Contrasting centenaries: how Russia, Ukraine and Belarus marked October

Issue: 
Spring 2018

The ‘Great October Socialist Revolution’ of 1917 was the foundational event for the USSR, continually invoked by the CPSU to justify the Soviet state and its political and economic order. Its anniversary on 7 November was the major public holiday in the Soviet Union, and up to 1990 was celebrated across the Union in thousands of official marches, meetings and ceremonies large and small. After 1991, following the dissolution of both the Union and the party, the anniversary lost its raison d’être as a public holiday, not least because in several of the former Union republics, there had been no ‘October revolution’ – the Soviet system had been established by quite different means, at different times, often against serious local resistance. The fifteen successor states to the USSR needed to devise their own foundational stories, usually on the basis of national mythology. If ‘October’ played any kind of role in these stories, it was often a negative one.For the most part, celebration of the anniversary across the former Soviet Union after 1991 became the exclusive preserve of the local communist parties, where these were allowed to exist openly. Over the years the day ceased to be a public holiday, and the state authorities generally simply ignored it. The hundredth anniversary in 2017, however, could not be passed over in silence – it would have to be commemorated in some way.

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Twentieth Century Communism 14: 1917 in 2017