Not being able to read Gogol and Tolstoy in the original is unfortunate but hardly lethal. One’s physical survival isn’t threatened by reading those chaps in translation only, or for that matter not at all.
However, not being able to follow Russian newspapers and TV shows may have such a fatal effect. Granted, the official line of Putin’s government comes across on RT and other Anglophone propaganda channels.
Their Western viewers are the target of disinformation, whose techniques were honed within the good offices of the KGB’s First Directorate. Not every intended target is reached, but most receive at least glancing hits.
KGB disinformation artists paint a rosy picture of a Russia espousing every conservative value.
It’s conservative values that are stressed because, unlike the USSR, Putin’s KGB Russia cultivates her ‘useful idiots’ on the right of the political spectrum. Hence Russia comes across as the last bastion of Christianity committed to peace, love and heterosexual marriage.
It’s a tragic mistake, screams RT, to confuse today’s Russia with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is dead and it’ll never do a Lazarus.
Yet Putin’s propaganda vindicates Euclid by having two parallel lines that never converge. One is designed for the West, the other for home consumption.
One comes across in English, the other in Russian and never the twain shall meet. Only occasionally do translations of Russian-language utterances reach Western ears, usually when the speaker is either Putin or one of his top ministers.
Thus even monolingual Anglophones are aware that Putin regards the break-up of the Soviet Union 25 years ago as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century”. Implicitly that suggests that he sees his mission as reversing the catastrophe by reconquering the former constituent republics (and everything else he can get while at it).
But that implication may well be drowned by RT’s explicit assurances of Russia’s peaceful intentions, her decisive break with the Soviet past and her urgent desire to be friends with the West, if only the West would let her.
That deluge drowns not only the odd bits of information to the contrary seeping out of Russia at times, but also the brains of Putin’s Western fans. That inundation is indeed mortally dangerous.
For strategic deception always pursues strategic objectives. In this case, Russia is trying to demoralise NATO and the West by corrupting public opinion, which still exercises tremendous power over our government by focus group.
This strategy is succeeding, in part by enabling Putin’s useful idiots to acquire key political appointments in the West. Putin’s name was shouted by the Italian opponents of Renzi, Turkey has just appointed dozens of Putin’s admirers to important diplomatic posts in the West and NATO, the run-off in the next French presidential election is likely to be contested by two of Putin’s fans, Bulgaria and several other Eastern European countries are being run by Putin’s acolytes, the leaders of our own UKIP drool at the very mention of Putin’s name.
And let’s not forget the US President-elect who doesn’t bother to conceal his friendship with, and admiration for, Putin. As to Rex Tillerson, about to be appointed US Secretary of State, he was personally decorated by Putin for services rendered.
Both Trump and Tillerson have extensive business dealings with Russia – and a vested interest in discontinuing Western economic sanctions against her. Given a slightly different intellectual climate, this might be regarded as conflict of interest in some quarters – yet nobody seems to mind.
None of this would be possible if the public were able to follow the parallel, domestic, line of Russian Russophone propaganda. Then everyone would know that today’s rulers of Russia are committed to recreating the Soviet Union in all its tyrannical glory, if with different institutional symbols and jargon.
Thus, for example, Dmitry Kisilev, officially known as Putin’s mouthpiece and unofficially as his Goebbels, speaking on his TV show, the most influential one in Russia:
“Much of the Soviet Union survives. It seems that the main things aren’t material. The main thing, invaluable for the whole mankind, is the experience of the grandiose social experiment we staged on ourselves. Its goal was creating paradise on earth, a good life for everyone. And much of it succeeded. We literally moved mountains, creating the material foundations of communism. Our economy still rests on those foundations. And very warm Soviet features so dear to us are still surviving in our character.”
The “grandiose social experiment” enslaved Russia and half the world, destroyed millions of lives, reduced work to servitude, the press to nauseating propaganda and government to the worst tyranny ever known in history.
Those who know and deplore this should take Kisilev’s harangues at face value, including his threat to “turn America to radioactive dust” – especially since variations on the same theme are beamed at the Russians round the clock by all sorts of sources, including Putin himself.
Listen to the tyrants, ladies and gentlemen. Unlike our politicians, they usually mean and do what they say. The entire history of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany could have been forecast – and possibly changed – by taking seriously the works of Lenin and Hitler.
But in order to take a despot’s words seriously, one has to understand the language in which they’re uttered. That gets us back to the title of this article.