Research Projects


Constructing Russian Identity in the Media:
Between the History of WW II and the Future of Europeanness

This research is a part of the international project Memory at War led by the University of Cambridge, which will be conducted by five universities* in the period 2010-2012. The project investigates the debates over interpretations of history that have become visibly apparent in Russia, Poland, Ukraine, as well as in Estonia during recent years. The principal research interest in these history debates focuses on the interpretations of World War Two and its consequences. In addition, the project is particularly focused on how these contesting interpretations are related to the formulation of national and transnational identities.

The prominent role of the history debates within their political consequences has shown – an illuminative example, for instance, was the so called 'The Bronze Soldier' episode between Estonia and Russia in 2007 – that these 'history wars' are essentially cases of the political use of history. The political use of history is essentially interlinked to the political culture of the society and identity building of the nation. Such 'history wars' make it apparent how the societies under the investigation aim to define their roles as cultural and state level actors, and how they try influence and adopt that role in relation to the larger European framework, that is, a supposedly commonly-shared 'Europeanness'.

The most important and largest forum of various history debates is the media. The Finnish section of the project investigates how the Russian media – traditional print as well as the new media – function and construct national identity within the particular history cultural limits defined by the tradition of ' The Great Patriotic War'. Furthermore, the history debates represented in the media link Russia to a larger European discussion on the European future, and the past constructing that future, as well as to the discussion of the Cold War era within its own consequences.

In order to analyze freedom of expression in Russia, its limits, as well as those broader cultural codes that define and limit that freedom, it is especially important to analyze the internal and national aspects of Russian culture. This culture is manifested by particular 'sacred icons’, such as the representations of 'The Great Patriotic War'. However, the forum where these representations take place, the media, is today inevitably transnational; we need only mention the internet, international news agencies, or various global media models. It follows that more and more globalised media practices and cultures are inevitably linked to the construction of a 'local' Russian national identity and political culture.

In Russia, a tangible tension between national and transnational processes has been caused by problems and discussions on freedom of expression, as well as problems and discussions concerning Russian media culture generally.

From the European, and most especially Finnish viewpoint, Russia plays probably the most crucial role in these history wars in the media. In May 2009 the president of Russia Dmitry Medvedev established the special 'history commission' which seeks to create 'official history' and counter 'anti-Russian falsification of history', especially in the case of World War Two. Such reactions partially illustrate the needs of the former superpower – experiencing tremendous ideological and geopolitical loss – to define its own role as a part of the larger European and global present. Russia’s need to contribute to discussions of European history politics or memory wars is also explained by Russia’s cultural history, which is strongly influenced by various European ideas: by its own interpretations of history, Russia is not only defining itself as a sovereign state, but as a country that also contributes to the European culture and politics as an European actor.

Our main research question is constructed via two intertwined questions:

How the cornerstone of the Russian national identity, The Second World War – or, 'The Great Patriotic War' in Russian patriotic terms – formed during the Soviet era, and since  strongly strengthened during the Putin’s reign, is maintained by the Russian media. This leads to the second and related question, which asks to what extent the larger Russian history culture, produced by media images of this war, defines limits for freedom of expression, and more broadly, limits of media practices linked with these images. In other terms, what are the limits, and how do they appear in various representations of the war, as well as in related topics? A recent example of this is the discussion of Molotov-Ribbentrop-pact in the Russian media in August 2009 when the 70th anniversary of the pact took place.

Through these questions it is also possible to analyze Russian national identity and its relation to international processes, more specifically, the transnational process of Europeanness supported by the EU.

*King’s College of the University of Cambridge, University of Bergen, University of Groningen, University of Tartu, and Aleksanteri Institute of the University of Helsinki.


Markku Kangaspuro (Project leader, PhD, Director of Research) Aleksanteri Institute, Finnish Centre for Russian and Eastern European Studies, University of Helsinki

E-mail: markku.kangaspuro [at]


Jussi Lassila (PhD, researcher)
Aleksanteri Institute, Finnish Centre for Russian and Eastern European Studies,  University of Helsinki

E-mail: jussi.lassila [at]

Tatiana Zhurzhenko (PhD, researcher)
Aleksanteri Institute, Finnish Centre for Russian and Eastern European Studies, University of Helsinki

E-mail: tetyana.zhurzhenko [at], zhurzhenko [at]

Matti Jutila (PhD, Project associate since September 2012-)
Visiting Professor of Finnish Studies, Department of Political Science & Global Studies Institute, University of Minnesota

E-mail: matti.jutila [at]

Research assistant:

Susanna Pirnes (M.Soc.Sc),

E-mail: susanna.pirnes [at]

University trainee:

Tuula Stöckell (Master student of Soc.Sc)

E-mail: tuula.stockell [at]

Duration: 2010 - 2012
Funding: HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area). Helsingin Sanomat Foundation

The official project site at :

The project page in Finnish
(Media venäläisen identiteetin rakentajana: Venäjä toisen maailmansodan historian ja eurooppalaisen tulevaisuuden välissä)