By Fred Weir Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
Islamic bandits. Sandstorms. A Red Army officer fighting venal bureaucrats to bring Communism to the wilds of Central Asia, liberate Muslim women from their veils, and spread the light of Soviet power.
It's "White Sun of the Desert," and just about every Russian has seen this 1960s film. Even now when it comes on TV, people drop everything to watch it.
This feel-good homegrown Russian flick is a nostalgic return to a time when Russian society radiated a collective purpose and national determination, one that has been beaten down since the collapse of the Soviet Union some 15 years ago. Movies like "White Sun" serve as ballast for a society overrun by Western fare like "Sex and the City," "Alien Resurrection," and "Doc Hollywood." And if Ivan Kononov has his way, it's the kind of programming that will help revive the traditional my-country-first patriotism that guided Russians for centuries and led to great triumphs in war, culture, and science.
Mr. Kononov is a top producer at Zvezda, a newly-launched state- run TV network. Zvezda, which means "star," is one of several government-funded initiatives ostensibly aimed at correcting what the Kremlin perceives is a dearth of national pride and identification with the state - especially among Russia's rudderless youth. "Until now, there is not a single TV channel oriented on the ideas of the Fatherland where priority is given to all things Russian," Kononov says. "You may call it propaganda, but we need to stop this tendency to beat ourselves up, stop selling out our country."
Zvezda, which kicked off in March and currently reaches about 50 million Russian households, so far spends most of its 24-hour cycle showing Soviet films, plus a few military documentaries and interviews with notable Russians. Kononov says programming will soon expand to include talk shows and open forums for young people to discuss their "burning questions," particularly the widespread aversion to military service.
Last month the Kremlin signed off on an ambitious five-year program, involving 22 government ministries, to buck up Russia's image at home and abroad as well as unspecified, but potentially ominous, efforts to "resist attempts to discredit and devalue patriotic ideas in the media, literature, and the arts." In addition to Zvezda, state subsidies will be offered to artists, journalists, and educators for introducing themes of national pride into their work, software experts will be hired to develop patriotic computer games and, for the first time since the Soviet era, schoolchildren will be required to take rudimentary military and civil defense training.
Also projected are steps to correct the allegedly false image of Russia held by many in the outside world, which Kremlin officials have often suggested is the work of "anti-Russian" and "cold-war minded" foreign journalists. …