Global Independent Analytics
Giuseppe Zaccaria
Giuseppe Zaccaria

Location: Italy

Specialization: Balkans, Yugoslavia

Cold war in pictures and songs

Control the media - the media controls us

When in the second season of the "House of Cards" TV series the cynical American President  Frank Underwood begins to confront his Russian counterpart Valentin Petrov, spectators worldwide could see a revised and updated television version of Vladimir Putin. The script is designed for actor Lars Mikkelsen, a character that resembles Putin and acts like Putin, but who also does things that even the toughest opponents never imputed to the real Putin, such as acting like an arrogant “macho" and kissing the first lady during an official dinner at the White House. Remember the scene? The writer of the series,   Beau Willimon said about it: "We didn’t want to make an imitation of Putin. He’s Frank Underwood’s opponent, but not an imitation, and shouldn’t be. But there are certain similarities...”. And, concluding his argument, he asserted in self-defense: “Petrov is taller…”.

The issue did not deserve to be taken so seriously, as even Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Russian News Service: ”We did not watch it… and we have not heard that Putin's image was used”. Anyway, the fictional character has a strong resemblance to the Russian president, and just to make the fiction less imaginative, at one time the false Putin was confronted with two authentic members of Russian band “Pussy Riot”. In short, the “House of Cards” provided an example of how to manipulate a large portion of the public by the use of fiction.

Of course, to successfully influence relations between the great powers it takes more than just a television series, but anyone who follows American TV and movie industry can remember how, for example, at the time of Saddam Hussein he was portrayed in  satirical movies as a Middle East dictator with a  big mustache and an arrogant behavior. Or, Muammar Gaddafi images presented by the US entertainment industry: ridiculed over the ‘women issue’. Or the portrayal of the quirks of French President Mitterrand. A propaganda war? For the moment, let's just talk about the casual use of the mass media that has more effect on the public than any overtly political discourse.

Sometimes the zeal is exaggerated: when Putin came out the winner in   meetings held to pressure Kiev into agreeing to a ceasefire in the Ukraine, the Italian newspaper "La Stampa" diverted attention by emphasizing that "the Russian president was wearing an ugly tie." But in general, these things do tend to be done more subtly.

Recently, however, there have been other facts that have focused attention to a confrontation that is being instigated by other methods or, if you prefer, the beginning of a “soft cold war.” Today it seems rather more oriented to sports and music contests.  For example, the “Eurosong” contest and FIFA voting for Kosovo membership, because they are both typical symptoms that something is going very wrong.

If one is still wondering why here is a story about big money and politics that makes the world go around. Susana Jamaladynova, Jamala for short, won the Eurosong contest with a ‘1944’ song that was politically charged against the Russians, as CNN reported. Actually, this song is Tatar blues about the time when Stalin expelled the Crimean Tatar minority after the Second World War by its collaboration with the Nazis. Jamala wrote this song as her grandmother told it to her about those days and now, she claims, she wishes those days never to return. And, that is quite OK, if we think about it outside the context that is fully politically charged to indict the Russians.

Putin’s Russia has, in fact, condemned those dark days of its history. So, the zero point for the EU itself. According to blazing headlines the Russians are “angry, furious” etc. Fine, maybe some of them are, but not because of Jamala, her strong performance, and voice, but because of the politics that kidnapped this contest. Evidence of that could be found in the voting patterns: Russia gave to Ukraine 10 points and Ukraine to Russia the maximum 12 points. Again, if judged by the voting Germany and France sensed the trap and skipped the “game” this time. Even the voting system went wrong and was confused, bringing more bitterness to “Eurosong”. As the “Huffington Post” wrote, voting was such a “charm”: each juror was supposed to rank all 26 entries from 1 to 26, with one being their favorite and 26 being the least so.  However, it has transpired that Danish juror Hilda Heick got a little bit mixed up while marking her ballot during Saturday night’s (14 May) show. In fact, she ended up marking her points in the completely wrong way, giving Ukraine 12 points instead of the zero points that she intended. Her mistake also meant that Australia’s entry didn’t get the 12 points she had meant to award them, having to settle for ten instead.The UK’s entry benefited from her mix up, after being awarded three points instead of zero. And to top it all off, as Hilda tried to explain her mix up to  “bt.com”: “It was my great mistake, and I admit it honestly, but I want to emphasize that I am not senile yet, although several people write on Facebook that I should retire and stay  away from everything and that I don’t know anything”.

But now, let’s forget songs. What was important is that Jamala had to win according to “someone’s” calculus, and she did. But the bitter taste of such a victory remains, perhaps even in Jamaica's most private thoughts. She is totally aware that this victory was brought on the wings of Cold War games, and this impression will remain for a very long time. This is not the first time that Eurovision became blind to its cause, and certainly won’t be the last. Once upon a time, Eurovision gave birth to real music stars charting music’s future, just to mention ABBA, but those days are gone, and this festival has turned into a ridiculous spectacle stage managed by other than musical interests. That is the way things usually go.

Almost always, the story provides the tools for better understanding of what is happening today. If we retrace historical facts it is easy to remember that, after 1945, Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower institutionalized propaganda agencies put into action during the Second World War, giving them originally the mission of fighting the Soviet Union and the USSR satellite republics, which gave birth to two different projects.

Project 'Troy' was designed to mobilize researchers to define the different available means to transmit the "truth" (i.e. US propaganda) behind the Iron Curtain. The goal was to strengthen the "Voice of America"  (VOA), a network of broadcasts created by the International Information Service (IIS), a body set up by Truman to replace the OWI.

"Voice of America"  was a white propaganda operation and the author of this project, James Webb, an adviser to Secretary of State Dean Acheson, was a proponent of "psychological warfare." A few years later, it was recognized that "Voice of America"  was not enough to break through the Iron Curtain. The second project aimed at recruiting intellectuals who would spread NATO doctrine to the East. The “Carnegie Foundation” provided the necessary funds to launch the Russian research center.

Now, no one can be certain that similar projects have not been set up today, reinforced with the power of television communication. However, in recent years, to gain popularity in the Balkans even Turkey has relied on a television drama that retraced the history of Suleiman the Magnificent, adapted to Erdogan’s present-day policy requirements. The “Carnegie Foundation” continues to support plans for ''democratic information” in the East. The European Union has allocated huge funds for such a project(s), but it is still under a veil of mystery. Who knows...

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