Russians lack direct access to what is happening in other countries and thus are prepared to believe what pro-Kremlin media say not because of some mysterious “Russian soul” but rather because most of them don’t know foreign languages and have never travelled abroad, according to Tania Dekker.
“Putin propagandists,” she writes in a column for Novy Region-2, “make use of the fact that the majority of Russians for a number of reasons do not know how people live in other countries” and thus “convert millions of people into zombies with aggressive designs” (nr2.com.ua/column/Tania_Dekker/Prichiny-nedoveriya-rossiyan-k-inostrancam-101288.html).
Dekker, who lives in Lithuania, says that her friends there often ask “what has happened to the Russians?” They “were never cowards or fools. Why then do they accept the lies the media and authorities there tell? Why have they suddenly decided to return to the 20th century when the entire rest of the world is living in the 21st?”
The commentator suggests that the two most important causes for this are ignorance among Russians of foreign languages and poverty which prevents the overwhelming majority of them from travelling abroad and thus seeing for themselves what other countries are actually like.
According to an April 2014 Levada Center poll, she continues, “70 percent of Russians have not mastered even one foreign language.” English is the most common one, with about 11 percent of Russians saying they can speak it more or less well. Two percent speak German, and two percent speak Spanish.
“Considering that the majority of Russians get information about world events from television news,” she writes, “the majority of Russians in general do not know what is occurring in Western countries. They do not know how people there live and what they are thinking about” now.
Even those Russians who use the Internet are not able to escape this limitation. According to a VTsIOM poll, just over a third of all Russians turn to the net for news on a constant basis, but “the majority of Russians use Yandex, the national search engine; and the top stories it lists almost always come “from pro-Kremlin media.”
Russian users “often don’t trouble themselves to look for any additional information,” and many of them end up deceiving themselves that they are getting independent confirmation when they read on line stories that first appeared on television. Consequently, many of them are getting the same “food” that those who don’t use the Internet are consuming.
Google Translate does not give the most accurate of translations in many cases, Dekker continues, and “few want to spend their valuable time by seeking to understand a ‘distorted’ translation of an article.” And consequently, even though in principle they might do so, in practice, they don’t.
Adding to this self-isolation, few Russians travel abroad. According to another Levada Center poll, from March 2014, 76 percent of Russians have never been beyond the borders of the former USSR, and only 28 percent of them have a passport for foreign travel. Most of the latter are well-off and live in big cities; elsewhere, the numbers of such travels is miniscule.
Thus, there is no one to challenge the misrepresentations and lies of the official media; and that is taken as confirmation of their truth even by those who should know better, Dekker suggests.
She gives as an example of what this can lead to. Many of her Russian friends, when she first decided to move to Lithuania, felt compelled to send her “’correct’ stories about the nightmare life of Russians in the Baltic countries.” Most of what they sent her came from the Regnum news agency “where almost all news about Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is cast in exclusively negative terms.”
“’Don’t you understand what a mistake you are making?’” her friends asked. “’There fascists are on the march.’” After six months of this, she nonetheless went ahead and moved to Lithuania “completely prepared that [she] would be met at the railroad station with a fascist orchestra bearing flowers.”
But now, when these same Russians ask how things are going and how people in Lithuania relate to Russians, Dekker says, she tells them that they do so just as they do to all others, that fascists are not on the march, and that Russians are not being oppressed despite what the Russian media continue to tell them.
By Paul Goble, Window in Eurasia