Putin and the economics of propaganda.
There seems to be some global confusion about just where Russian dictator (call him for what he is) Vladimir Putin stands and what it is that he wants. Instead of looking at his contradictory public positions, let’s look instead at the most honest indicator of just what he wants: where he spends his TV and movie dollar.
In the arena of television, the Kremlin sponsors an entire English broadcast network in America called RT. It is about as far left as it is possible to get. Today’s headlines: “Modern capitalism has reached the end of its rope.” “Occupy Wall Street – is mass civil disobedience the only way?” “Putin promotes ‘Eurasian Schengen’ in first program article.” Who hosts the shows on RT? Thom Hartmann, the hard left radio host, who just this week gave “his take on why the global economic system is becoming a legion of psychopaths,” interviewed atheist Richard Dawkins, complained about “the issue of rising healthcare premiums in America,” asked whether “America is getting carried away in the ‘War on Terror,’” and jumped on Republican “resistance to passing legislation which would add millions of jobs to the US economy.” Another one of RT’s shows is hosted by Alyona Minkovski, a correspondent who is precisely as liberal as Hartmann. This week, she wondered, “as Occupy Wall Street spreads to other cities in the US … how much it’s going to take to bring about any real change.” She also wondered whether “what this country needs is less democracy.”
The fact that the Russian government sponsors a far left network in the United States is no surprise – they oppose capitalism in all of its forms.
But what’s more disturbing is where the Russians spend their entertainment cash. Over the weekend, I streamed the Russian nominee for the 2006 Academy Award for Best Language Film, 9th Company. This film was handed the Golden Eagle Award for Best Feature Film by the Russian Academy of Cinema Arts. It was co-produced by the Russian Federal Agency of Culture and Cinema & The Ministry of Culture. Putin himself praised it as “close to life” and said that it was a “very good film.” “This is a tragic story from the life of our country and our people,” said Putin. “But people who fought [in Afghanistan] for their ideals did a good job.” Putin actually invited the film’s director to his residence to watch it.
So what’s the film about? It follows a perfect communist company into Afghanistan, where they fight the mujahideen. Everything this company does is metaphorically a justification for communism and imperialist aggression. When the company is first brought together, they dislike each other intensely. But under the crack whip of their drill sergeant, they pull together. He beats them. He abuses them. And he cudgels them into tip-top shape. Up to now, this is nothing we haven’t seen in Full Metal Jacket.
Where the movie truly takes its communist turn is about halfway in. Two of the recruits think about dropping out. They decide not to while looking up at the Soviet flag. The whole troop then goes to visit “Snow White,” the local town soldier groupie, who sees every troop off by having sex with all of them. All of the members of the company trek over to a warehouse, where they proceed to shtup her. This scene culminates in the sensitive artist of the group telling her she is beautiful, a Venus – and all the members of the group bowing around her naked body. In the Soviet Union, it’s share and share alike.
They’re then shipped off to Afghanistan. We don’t hear why they’re there – the only justification is by the troops, who tell their commanding officers that they’re there to serve the people of Afghanistan (presumably by setting as many mines as humanly possible). Eventually, the movie culminates in a brutal battle between the mujahideen and the company. Everyone in the company is killed but the poorest fellow (naturally). The film ends with him decrying the lack of help from the Soviet government, complaining over the fall of one of the most evil regimes in human history:
“We were leaving Afghanistan. We … 9th company … won our war. Back then we still didn’t know everything. We didn’t know that two years later, the country in whose name we fought, would vanish, and that wearing the medals of that extinct state would go out of fashion …. We didn’t know that Snow White, along with her mother and many other Russian families, would remain in the abandoned military town on the Afghan border and disappear. And that our new lives would be random and cruel. Some would rise up. Others sank to the bottom. We didn’t know it back then. We didn’t even know that in the frenzy of retreat of the huge army, they simply forgot about us on those faraway heights. We were leaving Afghanistan, 9th Company … we won.”
The idea here is clear: communism prevented people from rising and falling. It wasn’t random and cruel. If left to their own devices, the communists would have been victorious. If not for Gorbachev, who is pilloried throughout the film by implication.
This is Putin’s Russia. It is well worth noting that Putin’s Russia is not ashamed of Afghanistan. They’re not ashamed of their communist past. They’re proud of all of it. And if they can rekindle it, they will.