Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/2/2015 (2252 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
To be effective, propaganda does not necessarily have to convince anyone of a particular untruth. It can be successful by simply creating reasonable doubt that prevents people from taking a side in complex or messy issues.
I have become acutely aware of this fact through my involvement in an ongoing research project at the universities of Alberta and Toronto studying the Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-33. It is focused on examining newly accessible and overlooked sources about the man-made famine in which millions were murdered by Soviet state policies with the ostensible goal of building a utopian society.
As a specialist in the history of Ukrainians in Canada, I have been working with a colleague going through Canadian press reports about the Soviet Union in an effort to determine what readers of daily newspapers were told about developments taking place during the early years of Joseph Stalin's long reign of terror.
Going through thousands of articles dealing with the notorious dictator's first Five-Year Plan that culminated in the Holodomor has been like reading a history of Communist Russia with the benefit of hindsight. It is also akin to conducting a case study of Russian propaganda and its impact on the western press, which offers revealing lessons about Russia's current military invasion and information war against Ukraine.
Among the discoveries we have made is Canadians were surprisingly well-informed about the brutal nature of the Bolshevik regime, including its use of food as both an instrument of coercion and as a means of punishment on a scale unprecedented in history. Of course, at the same time there were many insightful and remarkably accurate accounts describing the horrific consequences of misguided Bolshevik ideology, there was also a lot disinformation that effectively muddied the waters and deflected attention away from the massive crime against humanity being perpetrated in Soviet Ukraine.
Though many half-truths and untruths were cynically spread by Kremlin propagandists, these were often disseminated more widely by gullible or wilfully naive fellow travellers, and even special interest groups within Canada's business community. The end result was Canadians were presented with a mixed and often contradictory picture of the Soviet Union, leaving many wondering who or what to believe.
If all this sounds familiar today, when there is once again a great deal of media attention being devoted to the Kremlin's policies affecting Ukraine, that is because there are numerous parallels between the Holodomor and the current Russian assault on Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity.
It is no accident President Vladimir Putin believes Joseph Stalin was an effective manager and a great leader who made the Soviet Union into a feared superpower, notwithstanding a few errors and excesses. It is equally telling that Putin has gone on record expressing his admiration for the Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels. The latter is why Putin has been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into aggressively promoting his neo-Soviet party line at home and abroad in an effort to prevent the spread of democratic values that could undermine his thoroughly corrupt, reactionary and authoritarian regime.
A major reason Stalin deliberately starved millions of Ukrainians to death by sealing the borders of the republic and removing every scrap of food from large parts of Ukraine's incredibly productive countryside, was he was intent on crushing any potential threat, real or imagined, of Ukrainians ever seceding from the Russian-dominated Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
He also wanted to punish Ukrainians for stubbornly resisting his crude attempts to force them to accept a new form of serfdom on state-owned collective farms and to compel them to accede to the hegemony of the Russian language and culture on the grounds these were somehow superior to the provincial dialect and culture of Ukrainians themselves.
Vladimir Putin has made it abundantly clear he not only shares Stalin's megalomania, but his belief in the inherent right of Moscow to dictate to Ukrainians their domestic, economic, cultural and foreign policies. In short, his goal is to destroy Ukraine's independence and its fledgling democracy, and to once again bring it to heel under a Kremlin dictatorship. That he is willing to use violence to achieve this end is obvious from the thinly disguised covert, hybrid and bloody war Russia is now prosecuting on Ukrainian soil.
Is it any wonder he continues to brazenly insist, despite irrefutable proof to the contrary, Russian troops were not involved in the seizure and annexation of Crimea, or that it wasn't a Russian missile fired by Russian personnel that shot down MH-17?
So it is, therefore, entirely consistent with Putin's warped world view that he similarly denies that Stalin's Holodomor was an act of genocide, the objective of which was to keep Ukrainians submissive and subservient to Russia's imperial pretensions.
Jars Balan is a researcher with the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta. He was recently in Winnipeg to give a presentation about the Holodomor at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.