Review: The Invention of Russia

Posted 16 January, 2017 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

The Invention of Russia: The Journey from Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War
By: Arkady Ostrovsky
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

By tracing the history of modern Russia from Mikhail Gorbachev to the rise of ex KGB agent Vladimir Putin, Arkady Ostrovsky reveals how the Soviet Union came to its end and how Russia has since reinvented itself.

Russia today bears little resemblance to the country that embraced freedom in the late eighties and gave freedom to others. But how did a country that had liberated itself from seventy years of Communism end up, just twenty years later, as one of the biggest threats to the West and above all to its own people?

The Invention of Russia tells the story of this tumultuous period, including the important role played by the media, and shows how Russia turned its back on the West and found itself embracing a new era of Soviet-style rule.

Having studied the history of the country from its earliest times up to around events of 2008/2009, this book naturally piqued my interest the minute I saw it shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for books 2016 (and later won).

I think this book would go very well hand-in-hand with Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia (review) because both provide quite a clear picture of present-day Russia and how the country ended up where it is now. This book deals more with the political end of the spectrum and how the politics and public sphere steered down the path it did from Gorbachev’s reforms and to where it is today (whereas Pomerantsev’s book looks at everyday lives from a variety of different social backgrounds and statuses).

What especially interested me the most about this book and lies as the key to the author’s argument is the use of the media and information to present reality or a particular message to its people, to determine the ideology (or lack thereof). National identity, ideology, and values are some elements that have made radical U-turns over the course of almost 30 years since the Soviet Union collapsed, and Ostrovsky does a remarkable job in presenting a timeline and laying out how these sudden changes gave way to present-day Russia and the return of elements of the Soviet Union that the 1990s had hoped to wipe clean of. The reader gains a sense of the chaos that followed the collapse, the lack of structures in place to organically grow the democratic and Western elements that Yeltsin hoped to espouse in the country, and how the return of Soviet elements provided some sense of direction and comfort as a backlash to the lack of resolve of the 1990s. It’s fascinating and dire in turn, but hindsight has provided a clearer sense of how things ended up the way they did. I learned a lot about the situation of the journalists and the evolution of the television stations in Russia over the course of these three decades, and again their importance in disseminating information and their relationship with the state. There are also a lot of personalities that appear throughout the book that add to the drama of Russia’s tumultuous shifts in this post-Soviet period.

I don’t know what else to say about this book; I found myself nodding a lot as I was reading, thinking about Russia’s Soviet past and lining up events during the period covered in this book with what we see developing in Russia right now. I highly recommend checking out this book if you’re interested in Soviet Russian history or Russian current events (or current events in general).

Rating: ★★★★★

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