Where the West Gets it Wrong about Russia

Time and time again we read Russophobic stories in “prestigious” Western newspapers, written by “journalists” who are paid to tow the editorial line which has failed to move on from Cold War days, perpetuating a negative myth that Russia is dark, dour and downright dangerous. Why do they get it so wrong?

An easy source of disinformation for the wannabe future editor is to find anti-Russian stories from former Soviet Republics such as the Baltic States, Georgia or Ukraine, regardless of the fact that there are many Georgians who favour excellent relations with Moscow, many who are married to Russians, many who live in Russia and live very well, regardless of the fact that the Baltic States are small and if they press the right buttons they can get more out of NATO and regardless of the fact that opinion polls point towards very warm mutual feelings between many Ukrainians and Russians.

As Vladimir Putin said, why is the West trying to create problems between Ukraine and Russia?

And it is in opinion polls that we see what is really happening, how Russians really feel and get the pulse of what is really happening on the ground, for to write a piece worth reading, a journalist has to understand the psyche and context of what (s)he is writing about.

Let us take as an example an excellent set of statistics put together by Anatoly Karlin, based on an opinion poll carried out by the Levada Center (Russia’s Gallup Poll). In this poll, ordinary Russians answer questions about themselves (all data referring to 2009). Let us see some of the results:

It is clear for a start that Russians are not trying to copy Western culture and are proud of their own. Only 4 per cent celebrated Christmas on December 25 in 1999, the same percentage as those who celebrated Hallowe’en. 70% however support the teaching of “The Foundations of Orthodox Culture” at elementary school level.

Regarding the transition from the Soviet past to modern-day Russia, only 29% consider that the country is better off now than in Soviet times; 60% “regret” the end of the Soviet Union and consider it could have been avoided, while 51% would like to see more State interventionism than there is today and 63% consider that the State should provide public services and guarantee a decent standard of living.

As for the Western media’s constant drivel about “dictatorship”, President Medvedev enjoys popularity ratings of 74%, Prime Minister Putin of 79% (and we must remember both were democratically elected with huge margins over their closest rivals).

As for the criticisms that all is gloom and doom in Russia, then let’s ask the Russians. Ten per cent say they have a difficult life and can barely make enough to buy food, while 90 per cent answer anywhere between they have “as much food as they need” to “can easily get durable consumer goods”.

Two to three percent consider Western-style “democracies” as being necessary in Russia, while the same percentage of people approve of Western darlings like Kasparov.

This does not mean to say that Russians want a return to the Soviet system or Soviet times – after all, who wants to go back in time twenty years? However it also sheds light on the arrogance, intrusion and insolence behind the irregular and inaccurate reporting by Western “sources” of…disinformation, which in practice are no more or less than propaganda outlets serving the interests of those who wish to perpetuate the myth, shape public opinion and kowtow to the (unelected) arms lobby which dictates foreign policy – NATO. Now, how democratic is that?

The Soviet Union, while being far from perfect, and while needing economic reforms to reward human endeavour and increase quality, was also far from the shambles it is so often painted as. We must also remember that the external relations of the USSR followed the developmental approach in countries which had been held back by the yolk of Imperialism. They were set free, the people were educated and public services were implemented.

The world today would be a far better place, freer from terrorism and much less dangerous, if these developmental programmes had been allowed to flourish instead of being sabotaged twenty or thirty years ago, for it is precisely the areas in which Soviet influence was substituted by Western interests where the problems reside today.

It is worthwhile Western journalists and media outlets thinking carefully before they write, trying to understand the deeper and wider picture so as not to consign their “news” to the realm of the drunken town crier, the tabloid rag or the guttersnipe.



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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey