Thursday, December 22, 2016

Putin Promoting Xenophobia at Home and Abroad, Malashenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 22 – Vladimir Putin’s stress on cultural unity at home and on the clash between the culture of the Russian world and that of the West, a major departure from Soviet-era propaganda which emphasized class divisions, is promoting xenophobia in Russia itself and in response xenophobia against Russia abroad, according to Aleksey Malashenko.

            That may Putin at home, the analyst says not only because it distracts attention from class issues in Russian society but because it is hard for any Russian to reject. But at the same time, it makes it far more difficult for Russia to cooperate with other countries because of the negative views of them this propaganda produces and of the anti-Russian xenophobia it provokes.

            In a “Nezavisimaya gazeta” commentary, the Carnegie Moscow Center expert on culture and nationalities draws those conclusions on the basis of a survey of propaganda at the end of Soviet time and as it has developed since 1991 and especially since 2000 (

            During the last 15 years of the USSR, he writes, “practically no one believed Soviet propaganda.” Under Gorbachev, “there came a pause: to propagandize perestroika was impossible.” And “in the 1990s, there was nothing to propagandize;” and so there was no propaganda, Malashenko says.

            Beginning about 2005, he continues, there again arose a need for propaganda, and those who had worked for it before redoubled their efforts. However, at the same time, there occurred “’a change of monuments’” for them. No one talked any more about “’catching up and surpassing’” anyone given how far down the list of countries Russia had fallen.

            As a result, “the enemy” as portrayed on Moscow television “ceased to be a class enemy” but rather the result of “the gulf between us and them” in terms of values. Russian values, he says, are “spirituality, patriotism, normal sex, and in general our identity.”  Western values include “gay parades and much-ballyhooed democracy.”

            For Putin, this proved a “winning” stragegy because while it may have been possible not to love or believe in Soviet power, “it is impossible not to believe in one’s own positive cultural and religious basis. To do so is to reject what makes oneself oneself.” Anyone who questioned the Kremlin’s definition of these values didn’t get air time.

            As a result, Malashenko says, “the Enemy (with a capital letter) becomes doubly dangerous and the struggle against him implacable and eternal, just as eternal as his and our systems of values are.” And that means the following: “xenophobia triumphs, and alas … this xenophobia becomes mutual.”

            “Propaganda,” the Moscow expert continues, “works on the emotions and works successfully,” and those who engage in it know how to use staged clashes and even humor to promote the ideas they want to implant in the heads of an audience they view as consisting of children.

            These Moscow propagandists are prepared to say almost anything and then reverse themselves when that is required because they swear allegiance to the Russian cultural world. Thus, they condemned Donald Trump last spring but are now celebrating his victory in the US elections.

            One can unfortunately even imagine that they will at some point be willing to suggest that Putin is going to marry Condoleezza Rice and to “present such an alliance as a triumph for Russia.”  Doing that is even easier than suggesting that Bashar al-Asad could take Aleppo on his own.

            There are five reasons for that conclusion, Malashenko says. Firat, “this marriage would testify to the ‘masculine’ superiority of Russia over the West.” Second, it would reflect “Orthodox messianism.” Third, it could be presented as a reflection of “the potential of Eurasianism.” Fourth, it would mean the West has approved Moscow’s foreign polices. And fifth, it would be presented as a victory of Moscow’s policy of dialogue on its own terms.

            The fact that such things are even imaginable, he says, is one of the reasons that the European Parliament drew parallels between Russian propaganda and ISIS propaganda. Both, as the Europeans noted, propagandize xenophobia and do whatever they can to scarce their opponents.”

            On the one hand, Malashenko says, this is just about propaganda. But on the other, it reflects a judgment and warning about the intentions of those who engage in it.  “In the name of ISIS, there are terrorist actions; in the name of Russia a whole series of various military-political and purely military actions interpreted [by Moscow] as a response to Western challenges.”

            There is one question that is anything but easy to answer, he concludes. Do those who put out this propaganda really believe it or are they simply careers? The answer almost certainly is that there is some of both in their calculations considering that many of them own property abroad and send their children there to study.

            That points to their hypocrisy, of course; but it doesn’t lessen their role as promoters of xenophobia at home and abroad, xenophobias that threaten the ability of Russia and other countries to cooperate for a long time to come.

            Others have made such charges in more brutal fashion. One who did so this week is Ayder Muzhdabayev, the head of the ATR television channel in Ukraine, who offered the following commentary (

            “’The Russian world’ is when a Russian ambassador is killed and this generates among thousands of Russians deep anger and the expression of sincere sympathies. But when Russian forces kill thousands of people [as in Aleppo and elsewhere] there is no such anger or sympathy,” Muzhdabayev writes.

            “Crimea, the Donbass, and Syria are stages in the dehumanization on one amoral latter with a growing number of victims.” What is on display are “the morals of a primitive tribe or of the Nazi Reich: The aliens do not have any rights or suffer any pain” because “the outsiders are not people.”

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