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Go Ahead to the Bright Past or How Russian Propaganda Manipulates Nostalgia for the USSR

USSR poster

People who miss their “glorious” past or life in the Soviet Union can tell about free medicine, an apartment, guaranteed employment, carefree life and much more.

passport of the Russian FederationOne of the Russian propaganda’s features is that in its reports, it actively uses nostalgia for the USSR as an efficient tool for influencing different audiences. Mostly these are people who are far over 40-50 and found the USSR in all its Brezhnev’s beauty. With a smile on their faces, they remember those great times when the grass was greener, the sky was bluer, and everyone lived well in the Soviet Union, ignoring all the negative moments.

It was the Russian propaganda’s play to the nostalgia that formed the negative attitude towards the West (EU, NATO, USA) as “eternal” opponents to the USSR and Western Ukrainians as “bandero-fascist-nationalists” killing everyone who speaks Russian among the Crimea and eastern Ukraine regions’ population. About this and more further in our article.

Nostalgia

Nostalgia (from the Greek νόστος – return home and άλγος – pain) is a painful longing for the homeland. However, nostalgia cannot be considered just experiencing a longing for home, the past or the motherland. There are at least seven interpretations of nostalgia. The broadest two understandings of nostalgia are the desire to return to the previous situation and the attempt to domesticate someone else’s reality.

Nostalgia for the USSR means the longing for the Soviet system and society, social security, Soviet culture or aesthetics of the Soviet period.

It is natural for a part of the population of the Russian Federation, post-Soviet countries, Poland, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Israel, Canada, and the United States who were born in the USSR, that is, the “Soviet generation.”

Nostalgia for the USSR in Ukraine 

According to the latest survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, half of Ukrainians do not regret the collapse of the Soviet Union. Though one in three has the opposite opinion (33.5%). Among young people (under the age of 30), i.e. born after the USSR collapse, 14% regret this.

Of course, these figures are not critical, but they indicate the need to work with society.

After all, Russian propaganda played to nostalgia when Russia occupied Crimea and started the war in Donbas.

The USSR is a dream country… That is, no, but you recollect.

For more than two decades in a row, Russia has imposed the thesis that the USSR was a fairy-tale dreamland and that today’s Russia is the mythical USSR. These are the theses spread to the Crimea and eastern Ukraine people, which prompted them to support the Kremlin’s actions and even seek to join Russia.

Everything in Russian propaganda worked to promote these ideas: movies, TV series, books and politicians’ statements. After all, Russia prepared the ground for war in advance, and the events of 2014 and the following years only finalised a favourable picture for Russian propaganda.

Kremlin RussiaThe main narratives of Russian propaganda, which use nostalgia for the USSR:

1) Russia is like the USSR, only better.

In its image, Russia is trying to identify itself with the Soviet Union.  They say: “Have a look! Everything is the same as in the USSR, only in a modern way, that is, better. Under such conditions, there is an idealisation of the Soviet past, calls for its revival. We open factories, the state distributes housing, and everyone has a job, a stable salary and social protection. With such false paints, Russian propaganda tries to paint a parallel reality of Russia.

2) The United States and NATO are the evil that Russia fights.

In its virtual world, Russia continues to confront NATO and the United States, as the Soviet Union did during the Cold War. These enemies are demonised and labelled. After all, everywhere in Russia, there are global conspiracies of “Jewish Freemasons,” Banderites from Lviv, who dream only of conquering Russia. Accordingly, there is another narrative that the United States is fighting against Russia via Ukrainians.

3) Russia defeated Nazism and fascism.

One of the core Russian propaganda narratives is about Russia’s “Great Victory” in World War II. It uses the archetype of revenge and sacrifice, working on the emotional component based on the image of fascism as a symbol of evil and victory as a triumph of good. And even now these ideas continue to exist in the living Soviet identity.

That allows Russian propaganda to identify Russia with the USSR, and its enemies with the Nazis (St. George’s ribbon is an element of the USSR; Ukrainians are “Bandero-fascists;” Europeans are supporters of the Nazis, etc.). And the war in Donbas was transferred intentionally into the emotional plane to achieve the desired emotional state of the population.

4) Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are fraternal people.

It is the myth that Russia, Belarus, Ukraine are one people created in the Soviet Union. From a geopolitical perspective, Russia speaks of itself as the centre of the entire Slavic world and promotes Slavic and Eurasian identities for its audience. Accordingly, there is a myth of the “Russian world,” which is the environment of the Russian mentality and language.

As a result, Ukrainian society did not believe for a long time that “brotherly” Russia could start a war against it. It was unacceptable and pure fiction.

5) In Russia, there is a decent and prosperous life.

That is about that salaries and pensions in Russia are high and stable but respect for people, their social protection is the same as in USSR. The availability of its own resources, providing independence from external supplies, in contrast to Ukraine, a stable economy, high social protection of the population – all this should be directly associated with the USSR.

These comparisons were used aggressively during the Crimea and Donbas occupation to put their aggression against Ukraine’s right to the occupied territories’ population.

6) The cult of personality.

Stalin and Putin – what unites these two names? That’s right – these are two strong leaders to be proud of, so one should immediately feel a connection between these two people. But deeper, Russia is a “powerful and strong” state that is as authoritative on the global stage as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. Of course, this should evoke associations that lead to nostalgia for the USSR.

7) The West decays under immorality and the lack of culture.

The “wicked West” is something that had economic meaning in Soviet times but now gains spiritual and value aspects. “Russian spirituality” is being cultivated amidst Europe and the demonization of the United States. And in general, democracy leads to a decline in morality – homosexuality, paedophilia, drug addiction, alcoholism, transgender and other perversions of the Western world.

All the narratives, based on nostalgia for the USSR, cannot be listed, since there are plenty of them.

The ways these narratives are distributed.

First of all, the above messages are distributed via Russian films and TV series. After all, there are Stalin and those times agitators’ portraits in most of the “nostalgic” Russian films. Under them a hero is sitting in jeans, in front of whom, Alla Pugacheva or Kobzon are singing on the old TV.

Such films also show Stalin’s “order,” the technological and social breakthrough of the Khrushchev years, the relative well-being and focus on private life in Brezhnev’s period, and the freedom of the Gorbachev era.

And let’s imagine that a modern person watches these movies, and what he sees is the same life as today: the same people, only in different clothes. And all this is shown as natural life, without reference to the communism construction. Then, how can the viewer get to know that an escape to private life was an opportunity to hide from communism and its civil servants?

That is without the mentioning of Internet, radio and different groups on social networks that spread nostalgic posts about the Soviet Union.

Thus, nostalgia is a powerful weapon in the hands of Russian propaganda. Thanks to it Russia coped with the painless capturing of Crimea and starting a war in eastern Ukraine. It is efficient because it was formed not only by political statements but also by books, movies and TV series.

To meet this challenge, Ukraine needs to implement a comprehensive state policy and build its own information space. After all, even after seven years of war in eastern Ukraine, for objective and subjective reasons, not all the population of Ukraine is aware of the threat posed by Russia to Ukrainian identity.

Analytical group of the Centre for Counteracting Destructive Propaganda and Information Aggressions AM & PM

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