The Political Economy of Collective Memories: Evidence from Russian Politics

Alessandro Belmonte (IMT Lucca & University of Warwick)
Michael Rochlitz (University of Bremen)

Abstract: How do political elites reactivate salient collective memories to entrench their power? We study this question using data from the Russian Federation under Putin. We document a substantial recollection campaign of the traumatic transition the Russian population experienced during the 1990s, starting with the year 2003. We combine this time discontinuity in the recollection of negative collective memories with regional-level information about traumatic experiences of the 1990s. Our results show that Russians vote more for the government, and less for the liberal political opposition, in regions that suffered more during the transition period, once memories from the period are recalled on state-controlled media. We then provide additional evidence on the mechanism and find, using a text analysis of 3,832 local newspapers, that recollection of the chaos of the 1990s in local newspapers is associated with higher electoral support for the government.