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‘A natural ally’ How new propaganda films targeting college students seek to reframe Russia’s role in the world
From September 1, Russian college students will be required to take a state-approved ideological course, “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood.” Course creators have made films to serve as a guide — intended as an easy way to prepare students for seminars and tests on the material. In the new videos, students are told about “Russia in the World and in the Modern World System” “The Backbone of the Nation: The Russian Constitution,” and “Self-Sacrifice for the People.”
A ‘reliable partner’ against Western domination
The “World System” film begins by reminding the audience that Russia “unites Europe and Asia, facilitates the interaction of various cultures, and tries to preserve a multipolar and just world.”
Students learn that after World War II, the international order became “based on a new balance of power,” dominated by the USSR and the United States, which “in terms of the totality of their military, political, and ideological capabilities, as well as their potential for cultural influence, rapidly surpassed other countries.” The “cultural influence” of the U.S. is illustrated on the screen by shots of sex shops — that of the USSR by footage of Soviet ballet.
The film does admit that the Cold War order “was not ideal,” but emphasizes that it “allowed peace to be preserved and the use of nuclear weapons to be avoided” (naturally, there is no mention of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world was on the brink of nuclear war).
Following the lead of Vladimir Putin, the video proclaims the collapse of the USSR “the biggest geopolitical catastrophe,” not only for the people of the country itself but also for the entire world, which lost its “balance and collapsed.” “Russia is still the largest country in the world, but its geopolitical influence has significantly decreased. The West interpreted the collapse of the USSR as a victory in the Cold War. This allowed the U.S. to return to the idea of world domination.”
The film also lays out “rules” by which the U.S. is allegedly trying to “build the world”:
- The access-to-technology rule: "By allowing or not allowing a particular technology to be sold to a country, the U.S. determines who will be an unskilled worker and who will be a banker."
- The dollar rule: "Wherever you live, you have to exchange your national currency for dollars to buy goods around the world. Every time, you pay a commission."
- The Hollywood rule: "Movies shape behavior, slip in values, and create certain images, archetypes, and frameworks."
- The international-media rule: "The international media determines which places are good and which are evil."
- The U.S. Navy rule: "If the international media declares you a villain, the U.S. Navy machine will be used against you."
Shortly after that, the screen shows footage of protests in the former Soviet Union with a large inscription in capital letters: “U.S. INTERVENTION IS ALWAYS NEGATIVE.”
However, the film immediately reassures viewers that Russia has “destroyed U.S. plans to create a unipolar world” and prevented the States from “turning into a world dictator.” This, apparently, is thanks to “the strengthening of Russia’s position in the international arena and the growth of its military-political and economic potential.” How exactly Russia “destroyed the plans” of the United States and how much Russia’s “potential has grown” remain unspecified.
The video “study guide” also makes mention of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling it “measures to protect [Russia’s] vital interests with regards to Ukraine,” which Western countries then supposedly used as a “pretext for escalating longstanding anti-Russian policy” and “unleashing hybrid warfare against Russia.”
Freshmen will be told that these “measures to protect vital interests” are part of Russia's “mission” to “preserve stability in the world.” The country has already won a “number of geopolitical victories,” related to this, the film emphasizes — particularly, by engaging in open military conflict with Georgia and occupying Ukrainian territories, the annexation of which is referred to as “the return of territories lost during the collapse of the USSR.”
“Countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America perceive Russia as a reliable partner and a natural ally in the fight against Western neocolonialism. A growing number of countries seek cooperation with Russia,” asserts the video’s narrator.
A 'progressive' constitution
The Russian Constitution gets a whole “guide” to itself, where viewers are immediately informed that it guarantees “the absence of chaos and the preservation of unity,” and that every update to the Constitution (such as amendments) only makes it “more socially oriented” and “progressive.”
Stalin’s 1936 Constitution gave the USSR, among other things, “universally fair, direct, and secret-ballot elections” and “free religion.” The video makes no mention of Stalin’s Great Purge (including against clergy and believers).
The terms of Russia’s 1993 Constitution, however, are referred to as “colonial.” To footage of the first Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s speech saying the constitution provides “solid foundations for the construction of a democratic state,” the voiceover categorically states that “in fact, the firm foundations turned out to be a reflection of Western elites’ expectations toward Russia," adding that in the early 1990s, the country “had to give up some sovereignty in exchange” for funding reforms. “Now this situation has been overcome,” the voice reassures the viewer.
Heroism as Russia’s 'historical code'
The video devoted to “self-sacrifice,” supposedly one of the key Russian traits, will tell students about WWII soldiers who stopped enemy troops at the cost of their own lives, as well as about medical staff who worked in hospital red zones during the Covid pandemic. Denis Protsenko, a head physician who was one of the top five United Russia candidates in the 2021 Russian State Duma election yet turned down a position, gets special recognition.
The film offers no detailed accounts of Russians’ actions in the war against Ukraine. There is, however, a main conclusion, summarized as such: “Heroism, fearlessness before the last battle for the future of the country, lives in each of us. This is our nation’s historical code. And we will not allow anyone to erase or break it.”
Translated by Emily ShawRuss
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