Volgograd Forum, April 1, 2001

Anti-American Sentiment in the Region

Some time ago I circulated among friends and activists of the Volgograd Forum the article from the Wall Street Journal "Anti-American Song 'Kill the Yankees' Develops a Strong Following in Russia" (see full text below) and asked them to comment on it. I got back a lot of responses suggesting to devote a special Forum meeting to this theme. Which we did on March 14.
We titled our panel discussion "Growth of Anti-American and Anti-Western Tendencies among Russian Young People: Myth or Reality?"
Forty two people attended the Forum, among them five Americans (a Fullbright post-graduate student, Christian missionaries etc.). But they spoke little and mainly listened. Half of the audience were young people, students and young professionals.
We invited as speakers Prof. Alexander Kubyshkin of the Volgograd State University who heads the Center for Americanistics there, Olga Leontovich who writes a P.H.D. thesis on interrelation of Russian and American cultures and Mikhail Anipkin who teaches at the Volgograd Academy for State Service and did a post-graduate study in the United States. But anyone else who wanted to speak up could do so.
In my introductory remarks I explained why we decided to concentrate our attention mostly on trends among young people. Because it was the first generation which matured after the Cold War and was not brain-washed in its spirit.
I suggested that in the course of our discussion the participants express their opinion on the following questions:
Is the growth of anti-Americanism real or exaggerated?
If real, is it the consequence of deliberate policies of the new Russian Administration or it has a grass-roots origin?
What will be the consequences? Should we expect another Cold War?
The jist of the discussion was the following.
All participants agreed that the growth of anti-Americanism in Russia was real but yet not deeply rooted. It is more wide-spread among uneducated young people than, e. g., university students (according to a study of one of the speakers, 45 to 13 percent).
The causes for these tendencies are multiple. 
First, President Putin is trying now to boost patriotic feelings among citizens and plays, among others, an anti-Western card. This policy finds its reflection in the state-run TV and other media. And this, in its turn, influences citizens' minds.
Yet it would be wrong to reduce these trends only to deliberate policies of the government. The participants gave different reasons for the growth of anti-Americanism on the grass-roots level. 
The loss of super-power status which awoke among many Russians the inferiority complex. 
The unsuccessful (so far) economic reforms which impoverished many families and lead to high unemployment among young people, especially those who did not get good training. They blame the reformist Russian governments for following Western recipes which did not help.
Of course, all panelists mentioned the bombing of Serbia as an event which caused a considerable growth of anti-Americanism.
Some of the participants cited cases of American arrogance. A post-graduate student who did research work at a US university said he understood after several months' stay there that there were only two kinds of opinions - the American and the wrong one. Another young lady who worked for a US organization in Russia said her American bosses did not hesitate to pronounce derogatory comments about Russia and Russians in her presence. They thought since they hired her, her feelings did not matter.
Remarkably, people who in their professional activities have frequent contacts with Americans are more alarmed by the present tendencies in the Russian society than those who do so occasionally. A Russian woman who meets Americans often said, "Even those of them (Americans) who come to Russia do not realize what processes are brewing here. They come and meet friendly, mostly English-speaking people. And think all the rest of Russians are like these. But it is not so."
Someone cited the example of Iran. Under the Shah it was the most pro-Western country in the Middle East. But Americans did not notice the tendencies which were growing there. The unpleasant consequences became evident when it was too late.
Yet no one of the participants dared to give a forecast for the future of US-Russian relations. Most of them expressed cautious optimism that there would be no new hostilities and confrontation.
The Russian national newspaper "Rossiya" published in its regional supplement a report on that Forum with the title "Yankees, Go Home?" It invited its readers to send their own opinions on the subject. It would be interesting if this discussion continues.
I feel satisfied that we held that discussion. It gave me much to think of on the eve of my own trip to the United States.
Processes that are going on here have a direct relation to the Free-Speech Forum.
Last week in Volgograd there was a wide-publicized seminar on the so-called "Unified Information Policy of the Russian Federation". This doctrine was worked out by President Putin's Security Council. It envisages many measures that are regarded by some observers here as a curb on the freedom of mass media and freedom of speech in general. 
Mass media chiefs from 12 South Russian regions took part in that event but the floor was dominated by high-placed officials from the President's Administration and Government. Speaking on the foregoing Doctrine the Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council Valentin Sobolev said, "Russian mass media are gradually ousted, replaced by publications, TV and radio programs with partial or full foreign ownership. The latter thrust on Russians implicitly and explicitly an alien mode of thinking, moral values, wittingly concentrating attention on negative processes, forcing catastrophism, belittling Russia's achievements."
Of course, the focus of Mr. Sobolev's statement was directed against the main opposition TV channel NTV, though he did not name it. But the verbal context of his address prompts to interpret it in the sense that all mass media that are funded from abroad are to be viewed at least with suspicion. Though the Volgograd Free-Speech Forum is not exactly a mass media outlet, it could be attributed to this category, because it is also a source of information for citizens.
For the NTV such attitude has already brought negative changes. For example, though it broadcasts unimpeded, many Russian politicians, especially those who are in the Government, shun appearing in its studios, though earlier they stood in line to get there.

Alexander Yevreinov

Volgograd Free Speech Forum


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