Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Unlike in Soviet Times, Russians Today Overwhelmingly Trust Government Propaganda, Urnov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 27 – At the end of Soviet times, the Russian people didn’t trust official propaganda even though as a result of state controls they had little access to alternative sources of information. But today, they do trust that propaganda and thus see no need to turn to the plethora of alternatives available, according to Mark Urnov.

            In an article in “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” the political analyst at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, says that both what has not changed between Soviet times and now as far as propaganda is concerned is as striking as what has changed both in the government line and the availability of alternatives (ng.ru/stsenarii/2016-09-27/13_narkoz.html).

                As in the late Soviet period so too now, television is the main channel for the dissemination of propaganda providing in both cases “not so much factual information as evaluations,” Urnov says. “The role of all other channels of mass information (radio, newspapers, magazines, the Internet) is incomparably less important as far as propaganda is concerned.”

            So too as in the late Soviet period, the two main messages of Russian propaganda today are the great significance of Russia in the world and the striving of others and above all the United States to restrict that role in order to “subordinate Russia to its interests and establish control over our natural resources.”

            There are major differences. Because it did not face much competition from other channels, Soviet propaganda suggested that the Soviet people lived “significantly better than toilers in capitalist countries and that the economy of our country was not behind that of America’s.

            Now, fully recognizing that insisting on those two points is a fool’s errand, Russian government propaganda focuses not on the level of Russian life or live in other countries but on the justice of Russia in seeking a multi-polar world and the evil of the US that “seeks to remain the only super power.”

            That shift reflects the fact that “the information background” available to Russians now is incomparable to that available to Soviet citizens.  Soviet propagandists could count on the fact that their audience had few alternative sources and would thus accept whatever Moscow declared to be true.

            Now, Russian propagandists know they must operate in a world in which their audience at least potentially has widespread access to alternative ideas. Thus the focus on values rather than on facts. But what is striking is this, Urnov continues. “Now there is no official monopoly, but the alternative sources clearly don’t attract the attention of a broad public.”

            The reason for this is rooted in a major difference from the late Soviet period. Then, “fewer than five percent” believed what officials said. Indeed, many assumed that if Soviet officials said something, the opposite or something close to it must be true. Now, the situation is very different.

            More than 70 percent of Russians today accept anti-American propaganda as true, Urnov says, and for two important reasons: Russians are happy to be able to blame someone other than themselves for their difficulties and are convinced that “being great” is “the natural state” of the Russian nation, a view they have had for five hundred years.

            The problem with such views, Urnov says, is that they prevent Russians from facing up to and having an honest discussion of the problems their country faces. And without such discussions, they won’t be able to address them in a timely fashion, guaranteeing that they will only get worse and will end in tragedy.


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