Rus­sia re­tains Soviet pro­pa­ganda tools in its war against Ukraine

Kyiv Post - - News - BY ALYONA ZHUK [email protected] Kyiv Post staff writer Alyona Zhuk can be reached at [email protected]

Some of the great­est crimes against hu­man­ity of the 20th cen­tury – Josef Stalin’s Holodomor and de­por­ta­tion of the Crimean Tatars, as well as Adolf Hitler’s Holo­caust – wouldn’t be pos­si­ble with­out pow­er­ful pro­pa­ganda.

Pro­pa­ganda is how to­tal­i­tar­ian regimes mo­bi­lize their so­ci­eties to com­mit and jus­tify mass mur­der.

Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and war against Ukraine would like­wise not be pos­si­ble with­out de­hu­man­iz­ing Krem­lin pro­pa­ganda that paints Ukraine and its West­ern al­lies as enemies. Rus­sia’s mod­ern-day pro­pa­ganda is sim­i­lar to Soviet pro­pa­ganda as Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin re­cy­cles sim­i­lar rhetoric and sym­bols for to­day’s war.

Th­ese were some of the main themes brought for­ward by speak­ers at a con­fer­ence en­ti­tled “The Se­duc­tion of Pro­pa­ganda: Mass Vi­o­lence in Ukraine in the 20th and 21st Cen­turies.” It was held on June 2-3 in Kyiv and June 4 in Lviv, or­ga­nized by the Ukrainian Jewish En­counter, which seeks to pro­mote un­der­stand­ing be­tween the two peo­ples.

Ac­cord­ing to Volodymyr Vi­a­tro­vych, head of the Ukrainian In­sti­tute for Na­tional Mem­ory, Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda re­sem­bles the Soviet World War II va­ri­ety.

“Why? Be­cause the Soviet myths about the war were cru­cial in form­ing Soviet iden­tity, and they’ve lasted even af­ter the Soviet Union col­lapsed,” Vi­a­tro­vych told the Kyiv Post. “For mod­ern Rus­sia, which has openly said it wanted to recre­ate some­thing like the Soviet Union, the Soviet myths have again be­come the ide­o­log­i­cal plat­form.”

Vla­dyslav Hrynevych, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist who spe­cial­izes in the his­tory of World War II, also said that there is a lot of the Soviet men­tal­ity in Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda. To il­lus­trate the sim­i­lar­ity, he showed sev­eral leaflets and ban­ners de­signed by Rus­sians and Krem­lin-backed sep­a­ratists that re­sem­ble their Soviet pre­de­ces­sors. They in­clude swastikas and other Nazi sym­bols in Ukrainian yel­low-and-blue colors to de­scribe Ukrainian lead­ers as “fas­cist bas­tards.”

Mean­while, Rus­sia is sym­bol­ized by bears, Soviet em­blems, images of Red Army sol­diers and al­lu­sions to Chris­tian Or­tho­doxy – tra­di­tional sym­bols of “Russkiy Mir,” or the Rus­sian world. Rus­sians are il­lus­trated as he­roes help­ing south­east­ern Ukraini­ans to rise up and de­feat the Kyiv-based “mon­sters,” who are not even hu­man.

And that is an­other old trick – de­hu­man­iza­tion, Hrynevych said. “To kill an­other per­son, one needs to hate them first,” he said.

Adrian Karat­ny­cky, a se­nior fel­low at the At­lantic Coun­cil and co-direc­tor of its Ukraine in Europe ini­tia­tive, told the Kyiv Post that the sym­bols of de­hu­man­iza­tion have al­ways been used “to make them seem less hu­man, and there­fore more wor­thy of attack. Their use of anti-Semitism, at­tacks against Ukraine for be­ing fas­cist, at­tacks for hav­ing Jewish pres­ence in the Ukrainian lead­er­ship, both real and fic­tional, west­ern in­flu­ence, for­eign agents – th­ese are all the themes of Stalin’s pro­pa­ganda,” Karat­ny­cky said.

Peter Pomer­ant­sev, a Lon­don-based tele­vi­sion pro­ducer and au­thor of a book on the Rus­sian weaponiza­tion of in­for­ma­tion, said that Rus­sians don’t re­ally be­lieve there are fas­cists in Ukraine.

“They might say it, be­cause that’s what you have t-o say in or­der to play a role in so­ci­ety,” he added. The main point of cur­rent Krem­lin pro­pa­ganda is to “make you pas­sive and with the sense that the state is ev­ery­where,” he said.

Yevgeny Kise­lyov is a for­mer Rus­sian jour­nal­ist who has been work­ing for Ukrainian tele­vi­sion for about seven years. In his words, most of Rus­sia’s me­dia adopt meth­ods from the text­book on “spe­cial pro­pa­ganda,” a Sovi­etera mil­i­tary dis­ci­pline. He vividly re­calls the blue book and sees ex­am­ples of it on Rus­sian tele­vi­sion.

One ex­am­ple he gives is Rus­sia’s cov­er­age of the down­ing of flight MH-17 on July 17. All 298 peo­ple on board were killed, the ma­jor­ity Dutch na­tion­als.

Rus­sian me­dia of­fered many con­flict­ing ver­sions of the dis­as­ter in or­der to con­fuse au­di­ences and shroud the most ob­vi­ous ac­count, ac­cord­ing to Kise­lyov. West­ern in­ves­ti­ga­tions have shown that the plane was downed us­ing a Rus­sian-sup­plied sur­face-to-air mis­sile in sep­a­ratist-held ter­ri­tory.

Ukraine so far has avoided us­ing pro­pa­ganda, Karat­ny­cky said.

“Ukraini­ans are the vic­tims in this war. This is for­eign-backed ag­gres­sion, con­structed by the Rus­sian state and im­ple­mented with its re­sources, so it’s al­most nat­u­ral to be tempted to re­act with anger to the other side,” he told the Kyiv Post. “But I think it’s im­por­tant to de­tach the deep emo­tion that is as­so­ci­ated with this life-and-death sit­u­a­tion, and to re­tain your hu­man­ity and un­der­stand that not ev­ery­one on the other side or in an­other coun­try shares the views of its lead­er­ship.”

Vi­a­tro­vych said that pro­pa­ganda cam­paigns are un­likely in Ukraine, be­cause to­tal­i­tar­ian con­trol of so­ci­ety – in­clud­ing state con­trol of the me­dia – is re­quired.

“We can’t build an au­thor­i­tar­ian Ukraine that will de­feat Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda, be­cause then, af­ter killing the dragon, we will turn into a dragon our­selves,” he said.

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