Living and working in other countries, Public Diplomacy practitioners hear a mix of many ideas – political, economic, social, and religious. Among them are patriotism and nationalism. A recent video – and the controversies it sparked – presents a case study that can give viewers some perspective on today’s currents of Russian nationalism.
Last year, parliamentarian Anna Kuvychko appeared with a group of uniformed Russian students in a music video singing “Uncle Vova, we are with you.” “Vova” is a short form of Vladimir. The version with the best English subtitles is here. If you want to practice your Russian listening skill, there’s another version with Cyrillic subtitles.
This is one of several music videos lauding President Putin. The original video in Russian was viewed a million times. Well illustrating the “transfer” or “association” technique of propaganda, views of Kuvychko and the students, singing, are interspersed with views of monuments, parades, and scenes of the Russian armed forces.
The “capital of amber” refers to Kaliningrad. For Americans, the line, “we will bring back Alaska to the harbor of our motherland” is the most likely to raise eyebrows.
The song prompted 31-minute, highly critical line-by-line analysis by a video blogger from Belarus, “Mad Nick.” In a second video made a few weeks later, he presented additional background on the song’s reception in schools, and on the song’s author.
Guidance: “Mad Nick” does not make his case in the usual measured terms of foreign policy. His style is irreverent, in your face, snarky, and profane. (The f-bomb quotient is especially high.) That said, viewing the video and Mad Nick’s rejoinder can sharpen one’s understanding of how patriotism and other emotions can be manipulated, and leaders promoted, with impressionable youth.
There have been positive and negative responses by other Russians in the media and on social media. Use your search engine to look for articles and video clips.
Donald M. Bishop is the Bren Chair of Strategic Communications in the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. Mr. Bishop served as a Foreign Service Officer – first in the U.S. Information Agency and then in the Department of State – for 31 years.