Societal changes involving power reversal may pose challenges to system justification by a subordinate minority group that had previously held a more privileged position. Derived from originally exploratory qualitative investigation, this paper presents an account of endorsement of justifying the status quo versus the voicing relative deprivation in the context of post‐Soviet Estonia. Experiences of alternative societal arrangements in history were actively deployed by (minority ethnic) Estonian Russians to generate temporal comparisons with the past as a cognitive alternative to the present status quo and give voice to experiences of relative deprivation. A struggle for positive social identity was interpreted to motivate Estonian Russians to mobilize the past as a cognitive alternative to delegitimize the status quo. By contrast, Russians were portrayed as invaders, and the Soviet past was represented as unjust by (the majority ethnic) Estonians, whereas the present system was depicted as fair and equitable. Mutually, polemical representations of history and narratives of identity provide the lenses through which the legitimacy of new societal arrangements following the major social change is interpreted. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.