The Image of the Russian Revolution on Russian TV

By Shlapentokh, Dmitry | Contemporary Review, September 2012 | Go to article overview

The Image of the Russian Revolution on Russian TV


Shlapentokh, Dmitry, Contemporary Review


FOR a long time, the Russian masses seemed to be passive and ready to endure any hardship. They also seemed to accept the sharp social division between the haves and have-nots as the axiomatically given social-economic order. And from this perspective, they do not look very different from the ordinary Egyptian. The image of the Soviet regime also, long discredited, together with the Bolshevik Revolution that produced it, appeared to constitute no threat for the present Russian rulers. Still, even at a time of high Putinism,' in the era of high oil prices, improving living standards, and a return to stability after the anarchical criminality of the Yeltsin years, Russians continued to be haunted by the past. And they fear it as the nouveau riche in Cairo and elsewhere fear the image of a global jihad and khalifat that could seduce the masses to a bloody challenge of the social/economic status quo. Even more so, they became apprehensive when mass opposition-led demonstrations in December 2011 started to seem to be a new wave of radicalization and instability, early reminders of the beginning of the last century when the wave of ethnic violence and social/political shake-ups led Russia to its first revolution, in 1905, 'the great rehearsal' for the 1917 revolutions, almost exactly 100 years ago. Even at a time of comparative stability, the images of the past were threatening and they have become even more of a threat now that the regime has lost its sense of absolute invulnerability. And for this reason, the ruling elite has tried to discredit both the Soviet regime and the revolution as if they were not a phenomenon of the distant past but something of the present.

Movies on historical subjects were quite popular on television, as I noted during my several visits to the country. Critics of the revolution varied, and the Soviet regime varied from backbiting to more subtle attacks on the past. The producers employed several models of the vision of the past. The first implied that historical Russia was spiritual, noble and a great country. The tsarist regime was presented as ideal, and it was destroyed mostly because of the conniving West, which envied Russia's grandeur. A second theory implied that the tsarist regime was hardly ideal. The masses starved; and revolutionaries were often heroic personalities. Still, despite legitimate reasons for revolts and the noble character of the leaders, the revolutions moved society from bad to worse. Finally, a third model implied that there were no qualitative differences between regimes and that history is nothing but a convulsion from one bloody regime to another. Thus, the status quo is preferable.

From Holy Russia to the Hellish Soviets

One image of Russia, both present and past, could be called 'Holy Russia'. It is a modified old Slavophile image of Orthodox Slavdom surrounded by a hostile world. The image of 'Holy Russia' locked in conflict with the rest of the world, in particular the West, because the West cannot stand Russia's morality and spirituality, is propagated by quite a few movies. It directly emerged from centuries-old Slavophilism, which presented Russia as a wholesome Slavic Orthodox country; and, in the context of this image, it is only Orthodoxy that is true Christianity. Consequently, it is only Orthodox Slays who are humane and noble; and this made their reconciliation with the actually pagan and perfidious West pretty much impossible. This vision of hatred of the West is beamed to Russian viewers from their TV screens. This anti-Western bias is different from that which existed a few years ago. At that time, TV and radio presented a clear difference between the US and Europe. The US was the embodiment of evil and Russia's primordial enemy. At the same time, European countries, those who Donald Rumsfeld had called 'Old Europe'--France, Germany, etc., were seen as Russian allies or at least as kindred spirits and long discussions were conducted on TV as to why Europe did not accept Russia, the wholesome European power, as an equal. …

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