Hatred Of Americans And ‘Fifth Column’ Has Deep Roots Among Russians

March 23, 2015
Photo from the Antimaydan rally in Moscow, February 21 | Evgeny Feldman / Novaya Gazeta / Meduza.io

Staunton, March 20 — It has become a commonplace to blame Kremlin-controlled media for the upsurge in anti-Americanism and hatred of a supposed “fifth column,” but two Russian sociologists say that hatred has been on the rise among Russians for a long time and at most this generalized hatred is now being channeled by the Kremlin toward these “new enemies.”

Lyubov Borusyak of the Higher School of Economics and Aleksey Levinson of the Levada Center say that focus groups among Russians show that anger against immigrants, against China and now against Americans has a common root despite the diversity of its objects.

Namely, in each case, the two say, Russians express a fear and then an anger that the target of their hatred is trying to subordinate them to some outside force, be it migrants in their cities, the Chinese taking over Siberia, or the Americans using Ukraine in order to weaken and ultimately dominate the Russians.

Thus, Borusyak and Levinson argue, the object of Russian hatred changes, often rapidly and sometimes as a result of messages delivered by government-controlled media, but the basis for their hatred does not and, barring a some unexpected tectonic shift, is not very likely to do so anytime soon.

Russians are accustomed to thinking of themselves as a kind people, “and if it suddently is discovered that Russians hate someone in a massive way, then to save their self-image as good people, they begin to say that propaganda is guilty in all this and that namely it sparks hatred.”

But the two point out, propagandists know that they can’t be successful unless they deliver messages which fit into pre-existing mindsets.

“Propaganda can raise the temperature and provide arguments (if they are needed), but it is not capable of becoming the cause of the anger of its audience toward one or another object,” Borusyak and Levinson say. But many find blaming propagandists more comforting than facing up to deeper problems.

Focus groups they organized, the two say, caused them to suspect that “negativism toward Tajiks, Uzbeks and other migrants was not simple and ordinary xenophobia, a simple mixture of fear and hatred to any aliens” but instead was a reflection of real fears about “those who really have been conducting themselves as masters” in places the Russians felt were theirs.

When Russians were able to protest against people within their own society, they did so; when they were able to protest against immigrants, they did that; and now that it has become acceptable to protest against Americans and their supposed conspiracies in Ukraine, they are doing that as well, the sociologists continue.

And judging from the past, Borusyak and Levinson say, they are ready, willing and able to shift to another target extremely rapidly as long as that target too is viewed as someone or some force that is trying to dominate Russians.

And that new target is now on public view: the “fifth column.”

According to the sociologists, “Anti-Americanism has also passed its peak, and mass consciousness [among Russians] is seeking whom it can accuse for the fact that [they] live not according to their own will and are not allowed to live as [they] want.”

In recent months, Russians have applied the term fifth column to ever more groups, a pattern that reflects the coming together of “three important factors.” First, there is the transfer of hatred from one group to another; second are commands from above; and third is “the technical readiness of our propaganda system” to link the fifth column with the United States.

Linking the Russian opposition to the US has not been hard, they point out. Russian propagandists point out that the US funds many opposition groups and that the opposition groups support US positions on things like the return of Crimea to Ukraine. But the real reason linking the two together works is elsewhere.

At present, at a time of an upswing in patriotism and a concern about national unity, anyone who challenges that is an enemy because he or she does so, and in that way becomes “exactly like the Americans only worse,” Borusyak and Levinson say.

That is why one of the first versions about the murder of Boris Nemtsov was that he was killed by the opposition as part of a “ritual” death designed to provoke a revolution and why one of the next was that he was killed on order of the Ukrainians or Americans to achieve exactly the same thing.

Such people, the two say, were “only partially” the victims of TV propaganda. Instead, they advanced such views because they are stupefied by “a feeling of unity and the need to come together against a foreign and domestic enemy.” And when they have a chance to combine the two, they do so, regardless of what they see on television.