Advertisements

The Rise of The Soviet Empire: Putin’s Zombie Propaganda Reanimates Russian Nationalism

putin-propaganda-russia

Putin’s use of Soviet-era symbolism has alarmed those already fearful for the country’s democratic institutions

Kathrin Hille writes: Igor Dolutsky finds nothing unusual in disagreeing with everyone around him. In the 35 years he has been teaching history in Moscow schools, his habit of questioning official narratives and challenging political taboos has cost him his job more than once.

“I would argue that for years we have been seeing what you could call the Nazification of the elite.”

— Igor Yakovenko, former head of the Russian Journalists’ Association

But when the mild-mannered 60-year-old tried to discuss Russia’s annexation of Crimea in class, things almost got out of hand. “My students swore at me and said I wasn’t telling the truth,” he says. “Then they said I didn’t love Russia or the Russian people, and told me to leave the country.”

Mr Dolutsky has long been a thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin’s government. Ten years ago the government pulled his history textbook from the curriculum for its critical description of President Putin and its inclusion of unpalatable facts about Soviet history. Today he teaches in a private school, headed by a friend from his university days, which allows Mr Dolutsky to continue to talk about the Soviet Union’s occupation of the Baltic states, discuss whether Russia committed genocide in Chechnya and label Mr Putin’s changes to the political system a coup d’état.

But Moscow’s annexation of Crimea has set off rapid and drastic changes that threaten to submerge such outposts of dissent. In a speech marking the consummation of Russia’s union with the Black Sea peninsula on March 18, Mr Putin lashed out against a “fifth column” of “national traitors” enlisted by the west to subvert Russia. He vowed to respond forcefully.

His warning – especially his choice of phrases widely used by nationalist dictatorships as well as Russia’s own former Communist regime – has resonated strongly with Russians. They have been taken as a rallying cry among those aggrieved by Russia’s diminished power to build a prouder, stronger and more authoritarian state. For Mr Putin’s liberal critics, it is a worrying sign that the rest of the country’s imperfect democratic institutions are under severe threat.

In a column that set the tone for both commentaries and blogposts, the conservative journalist Ulyana Skoibeda raved two weeks ago that after the return of Crimea “I no longer live in a conquered country”. In a long lament that reflects the feelings frequently expressed by ordinary Russians, she described the past 23 years as humiliating. Ms Skoibeda said her life had been dominated by western norms, and she had had to suffer through the chaos and deprivation unleashed by the democratic and economic experiments of the 1990s.

Standing proudly against the entire world had revived the essence of the Soviet Union, she wrote. “It is not Crimea that has returned. We have returned. Home. To the USSR.”

Since the Crimea annexation, there have been frequent moves that symbolise a Soviet revival.

In March Mr Putin announced the re-establishment of “Prepared for Labour and Defence”, a Soviet-era system under which students, officials and workers took part in nationwide sports competitions. The same week, the government said it would restore the Stalin-era All-Russian Exhibition Centre to its former glory.

This month the trade ministry set up a council for the “innovative development of Russian industry”, manned exclusively by former ministers who presided over different industrial sectors in the Soviet Union.

Some observers discount such moves as symbolic concessions to widespread nostalgia among a public that feels the new Russia lacks a strong national identity.

A number of food producers, for instance, have opted for retro packaging designs emblazoned with Soviet symbols, taking advantage of consumers’ conviction that food quality control was stricter in the Soviet Union.

But the recent changes go far beyond nostalgia. Nationalism is now a powerful component of the Soviet revival. Critics fear that it has distinctly sinister overtones.

“I would argue that for years we have been seeing what you could call the Nazification of the elite,” says Igor Yakovenko, former head of the Russian Journalists’ Association, pointing to the installation of Putin loyalists in key posts in academia and the media…(read more)

Russia’s great propagandist

Advertisements

One Comment on “The Rise of The Soviet Empire: Putin’s Zombie Propaganda Reanimates Russian Nationalism”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet Putin’s use of Soviet-era symbolism has alarmed those already fearful for the country’s […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.