A Closer Look at Improving Russia's Image

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Jul 21 14:55:40 UTC 2008

A Closer Look at Improving Russia's Image
Michael Averko

Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst
and media critic. In addition to the American Chronicle, his
commentary has appeared in the Action Ukraine Report, Byzantine Blog,
Counterpunch, Eurasian Home, Intelligent.ru, Johnson's Russia List,
Russia Blog, Serbianna, Siberian Light, The New York Times and The
Tiraspol Times.

EIN News, Google News, Inosmi.ru, News Now and The Russia Journal, are
among several news gathering venues which have carried some of
Averko's articles.

 Michael Averko
July 21, 2008

Richard Lourie's July 7 Moscow Times article "It'll Take More Than PR
to Improve Russia's Image" focuses attention on how Russia at large
can better improve upon the coverage of itself. His presentation does
not include taking issue with the media coverage of Russia.
Lourie recommends the release of jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky as
a positive image booster for Russia. The more encompassing advocacy
encourages improvement in Russia's legal and prison structures. Such a
stance shows a greater humanitarian concern, which could also benefit
Khodorkovsky; who to a good extent is responsible for his
convicted/interned status.

Lourie goes on to say that Russia could promote its great Soviet
contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany, as a means of fostering a
better image. Over the course of time, there has been considerable
historiography from Russian academia and media in support of this
point. Among western World war II historians, there seems to be a
general consensus acknowledging the tremendous Soviet effort.
Promoting it too much is likely to bring up other topics. This
includes the 1939 Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, which came after
the West's selling out Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany in 1938. Another
subject concerns the number of central and east Europeans, who have a
negative feeling about the aftereffects of the Soviet Union's World
War II victory. Some of these central and east Europeans had a
checkered wartime legacy, which was followed by the Cold War period of
willing homegrown dupes, who oppressed their fellow nationals.

This series of thoughts lead to the belief that Russia's image is best
served by putting the differences out in the open and having them
directly replied to with informatively interesting exchanges which do
not duck the differences. Russia at large can not be faulted for much
of the negative coverage against it. The Russian government funded
24/7 television news station Russia Today can improve the situation by
having informative and lively point-counterpoint exchanges between
opposing advocates.

Yevgeny Kiselyov's July 2 Moscow Times commentary "Lessons About
Franco, Football and Freedom" suggests that present day Russia has
similar aspects to Psain and the USSR of 1964. A few noticeable
differences are not mentioned in his piece.

In Madrid, the Soviet soccer team which lost to Spain at the 1964
European championship final did not have many of its citizens at the
game. This was due to the era of Soviet travel restrictions. After its
loss to Spain, the Soviet team faced some rebuke upon its return to
the USSR.

In contrast, the 2008 European soccer championship tournament saw many
Russians freely leave Russia to watch their team. None of them appear
to have sought political asylum. Following its semi-final loss to
Spain, the Russian team was well received in Russia, where there has
not been any significant bad mouthing of it.

The recent success of several Russian sports teams have enhanced
Russian national pride. Some people seem to prefer that Russia only be
portrayed negatively. Regarding Russia's 2008 soccer experience, a
different comparison than Kiselyov's references American enthusiasm
for its upstart ice hockey team that won the gold medal at the 1980
Winter Olympics. The Russian soccer team at the 2008 European
championship tournament was the youngest and performed much better
than what was expected.

Besides the American ice hockey victory in 1980, one can find other
instances of increased American patriotism in the 1980s. The United
States was coming off a bad experience in Indochina, the hostage
taking of its citizens in Iran and the impression that its Cold War
Soviet rival made geo-strategic gains in the 1970s. The feeling of
getting thumped on nurtured a counter-response. After facing a
difficult previous decade, post-Soviet Russia is undergoing the same
kind of process.

Georgy Bovt has a series of questionable suggestions on how Russia can
better improve its relationship with Ukraine. His views are stated in
his July 9 Russia Profile article "The Ukrainian Dead End." This piece
is a continuation of Bovt's Russia is wrong on Ukraine mindset that
was expressed in his two other Russia Profile articles "Improvised
Policy" (May 28) and "Conflicting Values" (May 21).

His Russia Profile commentary refers to those in the Ukrainian
government who want to limit Russian language use while pressing for
the Holodomor to be recognized as a genocide against Ukrainians. Bovt
does not provide the basis of opposition to these stances. It is not
only many Russians finding fault with these preferences. There are
several nations that have more than one official language. With this
in mind, the level of Russian language use in Ukraine makes a dual
language policy plausible. The 1930s famine in the Soviet Union was
especially hard on Ukraine; an unquestionable suffering due to failed
planning, which was not intended to eliminate Ukrainian identity.

Bovt's May 21 piece sees nothing wrong with Ukraine's government
pushing for NATO membership against the will of the majority of
Ukraine's population. He comes across as expecting Russia and the
majority of Ukraine's population to let that happen without protest.
What happened to the democratic idea of people power challenging an
unpopular move? Is there a legitimately great need to have Ukraine in

Bovt's May 21 article attributes Soviet ways on Russia as if Ukraine
is free of such. Symbolically, Russia's non-Soviet flag and emblem
have not been changed, with no noticeable movement to do so. On
ridding of the Soviet past, Bovt does not protest Ukraine's Soviet
drawn boundaries. Likewise, he seems at ease with efforts by some
Ukrainian Orange activists to downplay and/or slur pre-Soviet Russian
historical figures like Alexander Suvorov, Catherine the Great and
Alexander Pushkin. This as they advocate the portrayal of World War II
era Galician Ukrainian leader Stepan Bandera as a great historical
figure. These positions are opposed by many in Ukraine. For the most
part, Bandera's popularity is limited to western Ukraine (primarily
the Galician region).

In his May 28 article, Bovt questions why after the Soviet breakup,
elements within Russia began opposing the ceding of the Russocentric
Crimean region from Russia to Ukraine in 1954. The obvious reason has
to do with Crimea no longer being part of the same nation as Russia.
The 1954 change of Crimea's status was in commemoration of the 300th
anniversary of the Pereyaslavl Treaty, which reunified Russia and

Tacked onto Bovt's articles are Andreas Umland's Russia Profile
contributions "Putin's New Man in Brussels" (Jan. 18) and "Post-Soviet
Nationalism and the Future of Russia" (Jan. 15). During his time in
Ukraine, Umland has accentuated Russian nationalism, while being mum
on the anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalist variant. The latter is
noticeable, though not reflecting most Ukrainians. Likewise, Russia is
not the extremely negative nationalist place as caricatured in some
circles. Umland's Jan. 18 critique of Russian NATO ambassador Dmitry
Rogozin has a good deal of innuendo.

How well do some of the critics of Russia take criticism of their
work? How often are they challenged and to what degree? Matters that
partly relate to how Russia is perceived.

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