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Tactics and tools How Russian propaganda uses the Soviet past

Russian propagandists are positioning the USSR as a “golden day” to which everyone should return. This historical period remains important for Russian propaganda, as about 63% of Russians still miss the Soviet Union. Russian propaganda presents the collapse of the USSR as a catastrophe and speaks extremely negatively about those people who allegedly “destroyed the Union”, such as Mykhailo Horbachov, Borys Yeltsyn and Leonid Kravchuk. And any significant dates, such as May 9, when Russia celebrates Victory Day over Nazi Germany, are greeted with euphoria.

When one nevertheless has to recall the repressions and famines caused by the Soviet Union, they are presented as a forced victim of all the peoples of the USSR. And they condemn only the leaders of the state, and they do not pay attention to the performers. Movies are used to confirm that the Soviet Union was a great state. True or fictional stories from the life of Soviet people about their alleged heroism and self-sacrifice play a role similar to movie characters in the “heroization” propaganda tactic. After the occupation of the Ukrainian territories, the Russians bring back their Soviet heroes associated with these places. For example, Vasyl Marhelov and Pavlo Sudoplatov. Heroes mean little without images of enemies. Their role is most often played by the opponents of the USSR in the German-Soviet and Cold War; residents of countries that emerged after the collapse of the USSR; opponents of the power of modern Russia, etc. These enemies, as a rule, have only negative traits and play the role of a “standard of evil”, and their actions and ideas, according to propaganda, are always wrong and criminal.

Propaganda often uses the image of Joseph Stalin for its own purposes. Russian propaganda does not glorify the “leader” and does not even deny some of his atrocities, which they find justification for. Stalin is portrayed as “a strong leader who saved the country at a critical moment”, and his image resonates with the current image of Volodymyr Putin. Also, in the name of Stalin, Russian propagandists justify repressions in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.

Russian propaganda speaks positively about the Soviet technology used by the occupying forces during the war against Ukraine. The same is with the objects that were built during the Soviet era. For example, if a bridge was damaged due to hostilities, Russian disinformers will write that the bridge survived because it was built in the USSR. So Russian propaganda uses the sentiment of the people and the feeling of nostalgia for something bright and ideal. Russia personifies the USSR, a state in which everything seemed to be fine, and is ready to bring this feeling to people again. This tactic is aimed primarily at Russians and residents of the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.

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