Commemorating the August 1991 coup d’état: documentaries as tools of constructing memories of the political event

Commemorating the August 1991 coup d’état:
documentaries as tools of constructing memories of the political event

Malinova O.Yu.,

HSE University, Moscow, Russia; Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences, RAS, Moscow, Russia,

elibrary_id: 197217 | ORCID: 0000-0002-2754-8055 | RESEARCHER_ID: J-7893-2015

Karpich Yu.V.,

HSE University, Moscow, Russia,

elibrary_id: 1017700 | ORCID: 0000-0003-0689-1855 | RESEARCHER_ID: B-5867-2019

Gurin M.Iu.,

HSE University, Moscow, Russia,

ORCID: 0009-0008-2175-158X | RESEARCHER_ID: IXX-0272-2023

Article received: 2023.03.07. Accepted: 2023.07.07

DOI: 10.17976/jpps/2023.06.11

Rubric: Russia today

For citation:

Malinova O.Yu., Karpich Yu.V., Gurin M.Iu. Commemorating the August 1991 coup d’état: documentaries as tools of constructing memories of the political event. – Polis. Political Studies. 2023. No. 6. P. 142-160. (In Russ.). EDN: MHQBAH

The research results from the project “Reconsidering the experience of the 1990s in the Russian politics of memory” that was supported by the Department of Social Sciences of HSE University.


The article addresses the role of documentaries demonstrated on Russian TV in constructing the mediatized cultural memory of one of the turning points in recent history, the failed attempt of the group of Soviet leaders, who composed the State Committee on the State Emergency (GKChP), to remove the president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev from power on 19-21 August, 1991. A scientific analysis of the documentaries that were screened on the federal channels for the jubilee anniversaries in 2002-2021, reveals the evolution of interpretations of the August coup in most popular media. The article presents the methodology of studying documentaries as tools of cultural memory that focuses both on the content of media texts and the creative methods through which they are articulated. The lack of any other formats of official commemoration of the anniversaries make the documentaries screened on the federal TV channels the major tools of constructing memory about the August coup d’état in 1991. The article follows how the presented narratives of this event changed from one round number anniversary to another. The films that were screened in 2001 continued the official narrative developed in the 1990s by representing the failure of the coup d’état as a victory of democratic forces. However, already in 2006, the focus of representation shifted from the democratic revolution to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in the subsequent years the August coup d’état was invariably interpreted as a turning point on the way to this sad ending. By using video materials, the documentaries constructed the canonical set of images that became associated with the August 1991 coup d’état. However, there were evident lacunas in this set of images. On the federal TV, the events that were considered as a trigger of the collapse of the Soviet Union were presented as a story that took place in Moscow. Stories of the politicians who were involved in the conflict in 1991 over time completely substituted the perspectives of ordinary participants.

politics of memory, cultural memory, commemoration the August 1991 coup d’état, the State Committee on the State Emergency, GKChP, documentary, narrative.


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Content No. 6, 2023

See also:

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Mikhalev A.V.,
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