30.07.2009 | Halya Coynash

Soviet Media Mothballs


A witch in one children’s tale is almost entirely true to tradition. Everything is black – her clothes, house and her cat. She also has a traditional magic wand with which she colours the cat so that she doesn’t trip over him in this ocean of black. There is just one departure from tradition: our witch is kind and suffers remorse when her cat, gripped with shame over his tropical parrot appearance, hides at the top of a tree. Suddenly she understands, waves her wand and her entire world is filled with colour - and one happy black cat.

We don’t live in a children’s tale and it is by no means necessary to abandon long-standing traditions. However entrenched habits and ways of thinking can very often distort reality hurting those who can’t be squeezed into the mould.

A large number of media outlets in the Crimea seem trapped in some old Soviet idea about their proper role in society. You supposedly can’t rely on the readers, but need to show them how to live, what to think and even who to love.

There are “pro-Russian” newspapers who for some reason feel they must not only include verbal attacks on Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians wishing to speak Ukraine and “nationalist” villains, but also idealize the Soviet past. If they consider this past to have been an atheist heaven on Earth then logically enough, no Soviet propaganda techniques are to be spurned.

There are however other newspapers whose readers most definitely do not hanker after Soviet times, and it is frustrating when their journalists resort to cheap manipulation, equally certain that their readers need to be taught, not informed.

In the 17 July issue of the weekly newspaper “Voice of the Crimea” [Golos Kryma]an article was published under the title “Tragedy in Kezlev: inter-ethnic marriages are a life hazard”. I personally prefer to receive information from a newspaper, not moral lectures, and it is certainly more convenient not to have to decide midstream whether you are reading a report or somebody’s opinion. Both genres have a valid place in a newspaper, however, like with advertising, it’s better to ascertain which it is to be together with the headline.

People are obviously also entitled to their views with regard to a correct choice of partner in life, and to how to guard their traditions. They can try to convince others that their views are correct. I would stress, convince, not foist their position, whether through direct compulsion, or by scaring them with various horror stories. It is well worth differentiating between genres since in advertising or propaganda it is not the force of ones arguments that influence people. Here in theory we have a newspaper article about a real tragedy in which a woman was killed.

There is a far rightwing website “Narodny ohlyadach” which reposts entirely neutral texts under primitive, hatred-filled headlines. So that, God forbid, their readers don’t interpret the facts wrongly. The author of the text in “Voice of the Crimea” does much the same although the story is no more convincing as a result than the appearance of our magically dyed cat. And here we are talking about a tragedy, not a children’s story.

From the text it’s clear that the woman with her husband and three children had a difficult life. We gain an impression of the conditions in which they lived, forced to seek work in Moscow during the summer in order to make ends meet. In short, circumstances which hardly gravitate towards domestic harmony. Beyond this point it becomes harder and without the guidance of the author it would indeed be difficult to make the mental leap required to connect the woman’s death with her husband’s nationality and the fact that she did not marry a Crimean Tatar.

And even when he assiduously maps out the “correct” interpretation, it’s not exactly easy. For the author’s purposes the victim serves an essentially auxiliary role. The murder victim is there to serve as a warning and fill young women with terror so that they don’t dare even think of repeating what the author regards as the victim’s fatal mistake. His interpretation has glaring holes, and a number of questions clamour to be answered, yet this does not stop the author in his full-frontal assault against threats to the “purity of the genofund”. The victim is almost entirely forgotten although the author is in no hurry to put aside words associated with violent death so that young women, and young men, continue to shudder.

One would like to fastidiously ignore such nonsense, but it’s not easy. Nor is this purely because of the totally predictable reaction from some Crimean and Russian media outlets which for a change do not even need to think up examples of “incitement to enmity” in this semi-official newspaper for a predominantly Crimean Tatar audience. For any person who grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust any words about the “purity of the genofund” must arouse a feeling of horror. They do so here despite the extraordinary stupidity of the text and of the task itself. We are not dealing with what the author dismissively calls “hormones” but about what even 100 or 200 years ago could be controlled only when accompanied by measures of coercion unacceptable in a democratic country and in total contravention of the Constitution. One can and must endeavour to preserve cultural traditions, but not via locks or chastity belts, or by means of horrific stories which, as always, lead the reader to associate people of a certain nationality with violence, but can hardly achieve their purported aim.

While for those whose people so suffered from the totalitarian regime (and who, in fact, did not suffer?) any propagandist techniques, any inept attempts to interfere in fundamentally personal spheres, should elicit only an enduring allergic reaction. It is Soviet hacks and the increasing number wishing to continue that tradition, who try at all cost to convince people that propaganda is everywhere and unavoidable. They need it alright in order to continue a vicious tradition which adds to old lies, fuels passions and tension and can lead only to a dead end. While it is possible to change direction, and no magic wand is required.

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