In other words, to consciously take the side of Darkness, proceeding from the idea that “their Darkness is our Light.” The “bad guys” are picked as a role model based on the principle of “the worse, the better;” the orcs in the Lord of the Ring
trilogy – extremely evil and aggressive creatures – fit the role perfectly. They have the most capable army, as well as a simple and understandable worldview: there are “us” and there are “them,” while all the ideas about their innate cruelty are nothing more than elvish propaganda.Pretending that the empire is alive
The desire to replay not the fictional wars of Middle-earth, but actual Russian history has given rise to hundreds of books constructing unrealized alternatives – from the fantasy stories of Holm van Zaichik [a pseudonym], popular in the 1990s, about the country of Ordus to countless novels about popadantsy
(time travelers). The recurring setting of the most notable alternative-history novels – for example, Pavel Krusanov’s The Bite of an Angel
(1999) – is a Russian Empire that successfully survived to our day: there was no revolution in 1917, St Petersburg remains the capital, the country happily avoided the wars of the 20th century, its borders (according to Krusanov) extend to the Black Sea straits, with Constantinople, of course, ours.
In the alternative-history utopia of the previous generation, The Island of Crimea
(1979) by Vasily Aksenov, the Whites manage to gain a foothold on the Black Sea peninsula and build a liberal-democratic Russia there; in the new versions of alternative history created in the post-Soviet era, it is the Reds who go into exile. In Vyacheslav Rybakov’s 1993 novel Gravilet Tsesarevich
, Communism becomes one of the confessions of the empire (their sixth patriarch is called Mikhail Sergeevich).
In the novel Griffins Guard the Lyre
(2020) by philologist Alexander Sobolev, the Bolsheviks manage to build their own “workers’ and peasants’ state” on the territory of modern Latvia, fenced off from Russia (ruled by an heir-tsarevich) by an iron curtain, though communist ideas are popular among the opposition intelligentsia.
In Aksenov, the separation of the two Russias was viewed as a tragedy, while the desire to overcome it – the “idea of a common fate” – led the strong and cruel Soviet part to devour the impotent, liberal part. There is nothing tragic in the new versions: “the empire that must not die” is a stable, prosperous state, whose prosperity is ensured by a whole arsenal of means, including nationally oriented intelligence services and timely intervention by magical powers. In this paradigm, the greatest geopolitical catastrophe was not the collapse of the Soviet Union, but that of the former, pre-Soviet empire: the reversal of history at that point would bring back the “Russia that we lost” and put world history on a peaceful, conflict-free track. The new ideal of restoration is not even a return to the immediate Soviet past, but a jump into the lost imperial day before that.
Although in the endless archipelago of popadantsy
literature – a truly folk genre, with thousands and thousands of books about our contemporaries traveling into the past to alter the course of history – the range of possible historical turning points is much wider, they can be reduced to some prevailing plots. The economist Nikolai Kulbaka (see Kulbaka’s article
republished in RP) looked at where popadantsy
authors most often send their characters, with the Great Patriotic War out in front by a wide margin, followed by the Russo-Japanese War and World War I. “The authors hardly touched peaceful periods,” Kulbaka says. “Practically no one wants to correct economic reforms, found some big business. Such works exist, but they are rare. Meanwhile, victory in war, according to the authors, instantly makes the country great and prosperous.” All these divergent fantasies – aside from reflecting an unwillingness to live in modernity, which is viewed as obviously corrupted and in need of rectification – converge on a single, common point: