News / Europe

    Experts: Kremlin Uses Racism, Crude Anti-Americanism to Mobilize Society

    FILE - A man steps on a doormat depicting a U.S. flag, inside a shopping center in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 25, 2014.
    FILE - A man steps on a doormat depicting a U.S. flag, inside a shopping center in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 25, 2014.

    In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post this week, Paula Dobriansky, who served as U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs from 2001 to 2009, and David Rivkin, a former Justice Department official in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, wrote that "racist and scatological salvos" have become a regular feature of attacks on foreign leaders, including President Barack Obama, in Russia's media - most of which is state-controlled - and in Russian society at large.

    "Russia’s print and electronic media channels carry stories depicting Obama as lazy and incompetent," they wrote. "Shops sell bumper stickers, posters, T-shirts and cardboard cut-outs with images of Obama as an ape and a chimney sweep. One Russian city held a contest inviting children to kick Obama’s cardboard image. Obama has been burned in effigy on numerous occasions, and zoo animals have been named after him, including a black piglet at the Volgograd zoo."

    ‘Comes from the top’

    According to Russian analysts, President Vladimir Putin has played a role in the growth of anti-American sentiment in Russia, and the tone of his statements about the United States teeter on the edge of the permissible. Thus, while he spoke about the need to build constructive relations with the United States during his traditional end-of-year press conference last month, Putin also unleashed a diatribe, in which he suggested "someone in the Turkish government decided to lick the Americans in a certain place."

    Igor Yakovenko, a former secretary of the Union of Russian Journalists and current head of the Public Expertise Foundation, believes that the impulse to engage in such invective during public discussions on foreign policy topics "comes from the top."

    FILE - Russian Communists carry a poster mocking U.S. President Barack Obama during a traditional May Day march in St. Petersburg, Russia, May 1, 2015.
    FILE - Russian Communists carry a poster mocking U.S. President Barack Obama during a traditional May Day march in St. Petersburg, Russia, May 1, 2015.


    "Obviously, the 'troubled' past of the Russian president dictates the style of his statements, and this undoubtedly sets the example to follow in the public forum," he told VOA, referring to Putin's own account growing up in the mean streets of St. Petersburg. "We see a pervasive rudeness emanating from politicians, TV presenters and journalists. It is impossible not to notice."

    According to Yakovenko, some Russian politicians engage in openly racist attacks on an African-American president of the United States, and this has no adverse effect on their political fortunes.

    "In a normal country, this surely would have resulted in, if not criminal penalties, then at least the end of his political career," he said. "But this does not happen in Russia. And it is certainly a trend set by the president."

    ‘Serious sign of degradation’

    Yakovenko believes those in power are playing on age-old prejudices.

    "On the one hand, there is the backdrop of everyday racism and anti-Semitism," he said. "And those at the top say: 'Guys, anything goes, now everybody's doing it!' This is quite a serious sign of degradation."

    In the future, he added, substantial work will be required to "de-Putinize" Russian society.

    Lyubov Borusyak, a sociologist at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, and Alexei Levinson, head of the social and cultural studies department of the Levada Center, an independent Russian polling agency, wrote last November that the wave of anti-Americanism in Russia is "a means of escaping from difficult internal problems."

    FILE - A worker puts up a billboard showing an image that resembles U.S. President Barack Obama, in Yekaterinburg, Russia, March 31, 2009. A Russian advertising agency has used an image resembling Obama to promote a new vanilla-and-chocolate ice cream.
    FILE - A worker puts up a billboard showing an image that resembles U.S. President Barack Obama, in Yekaterinburg, Russia, March 31, 2009. A Russian advertising agency has used an image resembling Obama to promote a new vanilla-and-chocolate ice cream.


    "The more difficult the problem, the more it [anti-Americanism] is in demand," they wrote. "In Russia, when a crisis starts to be felt more acutely, anti-American sentiment seriously gains momentum. The U.S., as polls show, is at the head of the list of countries unfriendly [and] hostile to Russia."

    In an interview with VOA, independent political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin said he was somewhat surprised by Putin's chosen course.

    "Because this is an obvious path to degradation," he said. "Culture tends to be complicated; it is only barbarians who simplify everything. This is why we see a country in search of enemies – both internal and external. The hatred of the United States forms out of this."

    Handiwork of spin doctors

    According to Oreshkin, such attitudes are deliberately nurtured in order to create a "binary picture of the world, via which Lenin came to power and Stalin maintained his power."

    He added: "For example, practically no Russians have ever been to the United States. Nonetheless, America is the most important element of frequent conversations at work, in the kitchen. You hear it everywhere: America has surrounded us, placed its military bases everywhere. This is seen as an axiom that no one asks to be proven."

    FILE - A huge banner depicting U.S. President Barack Obama wearing a T-shirt wishing Russia's President Vladimir Putin a happy birthday, hangs on a bridge in Moscow, Oct. 7, 2014.
    FILE - A huge banner depicting U.S. President Barack Obama wearing a T-shirt wishing Russia's President Vladimir Putin a happy birthday, hangs on a bridge in Moscow, Oct. 7, 2014.


    Oreshkin sees the handiwork of political spin doctors in the current wave of anti-Americanism.

    "The image of America is completely artificial, and Putin needs it to save his political regime," he said.

    Likewise, Igor Yakovenko says anti-Americanism is the key element in the Kremlin's efforts to mobilize Russian society.

    "It is a necessary condition for the consolidation of society against a common enemy," he said. "And who could be the 'perfect' enemy – America, of course."

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora