The Long Hangover | Shaun Walker

Summary of: The Long Hangover: Putin’s New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past
By: Shaun Walker

Introduction

Dive into the captivating narrative of ‘The Long Hangover: Putin’s New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past’ by Shaun Walker, which unravels the intricate web of Russia’s past, present, and Vladimir Putin’s role in shaping its identity. This summary delves into the chaos following the USSR collapse, the Russian longing for stability, the impact of nostalgia on nation-building, and the power of historical narratives. By looking into the country’s transformation, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of Putin’s actions and the psychosocial factors driving Russia’s development.

The Aftermath of USSR’s Collapse

The collapse of the USSR in 1991 had severe consequences for the Russian population. Criminals rose to power, goods became scarce, and poverty, prostitution, pirating, and substance abuse became rampant. The collapse also had a severe psychological impact, leaving many Russians feeling a loss of identity and national pride. Men and those in their forties were the most affected. As a result, many longed for the stability and strength of pre-collapse years, even if it meant sacrificing their freedom.

Putin’s Vision for Russia

Vladimir Putin became Russia’s president at a time when the country was in a state of political and economic turmoil. His primary objective was to strengthen the state and restore the people’s sense of national pride. He revitalized the Orthodox Church to provide moral grounding and emphasized Russia’s role in World War II to foster a sense of unity. Through propaganda and a focus on history, Putin built a new sense of nationhood and national identity in Russia during his second term.

Russia’s Nostalgia for the Soviet Era

Russians look back to the Soviet era as a time of relative equality and opportunity compared to the present, leading to a sense of frustration with Russia’s current state of affairs. Though other post-Soviet nations have abandoned their communist past, Russia’s devotion to the Soviet era remains visible in their preservation of heroic Soviet-era buildings and monuments. The Kremlin has exploited this sense of nostalgia in order to build support for the present-day government. By promoting a narrative that external forces brought down a once-powerful state, Putin has successfully evaded the need for historical self-reflection regarding Russia’s past. This narrative also fosters a sense of victimhood and allows for support of the government’s policies, including Russian rule over former Soviet states. Despite Putin’s adulation of Russia’s past, many Russians recognize their Soviet-era nostalgia is not rooted in ideology, but rather a longing for the past and a shared experience of suffering and glory.

Putin’s Narrative of National Unity

This book explores how Putin harnessed the Soviet victory in WWII, referred to as the “Great Patriotic War,” to create a powerful narrative of national pride and unity. It analyzes the Kremlin’s use of a national founding myth from the Soviet era as a means of emphasizing the heroic past of the nation when economic struggles led to a decline in confidence in the future. The book argues that Putin’s framing of the war as the existential threat to the Russian state and equating fascism with being anti-Soviet led to the war victory being embraced by citizens as a reason for pride and good feelings about being Russian. Although Putin did not force the cult of war on the people, he carefully constructed a story that the populace has come to identify with and are now proud to be a part of.

Russia’s Forgotten War Crimes

During World War II, the Soviet Union committed heinous crimes such as deporting entire populations to Siberia, massacres, and purges, among others. However, the Kremlin’s whitewashing of Stalin’s era and glorification of their war victory made these critical views of the war unpatriotic and unacceptable. As a result, many Russians have forgotten this part of their history, and millions of war-era documents have remained classified. The state enforces forgetting, and even museums fail to mention these deportations, making these lies and propaganda self-fulfilling prophecies. Shame and guilt prevented many Russians from speaking of their war-era experiences, and even surviving deportees spoke little of their experiences.

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