Hand of the Kremlin

Art, Propaganda and the Heavy Hand of the Kremlin

That Russia has a launched a massive propaganda campaign against Georgia and for their war should be a surprise to no one. That they have gone to the extreme lengths that they have and that it has been so devastatingly successful (at least within Russia) might be. Let me draw your attention to an article in Forbes:

“Apart from the regular bullets and tanks, the South Ossetian war between Georgia and Russia has brought forth some alternative methods of warfare. There was an alleged cyber-attack on Georgian Web sites that served as a premonition to the military action. More significant,
though, were the harshly harmonious sounds of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, performed in South Ossetia’s capital last Thursday.”

“The message is clear: South Ossetians are innocent victims; the Russian army, their knight in shining armor; and Georgia’s president Mikhail Saakashvili has a metaphorical toothbrush mustache not unlike
Adolf Hitler’s.”

“Russia’s ongoing campaign of disinformation is cruder and less credible … the blatant use of art in the service of partisan (and military) politics during the appearance of the famed St. Petersburg Kirov Orchestra in Ossetia startled the West, where this sort of cultural diplomacy is normally reserved for more positive displays … how, then, do we respond to his vigorous celebration of a long-planned military action that the West likens more to the annexation of the Sudetenland than to a peace-keeping mission in Kosovo?”

“Anyone familiar with the overt mixing of art and politics in Russia, which is reminiscent of Soviet times, should not be surprised by these displays from Ossetia. The more interesting question remains: How does
Russia maintain such an intense hold on like-minded patriots in all strata of society?”

Clearly this sort of propaganda has a long history in Russia, and one could say even a glorious history in the Soviet Union (he who is not somewhat stirred by at least the scale of Socialist Realism is not fully alive)  This is simply something they not only do, it is something the Russian soul seems to feed on. People from all strata of society buy into the prevailing rhetoric and swallow whole the “truths” being sold. To many in the west it is a very bizarre thing, intellectuals and artists and the social elite being not only believers in the official line, but propagators of the talking points. While in Washington people would be protesting the war, in Moscow everyone, even artists, are cheering it.

The propaganda campaign is fully operational at this point, and completely dominant within Russia itself, no other point of view is permitted.  Even outside of Russia the power of their campaign can be seen.  Few journalists ever mention the bombing of Georgian villages or the killing of Georgia policemen when they mention the beginnings of the war.   No journalists describe the true origins of the war in the 1990’s and the Kremlin’s preeminant role in precipating and prepetuation the seperatist crisis.The TimesOnline puts it the whole affair in another way:
“Nevertheless, the concern given in South Ossetia yesteray by Valery Gergiev, the principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, will provoke the criticism that as a brilliant conductor of world-class stature, he has demeaned his talents. By putting them at the service of a propaganda celebration of Russian military might, he has crossed the line that ought to separate art from politics, beauty from brutality. He has made his music an instrument of Russian foreign policy, conducting in the name of conquest. “

So, what we should get out of this is not shock and surprise that artists are feeding into the Russian Propaganda machine, it is that all Russians seems to buy it.  It should amaze us that a whole society is consumed by this rhetoric and so universally supportive of their government that protest or question nothing that is does.

It is this basic fact about what I have come to term, Creeping Fascism, that most bothers me in this whole horrible situation.  For it seems to be that when artists begin to work in lockstep in support of the state rather than in criticism of the state, and when people believe in the power of the state over the welfare of the people, then that country is somehow going wrong and may soon be a grave danger to itself and the world.

It is something I have feared for a long time for my own country, the United States, and now which I can see being made manifest in Russia.  If this process continues unabated, without any internal checks and balances, then we all have much to fear.   Let us hope that Russia can self correct much as we struggle to get our own countries to get back on the right track.

Mark Rein-Hagen is a writer based out of Tbilisi

3 Responses to “Art, Propaganda and the Heavy Hand of the Kremlin”

  1. Dobo Jr. Says:
    August 31st, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    What surprises me the most is that how could Russia manipulate media so artfully?
    I can understand the Hitler’s Germany, during that time there was no internet or satellite TV but nowadays we live in different era, where whole world (apart from N. Korea, I guess) has access to unbiased media.
    The situation is really scary, Russians minds are poisoned. The world will need many white rabbits and Red pills to free Russian people.
    I believe, the crucial mistake by the world community was to be silent during the 2nd Chechen war. Whole world knew the truth but nobody dared to confront Russia. Today the situation has changed and along with helping Georgia world should concentrate on Chechnya as well. Although, are there any Chechens left?

  2. Ia Merkviladze Says:
    September 1st, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    Dear Mark
    I am a Georgian Journalit and I am working for Georgian news-paper “Sakartvelos Respublika” from NY.
    Would you please give me the intenet-iterview?
    Thank you in advance

  3. Lee Mayr Says:
    September 3rd, 2008 at 4:19 am

    Mark, not all Russian artists are for the war (in fact I don’t know any), and very few artists are actually feeding the Russian propaganda machine. You are also mistaking when you say that “the whole society is consumed by this rhetoric and so universally supportive of their government that protest or question nothing that is does.” The state-controlled media is consumed, not the people. Russians are no more more supportive of the war against Georgia than the American people when the US attacked Iraq. Such sweeping generalizations do more harm than good to limit the fallout from this war. Believe me, a lot of Russians (artists or not) are sympathetic to the plight of the Georgian people. But Russia is a corrupt police state, and freedom of expression does not exists on public TV or elsewhere in the media (with very exceptions). Russia-trashing is not an answer, you got to be more intelligent than that!