Cover for Nikolai Starikov’s book: February 1917: Revolution or Special Operation?
By Ali Forster
This year marks the centennial of the Russian revolution. To commemorate 1917, the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies has hosted a number of colloquia lectures with impressive outside speakers. Last Tuesday, Ilya Yablokov, Teaching Fellow at the University of Leeds (UK), came to Miami’s campus as part of this series to discus his latest research on conspiracy theories and revolution in post-soviet Russia.
Yablokov began his presentation with theories dating back to the crumble of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, when Boris Yeltsin served as Russia’s first president. To ease the masses into the transition from a socialist republic to a Russian federation, efforts were made to convince the people that life wasn’t really that good under the U.S.S.R. Yablokov then moved into the proliferation of anti-western conspiracy theories that resulted and that proliferated in the early 2000s. He spoke at length on the impact of various conspiracy authors and their influence on ordinary Russians. He mentioned authors such as Andrei Fursov and the conspiracies he has claimed happened during World War I, but mostly highlighted more popular contemporary authors such as Nikolai Starikov and Natalia Narochnitskaia. Yablokov believes Starikov is exceptionally dangerous because he can convince real, educated, reasonable people that these conspiracies are true, even if there is little or no basis in fact to them. Starikov and Narochnitskaia both perpetuate the idea that the west is always to blame for all of Russia’s ills. They preach that Mikhail Gorbachev was as an agent of the west, that Yeltsin saved Russia from the west, and that Putin is protecting Russia from revolution and consequently making Russia strong again.
Yablokov argued that political elites in Russia today use conspiracy theories to further their own agendas. He believes these theories help the Kremlin justify the introduction of restrictive laws into Russian society while producing no practical action in nation building. Yablokov ended his presentation by answering audience questions. He captivated the audience with his sharp wit and entertaining presentation, and only further bolstered the Havighurst Center’s reputation for bringing in scintillating guest speakers.