Putin’s War of Words: The Irony of Russia’s Propaganda against Latvia

  • 2010-12-02
  • By Inga Freivalds

The Cold War between Russia and the Western powers has been over for almost 20 years, yet Russia continues to be an ever-present and grave danger to her immediate neighbors, particularly to the countries formerly occupied by the Soviet Union. The Kremlin’s recently ramped-up and malicious propaganda campaign against the newly elected Latvian government is a case in point. Russia’s cunningly choreographed propaganda is a thinly veiled attempt to interfere in the internal and external affairs of its neighboring countries.

Moscow’s campaign to try to oust Latvian Foreign Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis from office is one of the most overt and recent examples of this. Another recent example is the introduction by the Russian delegation to the United Nations of a resolution condemning the so-called glorification of Nazism and the dismantling of World War II monuments (read: monuments glorifying Stalin and the 50 year Soviet occupation of the Baltic Republics).

Russia’s and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s disinformation campaign (with the help of the Russian parties in Latvia - Harmony Center (SC) and For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) - and their Latvian allies the oligarchs Ainars Slesers (LPP/LC), Andris Skele (TP) and Aivars Lembergs (ZZS) is intended to quash Latvia’s independence and progress, not to mention to further dilute and damage the Latvian language and Latvia’s unique cultural identity. It is also intended to take the spotlight off of the numerous human rights violations currently taking place in Russia, for instance the brutal beating of Russian journalist Oleg Kashin several weeks ago in Moscow, and put the spotlight on Latvia and other countries.

Throughout their propaganda, the Russians are using inflammatory catchwords like Nazi, Hitler, fascist, russophobe. These words are infamous, “politically incorrect” and catch the attention of most everyone. It is a cheap trick, and hopefully intelligent and well-informed people will not buy into it. Hopefully the European Union, UN, the NATO defense alliance and the United States “get it,” as the saying goes, because the Kremlin-controlled Russian media is a dangerous cocktail of propaganda, chauvinism and xenophobia.

For the purposes of this commentary, Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev has deliberately not been mentioned. As most people already know, Mr. Medvedev was handpicked by Putin to be little more than a puppet president. Putin still wields the real power in Russia.

Putting facts into historical perspective, Stalin’s Russian bolsheviks, communists and terrorists (the NKVD and, later, the KGB) were just as bad, if not worse, than Adolph Hitler and his Nazis. Stalin himself was a narcissistic and paranoid egoist, who ultimately killed many more people than Hitler, and, interestingly enough, Putin is currently trying to resurrect and improve Stalin’s reputation in Russia. Putin’s government sponsored Russian history textbooks which glorify Stalin. Many journalists have written of Putin’s admiration of Stalin and compared the two; some of those journalists were assassinated. The Russian law enacted by Putin whereby anyone equating Hitler and Stalin can be prosecuted is enlightening, to say the least.

In contrast to the current propaganda coming out of the Kremlin, it is also important to consider catchwords such as Stalin, KGB, Siberia, deportation, gulag, famine, Great Purge. Stalin’s Russian terrorists ultimately occupied Latvia for 50 years! They sent thousands upon thousands of Latvians to their deaths in Siberian concentration camps. They virtually outlawed the Latvian language, religion, etc. The NKVD and KGB forced Latvians to spy on each other. They flooded Latvia with ethnic Russians in an attempt to dilute and ultimately dissolve Latvia. During Stalin’s reign and the Soviet era, Latvia of the three Baltic Republics was deliberately the most saturated with ethnic Russians. Latvia is still struggling with the consequences today.

Now the Russians accuse us of being anti-Russian. Of course, it is only natural that we are now wary of Russia’s motives in Latvia, and wish to protect our language, cultural identity and independence. Unfortunately, Russia will not admit to the basic historical fact of its 50 year occupation of Latvia, and that of many other countries. Stalin’s terrors unleashed on Latvia were also experienced by many other countries and ethnic groups including: the Estonians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Poles, Romanians, Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, Meshketian Turks, Bulgarians, Greeks, Koreans and people of Jewish descent.

Stalin’s engineered Ukrainian ‘Holodomor’ famine and genocide (at least three million and possibly up to 10 million people starved to death) and his infamous execution of Polish prisoners of war known as the Katyn Massacre (22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals were killed), are of particular note because of the staggering number of people who died and perished as a result of Stalin’s mandates during these cataclysmic horrors. Many historians have called Stalin a mass murderer and a butcher. It is therefore even more important to emphasize that Putin is in the process of resurrecting Stalin’s infamous “cult of personality”.

As modern day public relations campaigns go, Putin has unfortunately succeeded on a very base and vulgar level, but he did not succeed in ousting Latvian Foreign Minister Kristovskis. Let’s hope Europe and the rest of the world realize what Russia is really up to. Why should Putin express concerns about the civil and human rights of ethnic Russians in Latvia, when he ignores the rights of most Russians, and horrificly violates those of many, in his own Russia? It is hypocrisy at its worst.

What about the human rights of the 52 journalists murdered in Russia since 1992? Not to mention the November 2006 deadly poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in a London restaurant. Mr. Litvinenko was a former colonel in the Russian secret service and a fierce critic of Putin. Did Russia consider the human rights of former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and his “Other Russia” supporters when they participated in an authorized anti-Putin rally in Moscow, November 2007, a week before parliamentary elections? No, Mr. Kasparov, was arrested and imprisoned for five days. Other demonstrators at the Moscow rally were also arrested. In St. Petersburg, at a demonstration also organized by Mr. Kasparov, 200 people were arrested as they chanted “Russia without Putin.” For these and the many other transgressions by Putin’s regime against the Russian people, it is disingenuous and hypocritical of Moscow to now accuse Latvia of violating the human rights of ethnic Russians in Latvia. The overall quality of life of ethnic Russians living in Latvia is much better than that of most Russians living in Russia.

It is currently popular and important throughout the world to be politically correct. Putin’s propaganda against Latvia guises itself in a cloak of human rights and political correctness in an attempt to manipulate the international community against Latvia. He plays the political correctness card masterfully (but hypocritically). Personally, I would like to believe that the leaders in Europe, the U.S. and other countries are wise enough to see through Moscow’s cloak of propaganda and hypocrisy.   

The irony of the Kremlin’s deliberately provocative use of the words fascist and Nazi to slander patriotic Latvians is that the largest country in the world today where the government engages in fascism is Putin’s own Russia.

November 29, 2010
Inga Freivalds is a researcher, writer, historian, and E-mail Communications’ Manager for the Washington, DC American Latvian Community.