Most Eurasia watchers are keenly aware of the stifling media censorship instituted and reinstituted under the Putin regime in 21st century Russia. The state-owned publication Pravda, which unfittingly means “truth” in Russian, still remains my favorite publication in Russian media exhibiting the most absurd pro-government politicized bias. For instance, Pravda consistently and shamelessly blames the Central Intelligence Agency for nearly any anti-Russian geopolitical activity in the Eurasian region e.g., the Euromaidan movement in Ukraine was in fact a CIA-orchestrated coup and U.S. intelligence officials fomented the color revolutions in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Moldova. With my ingrained American conception of free speech, it is sometimes difficult for me to understand how the majority of Russian people possibly believe such stories.
But I suppose in a country with severely limited alternative sources of information, an ordinary Russian, particularly one thankful for the improved economic livelihood before sanctions and seeming stability in Chechnya provided by the Putin regime over the last decade, would naturally trust the message of the authorities. With passions high over the Ukraine conflict, Putin’s exploitation of nationalist sentiment in Russia society likely further engenders loyalty to government media sources, even when the few remaining independent outlets provide compelling evidence of Russian soldiers fighting and dying in eastern Ukraine. My mental dilemma still persists to comprehend the reasons behind this lack of skepticism.
The internal debate boils over as I cringe at the thought of potentially contributing to the disinformation campaigns waged by Russian and also Western media. Over the last year, I have discovered my natural talent for freelance writing, publishing at various news outlets, including The Moscow Times, Russia Direct, and Eurasianet. Often I wonder the following. Do my original words indeed become tainted with affiliation? Do my ideas fall flat under the weight of an ideological anvil? It animates me to think that my thoughts on the state of U.S.-Russian relations are possibly being read by both Americans and Russians around the world. But do the majority of individuals’ preconceptions about the “Other” frequently propagated through the media leave my work of objective analysis and constructive criticism tarnished and ignored?
I believe a personal anecdote best captures my underdeveloped answer to these questions on media manipulation and bilateral polarization in Russian and Western press. After my publication at The Moscow Times, I decided to notify my significant others of my most recent accomplishment. Their response was quite interesting. Many expressed interrogative concern about my name in a “Russian” news outlet making me a potential “target.” I was initially surprised, then I calmly allayed their fears, explaining that my little op-ed in a liberal English-language Russian newspaper was unlikely to draw such ire from Russian elites capable of carrying out political assassinations. Their unease still left me pondersome.
With some informed but inadequate opinions on Russia, my significant others revealed to me how likely most average Americans view Russia in these tense times. The demonization of big bad Putin in Western media coupled with thex recent tragic, mysterious death of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov likely further fuel a sentiment of suspicion already predisposed in an American public still colored by the Cold War mentality. On the other side of the globe, Russians feel similarly threatened as state-controlled media tells them that Western spies are in fact fomenting periodic instability across the former Soviet Union.
The Elicitor is a project that spawned from genuine concern over the bilateral polarization resulting from media manipulation in Russia and the West. This forum aspires to boost mutual understanding in this phase of tanking U.S.-Russian relations, so an American graduate student need not fear becoming a “target” of the Putin regime and the Russian people do not accept the excuse of CIA meddling to divert attention away from serious structural problems inherent in the corrupt institutions of 21st century Russia.
(Photo Credit: Central European University)
Peter J. Marzalik