12 June 2012

Soviet propaganda: leaving Dr. Goebbels in the dust - Part I

It was a difficult time in USSR, the beginning of nineteen seventies. The Vietnam war was still raging, the Cold War was at its strongest, eating away at Soviet economy and forcing the Central Committee of the Party to look for any excuse to draw attention of the Soviet citizenry from the steadily lowering quality of life and steadily growing queues in the food shops.

It was only too easy to discover a welcome distraction. It was provided by the Soviet Jewry that at this time started to find the way out. The good old "Let my people go!" got a new geographic coordinates and, the fearsome might of the KGB and emigration authorities (see under "KGB") notwithstanding, the slow trickle of the lucky few who escaped using relatives in places like Poland, become a quite strong flow, supported by growing international pressure. Politicians in US, such as Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson (whose efforts culminated later in the Jackson–Vanik amendment) have done their considerable best to put the Jewish emigration issue on the agenda and to keep it there. Toward 1973 several tens of thousands of Soviet Jews emigrated, many of them to Israel. The number of people who were refused the permit to emigrate, mostly under pretext of possible damage to Soviet security, was growing quickly too, causing a rise in the dissident movement and related international notoriety - the thing most feared and hated by the Soviet leaders. Dissidents were arrested and incarcerated under various pretexts, such as "hooliganism", "parasitic way of life", "leaking of state secrets" etc. The linked here Chronology of events of the Zionist movement in the Soviet Union (just for year 1973) shows a little bit of the whole story.

Jews, the eternal irritant to the regime, became a strong one indeed, and the response, in the form of increased "anti-Zionist" propaganda that presented Zionism as a menace on par (at least) with the hated capitalists and their running lackey dogs (who were usually chosen according to the current trend), was quite strong. A typical poster of the time "Israeli warmongers - get OUT of Arab land!":

The poster should be considered benign, after all even the militarist's nose didn't get the usual treatment - that fierce mug could have been used for an American or German imperialist soldier as well... There were worse versions, and the frequency of articles, meetings, demonstrations,TV appearances by various anti-Zionist pundits became a veritable deluge.

Then the problem of original new material raised its ugly head. There is only so much that one can squeeze from the Zionism lemon. The Soviet citizens, who were nodding off anyway during the uncountable anti-Zionist speeches, started falling off their chairs - the need for some fresh ideas became vital. The appropriate instructions were issued and the appropriate functionaries started to dig. And some of them, probably owning to their better knowledge of history, decided to look back, to the blessed years of the Black Hundreds, the Protocols of The Elders and other deeds of the Russian Okhrana. To use the Protocols was already a bit too risky, but the wealth of material created by the Russian Jew-haters of that period couldn't be denied. And material was found, in abundance. The only problem was that the material was somewhat politically incorrect, targeting not the Zionists as such but the Jewish menace in general. It will be impossible now to restore the chain of events that lead to the story told here. But obviously a permission from above to use such old, questionable and, strictly speaking, politically incorrect material, was an absolute must during Soviet times.

And the results were quite spectacular. An article, titled "Israel - the school of obscurantism" appeared on September 22, 1972 in the French version of the glossy monthly "USSR". The monthly was distributed free of charge to various public institutions, libraries, schools, embassy guests, French VIPs etc. Almost simultaneously, an English version of the article (October 11, 1972) and an Italian version (October 12, 1972) appeared respectively in London and Rome. The English and Italian texts were slightly different, signed by different "authors", although it was obvious that some other hand crafted all these versions. Essentially the articles were one and the same, ostensibly based on "religious sources" and contained the same key sentences.

The contents of the opus were way beyond the regular swill produced by the Soviet propaganda of these days. Not content with "simple" anti-Zionist slogans anymore, the party oligarchy decided to bare it all, going for the hated Jews. The decision proved to be a monumental miscalculation. The first report from JTA gives a general picture of the situation, although imprecise in details:

Soviet Embassy Publication on Trial in Paris for Spreading Anti-semitism
The Soviet propaganda services were accused before a French court today of practicing "gross and old fashioned" anti-Semitism and "spreading racial hatred." The charges were levelled by a score of experts and witnesses, including a Nobel Prize winner, Rene Cassin, at the opening session of a suit brought by the International League Against Anti-Semitism (LICA) against a Soviet Embassy publication.

From now on, we'll let the main hero of the story, Grigory Tsezarevich Svirsky, a Russian/Israeli(briefly)/Canadian writer, decorated WW II pilot, professor of Russian literature, tell the rest.

(Photo from here).

His article "High Tribunal of France" is in Russian and quite long, so I shall try to convey the main points only.

The International League Against Anti-Semitism (LICA) invited Mr Svirsky to Paris to take part in the trial against the Soviet Embassy in Paris. After going through a few bureaucratic hurdles in the Israeli Foreign Ministry and receiving scant information that would prepare him to the trial, Svirsky flew out to Paris practically unprepared (on the day before the start of the trial). He was received in Paris by the press-attache of the Israeli embassy and escorted to the embassy, where for the first time the article from the "USSR" publication was translated for him. During the translation the bells started ringing. Here comes a direct quote from his article:
...where could I read this opus? Or hear it? "The world belongs to the children of Jehovah's the almighty...", "A Jew is strictly forbidden to save a goy (a non-Jew, as was explained at once)"; "Goy should not be considered human... "; " Better to throw a piece of meat to a dog than to give to a goy..." etc.

