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Whos Afraid of Russian Propaganda

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Whos Afraid of Russian Propaganda


Andrei Pravov


It’s a Russian tradition to listen to the BBC at night.” The older generation who lived in the USSR during the Brezhnev years should remember this simple one liner. Younger folks dont remember this, but quite a few Soviet people really did have the habit of cranking up their radio receivers in the evenings. It took a good bit of determination to make out the meaning of what the foreign news anchor was saying on Voice of America, Radio Liberty, or the BBC.

Its like how these days—whether they stayed home or moved to another countryolder, former Soviet people remember the prices for gas and electricity back in the olden days with nostalgia. Back then, these prices seemed to be natural, simply a matter of course. Just like free medicine, accessible education (including higher education), and social protections. What they didnt have were so-called Western values.

Soviet newspapers didnt write about this topic. Citizens listened to Voice of America, the BBC, and Radio FreeEurope on a massive scale and in the evenings discussed what they heard with their friends in the kitchens of their tiny apartments.

Later, however, the situation changed. After Perestroika began, people in the USSR stopped listening to Western voices almost entirely. The subjects covered in Soviet newspapers, magazines, and radio and television broadcasts became quite varied, with something for everyone, and they started to outdo even the boldest passages from the foreign radio in their sharpness.

Nevertheless, to quote an expression from the newspapers under Brezhnev, seeds of bourgeois propaganda took root. In the early 1990s, quite a number of people in the USSR were convinced that real life existed not in their homeland but in the West. One of the popular slogans of the time was we await change.

And these changes came. But it became clear that these werent the changes people expected. The assault on the Supreme Soviet, Loans for Shares, voucher privatization, war in Chechnya, open manipulation of the 1996 presidential elections, and so forth all washed over their heads like a cold shower.

In the eyes of many, democratic values brought over from the West started to lose their luster. With NATOs bombing of Yugoslavia, they were clearly transformed into a faded cloth, just like American jeans after a heavy wash.

No, one certainly cannot say that Russian citizens are happy with everything happening in the country today. But these days hardly anyone would be foolish enough to bring up unquestionable Western achievements in response to our inadequacies. Theres nothing for Western propaganda to pick up on here.

Nonetheless, until very recently there didnt exist any bans or limits on the activities of foreign publications and their correspondents in Russia. In late 2017, the situation changed somewhat. The activities of certain American media, as well as journalists from the USA accredited through the Russian Foreign Ministry, were, in fact, somewhat limited. First and foremost, it was decided that a number of American publications should register as foreign agents.

These steps were retaliatory, or as Moscow called them, mirror-image actions. Earlier, the US government had treated the Russian mediathe television company Russia Today and the Sputnik radio stationin just this way. Whats more, information came out indicating that the American government was compiling some kind of blacklists of journalists and expertsUS citizens who worked with Russia Today and Sputnik. No one explained what this meant. But in response to the information provided, many American authors were frightened.

Before the New Year, information came out that a number of representatives of the French government were also dissatisfied with Russia Todays work. Even though this company had started their broadcasts in this country only several weeks before this. But they are already dissatisfied.

The activities of Russian correspondents are limited in a number of European countries. Thus, many journalists from the Russian Federation are not allowed entry into Ukraine. And during the New Years holidays in Riga,Russian journalists Anatoly and Olga Kurlaev were arrested and, in short order, deported from the country.

In a number of European countries, former republics of the USSR, bans have been introduced on broadcasts by Russian television stations. The most recent example isMoldova.

["Hello, it looks like one TV is broken..." Vitalii Podvitskii /]

At the present moment, there arent any blacklists of foreign journalists being compiled in Russia, not even of the writers for Voice of America and Radio Liberty. Foreign journalists arent deported. But how theAmerican government is treatingRussia Today and Sputnik holds a certain similarity to precisely the situation in the USSR under Brezhnev when foreign voices were suppressed.

How can we explain this? The West advances its version of whats happening. They say, we have journalism, and you have propaganda. Just like the old joke: We have scouts, and you have spies. Meanwhile, its becoming more and more obvious that even the most objective information can easily turn into Kremlin propaganda if it turns out not to fit into the image the West requires.

The opinion is even being trotted out again that America is always right insofar as it brings true democracy to the world. That is, freedom and happiness.

The idea that the West has a right to ultimate truth has been actively supported by certain liberal media sources and political scientists in Russia itself. They extol precisely the Western version of how the most varied events developed. And in essence, they reject any opposing opinion. They are especially critical of journalists from the federal television stations. Their work clearly upsets the West.

People in the West are getting angry too. If this werent the case, the supporters of this narrative underline, no one there would have thought about limiting the activities of our media.

But there really ought to be some freedom of speech! In any case, this was what Western radio stations persistently taught the sleeping Russians several decades ago. In the West, they frequently emphasized back then that such broadcasts brought the voice of truth to the Soviets and called the very fact of their work in the USSR a right to free speech.

And it must be said that these broadcasts were listened to in our country. As for the Soviet government, they clearly didnt like this popular entertainment. After all, there was a reason why they suppressed broadcasts and Soviet newspapers published caricatures in which foreign radio announcers were depicted as standing on thin legs with long lying tongues. Their activities in the USSR were called propaganda at the time. Not Russian propaganda, but Western: hostile and bourgeois.

The word propaganda evoked a contemptuous sneer in the West, while the very fact that the Soviet government tried to suppress airwavesthat is, to limit the dissemination of information to their own peoplewas represented as fear of the truth, and they claimed that Russians cannot stand dissenting views.

Today the West uses the word propaganda without any sneer and with clear anxiety in relation to Russian journalists.

So what has happened? Did we exchange positions?


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