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TED2018

Mikhail Zygar: What the Russian Revolution would have looked like on social media

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History is written by the victors, as the saying goes -- but what would it look like if it was written by everyone? Journalist and TED Fellow Mikhail Zygar is on a mission to show us with Project1917, a "social network for dead people" that posts the real diaries and letters of more than 3,000 people who lived during the Russian Revolution. By showing the daily thoughts of the likes of Lenin, Trotsky and many less celebrated figures, the project sheds new light on history as it once was -- and as it could have been. Learn more about this digital retelling of the past as well as Zygar's latest project about the transformative year of 1968.

- Journalist, writer, filmmaker
Mikhail Zygar is the founder of Future History, the creative digital studio behind Project1917 and 1968.digital. Full bio

What is history?
00:13
It is something written by the winners.
00:15
There is a stereotype that history
should be focused on the rulers,
00:20
like Lenin or Trotsky.
00:24
As a result, people
in many countries, like mine, Russia,
00:27
look at history as something
that was predetermined
00:31
or determined by the leaders,
00:35
and common people could not
influence it in any way.
00:38
Many Russians today do not believe
that Russia could ever have been
00:41
or ever will be a truly democratic nation,
00:45
and this is due to the way
history has been framed
00:48
to the citizens of Russia.
00:51
And this is not true.
00:52
To prove it, I spent two years
of my life trying to go 100 years back,
00:55
to the year 1917,
01:00
the year of the Russian Revolution.
01:03
I asked myself, what if the internet
and Facebook existed 100 years ago?
01:05
So last year, we built
a social network for dead people,
01:12
named Project1917.com.
01:17
My team and I created our software,
01:22
digitized and uploaded
all possible real diaries and letters
01:24
written by more than 3,000 people
01:30
100 years ago.
01:33
So any user of our website or application
01:34
can follow a news feed
for each day of 1917
01:38
and read what people
like Stravinsky or Trotsky,
01:42
Lenin or Pavlova
and others thought and felt.
01:46
We watch all those personalities
being ordinary people like you and me,
01:50
not demigods,
01:55
and we see that history consists
of their mistakes, fears, weaknesses,
01:57
not only their "genius ideas."
02:04
Our project was a shock for many Russians,
02:08
who used to think that our country
has always been an autocratic empire
02:10
and the ideas of freedom and democracy
could never have prevailed,
02:16
just because democracy
was not our destiny.
02:19
But if we take a broader look,
02:23
it's not that black and white.
02:26
Yes, 1917 led to 70 years
of communist dictatorship.
02:29
But with this project, we see that Russia
could have had a different history
02:35
and a democratic future,
as any other country could or still can.
02:40
Reading the posts from 1917,
02:45
you learn that Russia
was the first country in the world
02:49
to abolish the death penalty,
02:52
or one of the first ones
to grant women voting rights.
02:54
Knowing history and understanding
how ordinary people influenced history
02:59
can help us create a better future,
03:05
because history is just a rehearsal
of what's happening right now.
03:07
We do need new ways of telling history,
03:12
and this year, for example,
03:15
we started a new online project
that is called 1968Digital.com,
03:17
and that is an online documentary series
03:23
that gives you an impression
of that year, 1968,
03:28
a year marked by global social change
03:32
that, in many ways,
created the world as we know it now.
03:36
But we are making that history alive
03:40
by imagining what if all the main
characters could use mobile phones ...
03:43
just like that?
03:49
And we see that a lot of individuals
03:51
were facing the same challenges
and were fighting for the same values,
03:57
no matter if they lived
in the US or in USSR
04:02
or in France or in China
or in Czechoslovakia.
04:07
By exposing history
in such a democratic way,
04:11
through social media,
04:14
we show that people in power
are not the only ones making choices.
04:16
That gives any user a possibility
of reclaiming history.
04:22
Ordinary people matter.
04:27
They have an impact.
04:29
Ideas matter.
04:31
Journalists, scientists,
philosophers matter.
04:33
We shape society.
04:38
We all make history.
04:40
Thank you.
04:43
(Applause)
04:44

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About the speaker:

Mikhail Zygar - Journalist, writer, filmmaker
Mikhail Zygar is the founder of Future History, the creative digital studio behind Project1917 and 1968.digital.

Why you should listen

Mikhail Zygar is a Russian journalist, writer, filmmaker and the founding editor-in-chief of the Russian independent news TV-channel, Dozhd (2010 - 2015). Prior to Dozhd, Zygar worked for Newsweek Russia and the business daily Kommersant, where he covered the conflicts in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Serbia and Kosovo. His bestseller All the Kremlin's Men is based on an unprecedented series of interviews with Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, presenting a radically different view of power and politics in Russia. His recent book The Empire Must Die was released in Russian and English in 2017. It portrays the years leading up to the Russian revolution and the vivid drama of Russia's brief and exotic experiment with civil society before it was swept away by the Communist Revolution.

More profile about the speaker
Mikhail Zygar | Speaker | TED.com