connected with assignment of the past by the former Soviet republics, and political “mobilization of middle ages” (A. Filyushkin) in search for national identity and justification of the state sovereignty. The question is whether recent Russia (the state, the scholarly community) should, and if so, how, respond to official versions of history written in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics. These versions are due to modern political events, they are often characterized by denial or artificial segmentation of the common past with Russia. Particularly heated debates revolved around the historical and cultural heritage of Ancient Rus’ and its heroes, as well as the genesis of Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian nations during the Middle Ages in the Moscow Kingdom, Golden Horde, Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
It is not a secret that Russian historians to some extent involved in the formation of state historical policy, being at the same time both an object and a subject of state policy. My presentation will be build on recent works of Russian historians on Medievalism in historical policy (A.Filyushkin, A.Selin, E. Rostovtsev, D.Sosnitsky, and others). I will also tell about my personal experience within last 10 years as an expert of jubilee and memorial dates, and as a participant of educational, scientific and museum exhibition projects on the history of Russia.