From Outsiders to Heroes: Army Veterans, Patriotic Values and the Militarisation of Russia, 1991-2022

  With Dr Elena Racheva, Oxford University

Seminar 2 of Trinity Term's Sociology Seminar Series

Please join either in person or online. For in-person attendees, the talk will be preceded by a light lunch at 12.15pm.

Please email with any questions or to receive the Microsoft Teams link.

This paper investigates the aftermath of the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989) and two military operations in Chechnya (1994-1996, 1999-2000) and shows that they still have a significant impact on Russian society, influencing it in fundamental ways, from political and social processes down to the socialisation of private citizens.

It contributes to answering two key research questions: in what ways do Russian citizens experience the shifts in social norms, conventions and public discourses brought home by former soldiers? And how exactly did the veterans of these wars become one of the powers supporting the regime?

The paper shows how the interests of war veterans have been corresponding to, conflicting with, or existing in interplay with, the interests of the state during the last three decades, and how the wars made veterans continue building their self-identity in compliance with the narratives accepted by their comrades-in-arms. The paper is based on interviews with war veterans conducted in 2019-2021 and interpreted in terms of narrative analysis, and large amount of official governmental regulations.


Elena Racheva is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Sociology. She contributes to the CrimGov project, exploring the role of criminal fraternity vory-v-zakone (thieves-in-law) in the history of the Soviet GULAG and its role in criminal governance in the Soviet and post-Soviet Russia.

Elena finished her DPhil project in Medieval and Modern Languages at the University of Oxford in 2022. Her thesis was focused on the legacies of wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya for contemporary Russian society as well as the militarisation and patriotic mobilisation of Russia. She is now working on transforming her thesis into a book.

Previously, Elena worked as a special correspondent for independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, covering different political and social issues in the former Soviet countries. She was a Fellow of Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2015-2016) in Washington, DC and published a book 'Article 58. Unseized. Stories of GULAG Survivors and Perpetrators' (2016), translated into four languages. She holds an MA in History from The University of Manchester and an MA in Journalism from The Moscow State University.