Staunton, April 25 – At the dawn of the 20th century, Vladimir Lenin wrote that “a newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator; it is also a collective organizer.” Now, in the 21st, Vladimir Putin has updated this Bolshevik principle by having Moscow TV play the same role with the Russian speakers in the former Soviet republics.
Increasingly, Moscow television presents an alternative Orwellian world in which black is white and freedom is slavery, one in which governments that stand up to Moscow are CIA-backed “juntas” and those who employ violence against them are peaceful demonstrators defending their right to national self-determination.
Those who follow any independent media can see through such blatant lies and misrepresentations, but in Ukraine and other non-Russian countries bordering the Russian Federation, many Russian speakers continue to rely almost exclusively on Moscow television, even as their non-Russian neighbors have access to better news outlets.
As a result and because of Moscow’s actions and the inactions of some of these governments, what should be only a linguistic divide is rapidly becoming a political one, with Russian speakers defining their world as Moscow does and those who speak the national languages seeing a very different one.
The dangers that this situation poses are clearly in evidence in Ukraine, but they are not limited to that country and are likely to grow unless something is done because in the absence of competition, Moscow television under Putin is playing a propagandistic and organizing role far greater and more effective than Lenin’s party newspapers.
There are three major reasons this situation emerged. The first is inertia. Russian speakers in the former Soviet republics have long been accustomed to viewing Moscow television, first by rebroadcast and then by cable, and saw no reason to change if their language didn’t in the absence of any serious competitors.
Second, the non-Russian governments not unnaturally have sought to promote their national languages, with many nationalist groups welcoming the demise of Russian-language media and even more vigorously opposing any but the most limited support for Russian programming.
And third, to produce high-quality Russian-language television for relatively small markets capable of competing with Moscow TV is expensive, often beyond the capacity of at least some of the financially hard-pressed post-Soviet governments given the other demands on their resources.
Indeed, when these governments have recognized the problems Moscow television is creating, they have responded in ways that are understandable but counter-productive. They have blocked Russian television on cable, but Russian speakers often then turn to the Internet, viewing the actions of their own governments as an attack on their rights (thus re-enforcing Moscow TV’s message) and Moscow TV as “forbidden fruit” and thus all the more attractive. (On those dangers, see rubaltic.ru/article/politika-i-obshchestvo/zhurnalist-khoroshiy-edinyy-baltiyskiy-kanal-dlya-russkikh-eto-utopiya23042014/