Russian government propaganda stokes anti-West sentiment

There is a virulent ‘we’ versus ‘them’ rhetoric in Russia today, a growing anti-West sentiment wrapped up as ultra-nationalism.

Ultra-nationalism on rise in Russia as tensions between East and West grow

Moscow has revived a Stalinist exhibition centre for a new artificial skating rink, exhuming a Soviet-style message of nationalism and pride. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Young Russians lace up their rented skates and glide out onto gleaming ice at  Moscow’s just-opened winter wonderland. Thumbing its nose at the portends of economic gloom, Moscow has developed a brand new show-stopping skating rink on the grounds of an old Stalin-era exhibition park. 

"This is a famous place in Moscow," says Alexandra, skidding to a stop. "It was in Soviet times too; it’s cool, I love it."

Eighty years ago, Joseph Stalin ordered up a new exhibition park - a place to boast, to celebrate the agricultural and economic achievements of the Soviet Union. The "Friendship of Peoplesfountain holds a statue of each of the Soviet republics. Columns on a pavilion bear the names, including Ukraine.

Fading and underused for years, Russia’s government has completely refurbished the  the All-Russia Exhibition (VDNKh), exhuming a Soviet-style message of nationalism and pride.

Irina Prokhorova, a cultural historian and leader of Russia's Civil Platform party, says she has been accused of being unpatriotic for airing her views. (Alexey Sergeyev/CBC News)

But running underneath is a negative undercurrent gaining a foothold in Russia.

"Nowadays people have become very aggressive," says Irina Prokhorova, a cultural historian, publisher and leader of Russia's Civil Platform party.

"If I participate in some talk on television, they start accusing immediately, ‘You’re not patriotic, you’re not a true citizen.’ All the remnants of totalitarian propaganda suddenly appear in the public memory, and that I think is very dangerous."

All the remnants of totalitarian propaganda suddenly appear in the public memory.- Irina Prokhorova, cultural historian

There is a virulent 'we' versus 'them' rhetoric in Russia today, a growing anti-West sentiment wrapped up as ultra nationalism.

President Vladimir Putin’s government stokes the sentiment, repeated regularly in most Russian media.

"Until the end of  2013, when there was still a number of independent media … society was still skeptical to all kinds of this ultra-nationalism or pseudo patriotism," Prokhorova says.

"But in the beginning of 2014, all independent media were practically crushed or absorbed in the big conglomerates which were controlled by the government," she says.

The escalating tensions with western governments - particularly the U.S., and including Canada - along with the sanctions and now the economic crisis, paint the backdrop for the Kremlin’s isolationist message.

"Washington wants to make a regime change in Russia, to overthrow democratically elected and very popular President Vladimir Putin," says Sergey Markov, a political analyst close to the Kremlin.

Sergey Markov, a pro-Kremlin political analyst, says the West helped orchestrate a coup in Ukraine and is backing a "nationalistic junta" in Kiev. (Corinne Seminoff CBC)

"That's why this war is much more dangerous than the cold war," he says.

In a long and spirited interview Markov lays out Russia’s case against the West, blaming it for helping orchestrate a coup in Ukraine and backing a "nationalistic junta" in Kiev bent on the cultural genocide of Russians in eastern Ukraine.

"For us Russians, the behaviour of [Napoleon] Bonaparte and [Adolf] Hitler was very similar. All of them attacked Russia through Belorussia and Ukraine, the same as these people are doing right now," Markov says.

Asked how Russia sees Canada, he says, "Canada is independent on economy, but from a military point of view we don’t divide Canada and the U.S."

He won’t find much resistance to those opinions in much of Russia. As one young businessman told CBC News, "with the economy the way it is, in other countries you’d see people protesting on the streets, worried about job security. Here the effect is the opposite, people are uniting."

Daria Aslamova is a special correspondent for a popular mainstream Russian paper and formerly online TV, Komsomolskaya Pravda. She’s an aggressive, populist voice.

Daria Aslamova, special correspondent for Russian paper Komsomolskaya Pravda, says the West wants to "crush us to get our resources and divide our country into little bits." (Corinne Seminoff CBC News)

"They [the West] want to crush us to get our resources and divide our country into little bits," she says, "just take our gas, our oil, our water. It’s a big country full of fantastic riches."

Her reporting takes aim at America as the interventionist enemy, not just in Ukraine.

"I have an allergy to this word [democracy], because it’s a very good word to cover all the shit they are doing all over the world in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Iran," she says.

Fighting the information war is becoming ever tougher. Over the last few years, the Kremlin has clamped down on protests, demanding organizers get registered. Bloggers cannot have more than 3,000 followers. Swearing was recently banned in Russian cinema.

Some Russian media are also twisting western values into an evil morality play.

In a way, the main danger is the younger generation, who still don’t have the ability - which the late Soviet society had - to read between the lines to reinterpret the official propaganda.- Irina Prokhorova, cultural historian

One prominent television news program recently suggested that America was pushing its children into homosexuality. As an example, it showed a U.S. television ad for giant "Monster Truck" decals to decorate children’s bedrooms. In the ad, a boy opens his bedroom door on his birthday to find a wall-sized decal of a monster truck. He shrieks with delight, covering his eyes.

The version shown on the Russian program is doctored … the boy opens his door to find images of naked men covering his bedroom wall. The cutaway shows the same shrieking and covering of eyes, as the announcer asks: "Is this what a child’s playroom should look like?" (See the Russian video here, at 43 minutes and 55 seconds into the show, and the original commercial here, or watch them back to back.) 

The American company behind the commercial, Fat Head, is considering a lawsuit.

"There is quite a lot of talk about morality," says Irina Prokhorova, "but I think this is the most immoral of all  - trying to seduce people into becoming part of this repressive campaign."

"In a way, the main danger is the younger generation, who still don’t have the ability - which the late Soviet society had - to read between the lines to reinterpret the official propaganda."


Susan Ormiston

Senior correspondent

Susan Ormiston's career spans more than 25 years reporting from hot spots such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Haiti, Lebanon and South Africa.


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