Staunton, April 17 – Some see the rising tide of anti-Americanism and anti-Western attitudes in Russia as a recrudescence of the Cold War, but in fact, the attitudes that the Putin regime is promoting now are very different and much worse than those which his Soviet predecessors sponsored, according to Georgy Mirsky.
In Soviet times, the Moscow historian points out, Soviet propaganda sought to promote hatred of “Wall Street, the Pentagon, and the CIA,” but now Putin’s regime is promoting Russian hatred toward “everything American and consequently toward Western” societies as a whole.
According to Mirsky, “there is nothing terrible in ordinary anti-Americanism: it is found throughout the entire world; but hatred toward the West is acquiring with [Russians now] the character of a worldview, cultural and civilizational division,” a change that promises no good and that will be far more difficult to overcome.
This kind of nationalism, masquerading as patriotism, he suggests, not only promotes “obscurantism” among the Russian people but will allow for the growth of “the poisonous flowers of fascism.”
Mirsky recounts his own experiences as someone who should have been registered as an ethnic German in Soviet times but was saved from deportation, as some of his relatives were not, because his mother remarried and she and her new husband successfully arranged in 1942 for him to have “Russian” on line five of his Soviet passport.
The distinguished historian says that he recalls that because of the rising tide of Russian media attacks not on Western elite institutions but on the West as such is so different than the ones he remembers in all but a short period of Soviet times between the end of World War II and the death of Stalin.
Except for that relatively brief period, he continues, Soviet propaganda generally carefully distinguished between the capitalists and the people living under them in foreign countries, viewing the former as enemies but the latter as at least potential partners and even allies.
“There was no nationalism” in most of the Soviet period, he says; “everyone was raised in an internationalist spirit. We, the Pioneers and Komsomols, viewed the bourgeoisie and the capitalists with deep antipathy but we saw in the people living under the oppression of capital our unhappy brothers.”
But now the situation has changed, Mirsky says. Polls show that Russians now have been encouraged to think that the United States as a whole and indeed the West are the enemies of Russia and Russians, a pattern that resembles the late Stalin period but not that of Soviet times as a whole.
Between 1945 and 1953, Stalin demonstrated “the terrible and bestial things it is possible to do with people through the use of propaganda, lies and demagogy” and promoted a horrific and all-encompassing hatred of the West. But “happily, Stalin soon died, and after him, anti-Western attitudes began to have a unserious lip-service quality” among Soviet citizens.
MGIMO students told anti-Soviet jokes, and people looked with envy at American culture, even if they very much afraid that the leaders of “’monopoly capitalism,’ the military-industrial complex, and the Washington administration” represented a nuclear threat. Soviet citizens did not see and were not encouraged to see ordinary Americans as the enemies.
Today under Putin, the Russian media, “speculating on the really horrible mistake committed by NATO 15 years ago (the bombing of Yugoslavia) is presenting the most moderate and restrained of US presidents Barack Obama, who ended both American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as an aggressor and almost as the leader of the Ukrainian Banderites.”
Ever more Russians, Mirsky says, “are falling into the trap of nationalism masked as patriotism,” and some of them are saying that it is a good thing that “’the West, this eternal enemy, has finally shown its face” so that we will turn to China and India and thus become “a great Eurasian power.’”
That is nonsense, he continues. “In fact, the anti-Western campaign is directed not at Western ruling and social circles but at the further stupification of our own population. It is spreading a culture of hatred, which beginning with hostility to Caucasians and Americans” will end with hatred toward all and sundry including some within the Russian people itself.
In Russia today, there truly are “’definite forces’” which are seeking to eliminate “the spirit of freedom as well as critical and independent thought” and “to establish unanimity, to restore the ‘iron curtain,’” and to cut Russia off from Western culture, Mirsky says. Tragically, those forces are not marginal groups as in the past, but the Russian state itself.