Negative image of Russia in European media. Using clichés and stereotypes. How does it affect image of culture and peopl?
Russian underground artist Alexandr Sokolov specially for this article
If you are a journalist and you want to cover Russia, you have to use a few necessary ingredients to grab your audience`s attention.
1. Use a bear – no matter how. You can create a headline using bear image or just put a picture of a bear as a cover. 100% of success.
2. If you don't want to use bear (maybe you think that it is overused – wow!), you can use a photo of Putin. Use a classic one – there are some pictures which journalists use for decades. Just copy it.
3. Maybe the face of Putin is not that interesting anymore? Okay, just use Google to find a topless photo of him. Definitely will work. Especially topless on a horse. Or combine it with a bear!
4. Just to make it more attractive, use Matreshka, vodka or tanks. Perfect match.
Russian presedent and a bear (photoshop)
These are "bad" advice based on an article of Dominic Basulto, American journalist. After his article website suggests some "can be interesting for you" articles with the following headlines:
"Russian bear goes around" (Neue Zürcher Zeitung), "A Turkish dagger in the back of a bear?" (Respekt), "You can't cross a bear with a rooster" (Delfi.lt), "Russia is a dangerous but sick bear" (Le Point).
Bear is a very complicated image which was used as a symbol of Russia for centuries. It symbolizes power, wildness, unrestraint, lust, and cruelty and has been actively used for Russia since the XIX century.
Russia and its culture are historically opposed to Europe and European values. For example, André Glucksmann who was a French philosopher considered this conflict as a "two cultures conflict: European culture of freedom and another culture – the culture of absolute national sovereignty".
Oleg Nemensky who is a leading researcher of RISS, a researcher at the Institute of Slavonic studies of RAS wrote in this article about Russophobe: "All evil in the world is taken as a consequence of Russian influence. It is the source of evil in the same way as the US is a source and embodiment of good".
Russian underground artist Alexandr Sokolov specially for this article
The conflict between Russia and the EU exists for a long time. It can be easily explained historically: Russia had a lot of interests which were opposite to European. Almost with every European country, the Russian Empire had past conflicts or wars. Of course, media always was a way to spread information and political propaganda and it is not a question that both sides sometimes use this "magic weapon".
A big problem that covering topics close related to Russia often produces (of uses) stereotypes and negative image of the country, people and culture. It affects usual people: they often are scared of travelling to Russia and have negative emotions when they talk to Russians.
Jochen Janssen, the PhD researcher from Basil University, analyzed German media and came to a conclusion that among them reports written in negative and dismissive tones are dominated. He mentioned: a favorite topic not about politicians, but about usual people is their alcoholism. Jochen provides a great example: Suddeutsche Zeitung reported about "emergency situation with vodka in Moscow" and about stairwells in the Russian houses. There, how correspondent reports, smells of urine, and alcoholics in underwear drinking vodka from the bottle. It is true. But do media tell about that they saw vomit from Paris or about the smell from armpits in London? Not really.
"The heavily drinking Russian villain is an often-found cliche in crime shows on German TV," says Ina Ruck who is a correspondent for ADR Moscow.
Here you can see a slideshow with results of an anonymous poll asking EU citizens about what do they associate with Russia and Russians. Spoiler: vodka and alcoholism were mentioned 28 times.
Russia is not a leader in alcohol consumption. Germany, where are a lot of articles about Russian alcoholism are produced, is more "alcohol-popular" country. Here you can see the world`s alcohol consumption:
According to one of Russian research, in 500 analyzed articles, the most used words about Russia are "barbarism", "violence", "savagery", "brutality". This was mentioned by Dula Svak, who is a PhD in history and expert in Russian history. All of these words were used in a context about country, politics and international relationship, but often readers get it as an image of people and culture as well. "A lot of headlines use "Russia", "Ukraine" or even "Russians" and "Ukrainians" as a short-hand for their governments" mentioned Simon Kruse (correspondent who covered Russia for Berlingske Tidende) as an example how one word in a headline can change the meaning.
In an anonymous poll, many people said that they consider Russians as "aggressive" and "isolated" people. This lexis is usually used when the politic course is described. But the problem is that there is a very thin line between "politics" and "people and culture". Ina Ruck explains why: "Where do politics end, and where do "country and culture" begin? I have faced that question not only in Russia, but also in the U.S., where I worked as a correspondent during the Trump candidacy and his first year in power: You criticize Trump, but by doing so you automatically criticize the people who voted for him. The same challenge a reporter faces in Russia. You criticize Putin's lies about the "little green men" or the vast corruption – or the way "Russian Culture" is being put above other cultures recently. And then you see the people believing in it, living easily with it, believing in their culture's supremacy. So – who do you criticize? If you criticize Russians who think their belief is the real Christian belief, their morals are deeper and better than western tolerance – there you have the thin line again. On the other hand, it is perfectly clear that the Kremlin is not Russia (as the White House is not America). There are so many interesting, inspiring, totally unpolitical people and rich and interesting topics out there. If we could report on them all!"
The problem is really sensitive but journalists should try their best to cover such topics accurately. Experiences correspondents from European media advice:
1. "You have to become aware of the stereotypes in your head – they are there, you won't be able to ignore them. But you can fight them. Fight them in your newsroom, too. If you are writing for a magazine and your editors want to illustrate your political Russia analysis with an image of a "Russian bear", do protest (also, not every very rich Russian is an "Oligarch")"
Ina Ruck (ARD Moscow)
2. Who wants to report fair about Russia, must also show how the Russians think about certain things. In the opinion of the leading German Russia-"experts" to understand Russia is similar to a capitulation to the enemy. \
Ulrich Heyden (Die Presse, Sächsische Zeitung)
3. Journalists can avoid stereotypes by doing reportage and not desk work, and by talking to ordinary people and explaining their life.
Simon Kruse (Berlingske Tidende)
4. I believe knowledge about and a genuine interest in the country you are covering are very important factors – be it Russia or another country. In this respect, it helps to live in or at least travelling extensively in the country/countries that you are supposed to cover. Thomas Heine (Politiken, Jyllands-Posten )
Termin "Russophobia" is really popular now. Here we can see how:
Mentions of "anti-Russia hysteria," 2001–2017. (Source: DFRLab, based on the websites of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Sputnik and RT.)
It is a complicated phenomenon. Of course, using this word so often is a part of Russian propaganda, but Russophobia really exists. It is necessary to clarify, what Russophobia means. Main features of it are the projection on Russian all negative human traits, the desire to impose a sense of Russian guilt for the historical heritage of Russia, discriminatory practices based on the refusal of Russian equality on national or linguistic criteria, etc.
Media often mention the historical heritage of Russia (dictatorship, Stalin, communism, and USSR) when covering today`s Russia. Of course, mainly in a negative context, because Russian history, especially the XX century, is bloody. But it is a problem of past – now there is no USSR, communism, and Stalin. That`s why a lot of people all around the world associate with Russia only its past: it is a good weapon against it nowadays so media often appeals to that.
All in all, Russia, of course, is not innocent and saint. And it has its own propaganda against the EU, sometimes it is much worse than European. But Europe is open to tourists, it is very easy to travel there and fight with stereotypes. Russia is not – it is harder to get a visa and it is not that popular among tourists. In this project I really wanted to show, that a lot of clichés and stereotypes are just very comfortable to use in propaganda, especially when your audience does not know a lot about the subject of article (only one answer in anonymous poll showed that a person knows a lot about Russian culture – others do not know almost anything). The world is full of hatred today and only cultural connections can help people stay together.