It was a hot, late autumn evening in 1983, and I was picking bell peppers in my first and last high-school “agricultural brigade” (in Bulgaria, like in other socialist countries, students were expected to assist the socialist economy by providing a week or two of hard manual labor during the school year, naturally, for free). I was 14 then, and I was much more interested in the on-camp disco parties after the long day in the scorching heat.
But on this particular evening, there was no disco. Instead, there was entertainment of a different kind. We were to listen to a visiting lecturer from the “Department of Propaganda and Agitation” (yep, not kidding you – that was the name). He had an urgent lecture to deliver to us, 14-year-old students at the foreign-language high-school in Plovdiv. A South-Korean passenger plane had disappeared off the radars a few days before, and he had to convey to us the truth, as passed from Moscow. And it was essential that we heard the truth, he said, before we could hear the lies from the Western radio stations.
I vividly remember how comrade Agitator-Propagandist unfolded a huge map of the Soviet Union on the podium in that stuffy village cinema where the 500+ students had been ushered. I remember how he drew a straight-line, alleged flight plan of South Korean 007, which cut through the Sakhalin peninsula like a Cupid’s arrow. “Here, ” comrade A-P pointed at one dot at the map, “…is where flight 007 entered Soviet territory. And here “, he pointed to another “…is where it exited Soviet territory”.
The jet had been later shot down, he guessed, by South Korea itself, to make the Soviet Union look bad.
He then went on to explain that Flight 007 had been a US spy plane masquerading as a passenger jet. A brave (or really dumb) student from the front of the hall raised his hand and asked “But Comrade, if it was a spy plane, why didn’t the Soviet Union shoot it down?”
Comrade P-A, looking confused, perused for a minute, and said something to the tune of: “Because sovereignty over national air space is not a topic, around which second-grade Hollywood scenarios can be created”. I remember clearly the Hollywood part, because Reagan being president at that time, it almost made the Department of Propaganda and Agitation look smart to be able to sub-tweet about his acting past.
I remembered this story twice in the past month. The first time was when Russian propaganda insisted that Ukraine had shot flight MH17 in order to make, well, pretty much – the Soviet Union look bad.
The second time was today, while doing a research on the commonality between the language of current Russian cold-war propaganda, vs old Soviet propaganda. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I stumbled upon this statement on the website of the Russian embassy in London:
Comment by the Information and Press Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the situation around the violation of the airspace of Sweden by a US reconnaissance aircraft RC-135
The recent violation of the airspace of Sweden by a US reconnaissance aircraft RC-135 is quite an exemplary case. We are interested, why Sweden, which is known for its policy of “freedom from military unions”, decided to play along with the United States and undertook awkward attempts to hide this fact from Swedish and international communities. However, the version that the US pilots were escaping from Russian fighters in the Swedish skies looks as a challenge for common sense. We believe that sovereignty over national air space is not a topic, around which doubtful Hollywood scenarios can be created.
Wow, I thought. Who wrote this? Is it the same guy or lady who wrote the talking points to Comrade A-P from 1983? Isn’t he/she supposed to be retired, or even dead?
As I went on reading, the language of current cold-war rhetoric seemed like it was taken directly out of the early 80s, without it being even brushed off, let alone upgraded. Here are a few samples (and I encourage you to read the Embassy’s briefs on a regular basis, for Sunday entertainment if not for scientific purposes):
On the “indigenous Balts”, in inverted commas, probably because noone has proven they are more indigenous than the Russian-speaking Balts:
The build-up of military activities by NATO and “indigenous Balts” – the United States, the current events in the Baltics, which remained a zone of peace for all this time, indeed leads to such awkward situations as a sudden “friendly” intrusion into the skies of Sweden, which is not party to any military organisations. This line cannot be perceived in other way than an irresponsible and not far-sighted, which poisons the atmosphere in the North of Europe.
On the non-free press in the West:
Even if the media in UK by some unknown reason choose not to inform public on it does not mean the appalling humanitarian disaster does not exist. Deliberate silence on that is nothing more than bias and distortion of facts.
On the new planned economy following the embargo:
The Government has been instructed to take measures to ensure balanced goods markets and prevent accelerating price rises for agricultural products and foodstuffs; to organise together with regional authorities timely monitoring of goods markets; and act together with associations of goods producers, retailers and organisations to take measures to increase supply of domestic goods.
On the connivance of the Western sponsors:
The punitive operation of the Kiev authorities, which goes on at connivance of western sponsors of the regime, kills civilians, injures many people and destroys civil sites.
On the outrages of fascist pro-Europeans disrupting pro-Russian concerts:
Seeing that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies do nothing, on the 3 August supporters of European integration of Ukraine, fascist youths of the Right Sector and the Svoboda party organised outrages in Odessa to disrupt concert of the Ukrainian singer Ani Lorak. They disliked that this popular performed made a performance in Crimea and received a Russian music award before that.
On the prosecution against objective, Russian state-owned media:
Persecution of journalists, who are ready to objectively report on the events in Ukraine, continues. On the 1 August, a Russia Today journalist, US national, Alina Yeprimyan, was deported from Ukraine.
On the unselfishness and unsqueezableness of Russian peace-keepers:
As to Russian peacekeepers…they fulfil their mission in good faith and unselfishly. They are strong not because of their number, but because of the trust they have earned among the population.
Any non-constructive actions aimed at destabilisation of the situation in the region, any attempts to squeeze Russian forces.. from Transnistria, will be perceived as unfriendly actions against Russia.
On the “no-proof, don’t speak” doctrine:
We noted the statement made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, during her meeting with representatives of the mass media that the UN had no proof that Russia would supply armaments to the militia in the East of Ukraine.
And my favorite (grammar preserved):
Anders Fogh Rasmussen continues to present his invented accusations against Russia. Unfortunately, his interview to Midi Libre was not an exclusion. He does not say a word about the non-stop punitive operation of the Ukrainian authorities against their own people, the growing flow of refugees from the country, shooting at the Russian territory and other provocations. He does not mention the efforts of countries of the Organisation to reinforce the military potential of Ukraine, which, as it is known, is used against civilians in the South-East of Ukraine.
Instead of that Anders Fogh Rasmussen is confrontationally attempting to shift the blame for the aggravation of the crisis in Ukraine on Russia. Like a broken record we keep hearing statements about “Russian aggression” and “spheres of influence”. He also diligently reproduces other propagandistic clichés of “cold war” times. All this is done to justify the notorious need to “close the ranks” in the face of an imaginary external threat to NATO countries, to increase military expenses and to strengthen the demand for this Organisation in the 21st century.
I am sure that if i had the time and nerves, I would be able to find an almost exact 1983-1985 duplicate to each of these current foreign-affairs Russian propaganda theses. The point is, however, that Russia has chosen, for one or another reason, not to upgrade its rhetoric of 30 years vintage. And while this language might have sounded apt for 1983 (it didn’t), it certainly sounds ludicrous in 2014.
Which begs the question: who writes this stuff, in 2014?
For now, the most appropriate answer seems to be coming from the always spot-on Estonian president:
One thing seems clear: like in 1983, also in 2014, when the Department of Propaganda and Agitation runs out of reasonable arguments, the “second-grade Hollywood script” argument comes into play.