25 February 2023
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
Everyone understood long ago that the rallies in support of the regime are nothing but government-ordered and propagandistic in nature. These actions’ organizers have been exposed multiple times for paying demonstrators to participate. Usually they don’t pay much, about 500 rubles apiece—slightly less than 10 American dollars. They round up government employees to go to the rallies for nothing, threatening trouble at work, and also students, promising them leniency in exams or expulsion if they refuse. The demonstrators are checked off the lists before the action starts and sometimes even after. The compulsory-voluntary system has been described in detail more than once. And it continues to work in the exact same way, without changes! What’s going on? Is the regime indifferent to being exposed?
The problem is that creating an illusion of voluntary participation by the popular masses is an important but not quite paramount objective. Much more important is the picture the media broadcast from these Putinalias. A relatively small audience is going to see those exposures, whereas the propaganda picture will be carried all over the world. This is like comparing an ocean wave in a nine-point storm to a ripple on a lake. Given this contrast in media capacities, the annoying failures in organizing the Putinalias can be disregarded.
Who Is the Propaganda Campaign Intended For?
The least significant target audience is the Russian one. Both because everyone has long become used to the compulsory-voluntary system and because everyone can see everything with their own eyes. Colorful actions like the one a few days ago at Luzhniki catch the attention of barely 20% of Russian television viewers. Those actions confirm their blind and dull-witted belief in the regime’s infallibility and strengthen their loyalty to the dictatorship. The rest, out of habit, don’t react to the news at all.
Just as they didn’t react in the Soviet era to the CPSU congresses or the holiday demonstrations in October and May. Then the way it was—at best people participated, took a nice walk, had a drink—and forgot about any Communist ideology or involvement in politics. It was just a day off and an occasion for a good meal.
Even smaller is the percentage of those who need false propaganda pictures to be convinced of their own usefulness to society and the state and of the correctness of their political conduct. In percentages, this new nomenklatura comprises less than one percent of all viewers and participants.
The rest of the target audience for the Putinalias is entirely foreign. The overarching goal of the propaganda campaign is to create abroad, primarily in the West, an impression of unity in Russian society in support of Kremlin policy. To do this, hundreds of thousands are collected into a mass that is going to look effective in a television frame. The tens of millions of other Russian citizens will stay outside the frame. No one will see them. No one will learn what they think or feel, or what they’re prepared to do. They’ll only see a handful of thugs on the stage and tribunes, which will create the appearance of nationwide unity.
In the Frame and Outside the Frame
For greater impact, the regime recruits famous people popular in society for the Putinalias: stage singers, athletes, and popular actors and bloggers. Once again, no one is going to see those who have refused to put their authority behind Kremlin propaganda, who will remain outside the frame. And the indiscriminate Western viewer will exclaim: “Look, the whole country there is for Putin! Look at how many people came to support him and how many famous people are welcoming him!”
Moreover, martial and patriotic rhetoric sound a refrain at these Putinalias, from the most exotic and clumsy accusations to threats to use nuclear weapons. And once again the Western viewer hears this and thinks about the terrible strength of a united Russian people that hates Western civilization, freedom, democracy, and a peaceful life. He thinks this way about the Russian people because he doesn’t see or hear anything else about Russia. He sees and hears what is obligingly served to him under the guise of objective news by well-honed Kremlin propaganda.
With the help of that propaganda, the Kremlin is reaping its rich harvest among those people in surrounding countries who make no distinction between a state and a country, between the Russian regime and society, who dream recklessly and vindictively about scorched earth on the territory of the former Russia. Joyfully inciting the flame of hatred toward Russia, with the help of the most delusional, cynical, and improbable fantasies, the Kremlin is successfully acquiring arguments to justify its own aggressive intentions under the guise of defending against the West’s attempts to wipe Russia off the face of the earth. Foreign idiots receptive to Kremlin propaganda are giving the Kremlin exactly what it expects from them with enviable zeal.