This alarmed me. The new ones [the anti-Semites] don't write so, no way! .. I've opened my leather bag and put aside the latest tomes [follow some names of modern Russian Jew-haters], pulled out a yellowed by time brochure - an ideological creed of Russian anti-Semites from 1903-1905. It was written just before the pogrom of Kishinev by a Black Hundred ideologist of the "Archangel Michael Union" hiding under the pseudonym "S. Rossov". Most likely, Shmakov or Purishkevich. Name of booklet is "Jewish question", subtitled "On the impossibility of granting full rights to the Jews ...". I got the fourth edition, Saint Petersburg, 1906.
In short, the 1972 Soviet article used the "religious" references invented by a rabid anti-Semite of the beginning of the century (and a raving anti-communist as well, which ads a bit of sweet irony). The references invented for a brochure that served as a main inspiration for a wave of pogroms...

French court was in a difficult situation at the time. On one hand, the French (Pompidou) policy of uninvolvement in the Cold War, the famous "detente", the relentless pressure from the various Soviet sources to dismiss the court proceedings. On the other, the recently passed French law about dissemination of racial hatred...

And so our hero arrives to the court:
The judge sits up there, a plump lady, which, as I was warned, is to be called "your honor." On the side, just below, the Attorney General of the French Republic, a narrow-shouldered stooping intellectual. In his black robe, he looks like a bat. The chamber is full. Two hundred or three hundred. Almost all bedecked by equipment. The press. I've stuck my Gladstone bag somewhere in back on the table and raised the yellowish booklet above my head. I've explained what this book means and who is the author. And, most importantly, what began after its publication in the Russian Empire. Kishinev, Kharkov pogroms... - I went over the list for a long time ...

Then I've asked the chairman of the Supreme Tribunal to put his finger on the second paragraph of the "USSR" article. And I began to read the brochure - credo of the "Archangel Michael's Union" ...

After a few of my sentences, I see the judge's jaw falling. Her ears are hearing, but she could not believe it. So "your honor" is sitting with her mouth open. "This is it - the burden of civilization, I think. - She can't imagine that this is possible ..." Five minutes later, "your honor" expressively looked in the direction of the Attorney-General of France. I've later learned that Pompidou, then President of France, asked the Attorney General to take all measures not to turn the process into a political one. He tried, they said. But what to do now?

The judge, leaning back in his throne chair, looked at him searchingly until his shoulders twitched nervously. Like, who expected that the Soviets would be such idiots? Then I realized that the deed is done and there's no need to waste more time.
I handed him [the translator] the Rossov's opus - read, I said, from here to here. When he was finished, "Your Honor" covered her face with her hands ...

I began to look around. The chamber was lined with brownish wood. All the time, I've heard a strange sound that I noticed when we have entered, suspecting auditory hallucinations. I listened again, and it were wood worms doing their deed. I smiled at the invisible worms. History, like wood worm, does its job. Gnaws at it. Half a century Moscow chattered about internationalism, brotherhood of nations. And lo and behold, only wood dust is left ...
The Soviet line of defense crumbled. In this trial they've suffered a total defeat .

On April 25, 1973, director of Soviet Embassy bulletin in Paris was found guilty of defamation and 'provoking racial hatred and violence' through anti-Semitic article.

The incident of the "Israel - the school of obscurantism", however, was only a part of the much, much larger picture. And prof Svirsky had the wisdom at the time to see the forest behind the trees and to do his best to warn the Israeli establishment about the coming cataclysm. In vain, as it appeared.

But we'll leave it for the next post. See Soviet propaganda: leaving Dr. Goebbels in the dust - Part II.

  • It should be mentioned that prof Svirsky received very little support from the Israeli establishment of the time and that no one has thanked him sufficiently for the discovery of the link between the two publications and for his presentation of the case at the court proceedings. His 15 minutes of fame in the French media didn't translate to even one minute of fame in Israel. It was, probably, partly due to the professional jealousy: after all, two teams of "experts" from Tel Aviv university and Jerusalem Hebrew university couldn't find the link...
  • This article by Svirsky contains eight examples of the texts copied from the 1906 opus to the 1972 Soviet article in the French version of "USSR".
  • This post was inspired by another blogger, who provided a few helpful starting links: Anton Nossik aka Dolboeb.


kcmeesha said...

Pretty interesting. Remember, I did a whole post from Krokodil 

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Wow! I missed this one. Thanks, I have to link to it.

the sad red earth said...

Fascinating, important piece of recovered history, Snoop. This resounds: 

"Half a century Moscow chattered about internationalism, brotherhood of nations. And lo and behold, only wood dust is left 

SnoopyTheGoon said...

That true. But I've only collected some info in different places.