The Cable

Russians Remembering 1917 By Bringing Past to Present Online

Remembering the lives they lived IRL through a URL.


2017 is the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, and the Kremlin is grappling with just how to mark the occasion.

On the one hand, Putin’s regime bills itself as the successor to the Soviet Union — and also, somewhat paradoxically, to tsarist Russia — but, on the other, the Kremlin is not in a celebrate-the-violent-overthrow-of-the-authoritarian-regime sort of mood right now.  But away from Red Square, some citizens are trying to creatively bring their country’s past into its present — not to spout a particular party line, but to remember real lives as they were lived.

First, there is “1917. Free history,” created by Mikhail Zygar, journalist and author of All the Kremlin’s Men, a recently published book on how Putin’s Russia operates. Originally in Russian but now available in English, 1917 “is a serial, but in the form of a social network.”

Every day, it’s updated with texts taken exclusively from primary sources — on Thursday, for example, readers are treated to a “post” by Sofia Tolstoy, captioned, “Workers strike at a rifle factory in Tula. To buy anything they must queue in long lines, yet they are fined when late for work. Where is the justice?” and an excerpt from Vladimir Lenin’s article, “Proposed Amendments to the Resolution on the War Issue,” published exactly 100 years earlier in a Zurich newspaper. Russian Revolution fans should tune in for beginning of the February Revolution (because of the difference of the Julian and Gregorian calendar, it actually falls on March 8) and the Bolshevik October Revolution (actually in early November).

The goal of the site, its mission statement reads, “is to make history popular – to bring a multitude of voices from a diverse array of historically significant figures to as wide an audience as possible.”

The Russian version of 1917 has a “Tinder 1917” component. Users can say whether they are looking for men or women, and then match with historical figures (including the poet and noted heartthrob Vladimir Mayakovsky).

Readers looking for a different approach might have turned to “Children of 1917.” Journalist Paul Richardson and photographer Mikhail Mordasov were aiming to interview over two dozen Russians born in 1917 to make a book and documentary of their stories.

Whether Children of 1917 will be made, though, is still to be seen: its Kickstarter project expired on Thursday.

Photo credit: DENIS SINYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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