Anonymous: The Bear shall reach out and claim its well-deserved glory!and
Be very afraid...
Vlad: Stereotypes die hard, as evidenced, inter alia, by the above comment.
I think the Western perceptions of Russia is a specific, particular case of a more general trend, which, in my view, should be dealt with within the PD framework...
My point is that all political correctness notwithstanding, some people, nations and groups of nations firmly believe (or at least try to make others believe that they firmly believe) that Truth (and the only Truth at that) is their birthright. Their pronouncements are supposed to be (almost) absolute truths (I mean with regard to other countries and nations; obviously that does not apply to domestic affairs).
The whole idea of natural rights, which was in due time properly codified, claims equality as not only virtue but also a fundamental principle. Why, then, are "some animals more equal"?
I think it is a good question for PD. If someone engaged in PD efforts, be it politicians, media or researchers, why not address some of these simple questions? Why, for instance, Russia (or Soviet Union) has always to be apologetic for what it did or does?
I am not trying to exonerate the terrible things done by the Bolshevik regime, Stalin, etc.
OK, take Katyn. Terrible crime. But why, while demanding (and justly demanding) from Russians to apologize, etc,. for that crime, Poles (and the West that supports them) do not apologize for 60 or may be 70 thousand or even more deaths of Russian prisoners of war in 1920?
The "great" Great Britain, when an empire, did terrible things. (First concentration camps for civilians is just a minor episode). I have yet to hear constant recriminations.
Who used A-bombs? Who used them against civilians? Who used chemical warfare?
Who used a scorched-land tactics in modern times? Who used napalm indiscriminately? The list may go on and on.
But for some mysterious reason it seems like no one is to blame because they are "good guys". Russians, on the other hand, are "bad guys". Well, not only Russians.
Now, for a change, it is Iranians. Uf...
So, if there are clear moral standards and principles, why some countries are "entitled" to having nuclear weapons, while others are not? Why is it tenable to believe that someone can have monopoly on truth? The WWII is merely an example.
Simple statistics and facts show who bore the brunt of the war.
Just an episode. In Schindler's List they make fun of a dumb Soviet soldier. But the plain truth is that, as many Jewish survivors testified, in most cases it was the Soviets who liberated them sacrificing many more lives of their soldiers than otherwise they would.
Anyway... It is easier to invoke an image of a menacing Russian Bear than to take the trouble of learning some history and to not subscribe wholeheartedly to moral relativism.
I couldn't agree with you more! History has always been a major matter of contention, especially in cases where bitterness and hostility persisted after the end of the actual conflict. After all, history IS the national myth, and myths, although sometimes based on partial truths, mostly consist of grave distortions and/or exaggerations of true events. Now, given the interdependence, interconnectedness, and the rise of new channels for wielding power, "controlling the narrative" is an increasingly (even) more prominent foreign policy priority for most countries. In many cases this control goes beyond current events and extends into history. That, obviously, is the case with WWII as well.
To address the point on teaching of history per se: well, not that these things are not mentioned in the books, or not explained (in many cases, at least, they are still recognized as historical events). The problem lies in that they are just not emphasized enough, or even worse, are being completely distorted in their "framing" - be it in textbooks, in class discussions, in the media, in literature... So, the line would be: "Yes. The A-bomb happened. Hundreds of thousands died as a result (immediately, and later). There is no denying that. But well, it was done out of necessity, and without it the war would not have been won." (Very questionable, yes, but interestingly, still the major argument!) Sometimes, uncomfortable events are so de-emphasized in everyday "public life" (when references are made to it, that is), that people just forget about "the bomb part" altogether.
With the Brits, the case is similar. Decolonization made up, in fact, one of the 6 modules of the A'Level exam in 20th Century History (that was in 2005. I'm not sure if it's still the case, but I think it should be). Although we studied the Boer Wars and cases like the Amritsar massacre, there was never "enough time" to discuss all the details and various sides of it in depth because of the sheer volume of the material (a hundred-year period is just too huge; while we would spent months on other modules: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, or the Cold War). So, that history is taught. But, how aware of it are the British people in their daily lives? How often is this dark past invoked in the media, in the popular culture, etc.?
It is indeed amusing - and at the same time, oh so sad! - to see all the reporting done on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, or the entire continent of Africa, with absolutely no mention of history and the root causes of the plight. It's very difficult to analyze events in such light, so "leaving it to historians" is an overly convenient solution. (But for some reason, reminding the readers about the communist/socialist past of Eastern Bloc countries every time there is a story on one of them is not difficult.) Yet, the most important factor is the national myth, but the reasons behind it are more than just obvious, so I will not be venturing out in that direction here.
Even if one is to leave out current political motives behind the distortion of history, it is obvious that the "single truth" perspective is internalized so well over time, that it falls into a cycle that is constantly reinforced by the media, popular culture, other countries' propaganda (I cannot call it "public diplomacy" in these instances), etc. The following CrossTalk 'episode' on RT (this one belongs to the "exceptional" category) makes this point very well:
The trouble is, people seem to increasingly rely on popular culture - "embodied" by Hollywood, or Channel One Russia (seemingly, the major movie production company at present) - for their lessons in history. In CrossTalk they touch upon "Saving Private Ryan" , which, although a great movie, was completely biased and left out large parts of the history altogether (I would add another major example, on Vietnam - "We Were Soldiers"). That, in turn, reflects the general society's view of the events, which, initially constructed by government officials and interested parties, has been perpetuated by the media, history books, etc.: a perfect cycle.
Countries, then, see this not just a propaganda opportunity in terms of shaping other nations' (past or future) narratives of history (see below), but also as a major public diplomacy challenge, since these deeply held internalized "truths" (i.e. myths) are not easy to get rid of, even if the circumstances and initial reasons are gone. Therefore, "shaping the narrative" works not just in terms of the present, but also in the depiction of the past (walking a thin line between PD and propaganda, though).
To stay on Russia: a major recent "contention" has been the 2008 Ossetia War. Both sides - Georgia and Russia - deny being responsible for it, although both are to blame to varying extents. Nevertheless, despite the ever-present blame put on Russia in the American media, this view will be further promoted and preserved in an upcoming Hollywood movie, "Georgia". It is being made by a fairly prominent (although "mediocre") Hollywood director Renny Harlin, while Andy Garcia will be starring as Saakashvili. Take a look at the trailer:
Although the movie is supposedly "objective" and tries to focus on the human aspect of the conflict, claiming to be generally "anti-war", just a look at the trailer makes it obvious that such claims are far from being true. Rather, they are true according to a certain Western perspective. But, since there is a firmly held belief that it is the only perspective, and given a reality where far more people watch movies than read history books, Russia runs the risk of having another major historical challenge to resolve in the future. After all: "Situations defined as real become real in their consequences."
In short, it is all politicized - again - while relativism, particularly in public diplomacy, is brought up only when it suits the "narrative." Breaking such cycles is difficult, especially when they take on a "total" nature.