The Russia Anxiety: Astute look at the West’s ‘fake history’ of Russia

Review: Mark B Smith argues tropes of Russophobic history bear little or no relation to reality

The faces of Stalin and Lenin on banners during May 1st celebratiosn in Moscow. Photograph:  Celestino Arce/NurPhoto/Getty Images

The faces of Stalin and Lenin on banners during May 1st celebratiosn in Moscow. Photograph: Celestino Arce/NurPhoto/Getty Images

The wave of Russophobia sweeping through Western states and societies today is, according to Mark Smith’s compelling book, powered by a “fake history” that he aims to refute.

For Smith, recurrent outbreaks of Russophobia express the Russia Anxiety – a long-term pattern of thinking and feeling about Russia that alternates between fear, contempt and disregard for the country. This pattern has repeated throughout the 500 years since the 16th century when Russia was established as a player in the great game of European politics through the expansion of Muscovy under Ivan the Terrible. Smith views the Russia Anxiety as pernicious and persistent, but not as permanent; rather “it is a syndrome whose symptoms come and go”.

Hysteria, whipped up around Russia’s supposed threat to Western civilization, has been based on such “fake history” as the 19th-century publication in France of Russia’s 14-point plan for world domination – the Testament of Peter the Great. This blatant forgery is but one example of what Smith calls the “Black Legend” of Russian history – the idea that expansionism, aggressiveness and authoritarianism are inherent and indelible to the country’s identity.

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