Former Soviet Propaganda Artist Sees Echos of Cold War In Ukraine Debate
Oleg Atbashian, a Florida resident and conservative activist who now runs the political parody site “The People’s Cube”, worked as a propaganda agitprop artist for the former Soviet Union, when he was a young adult working in his native Ukraine.
Now that he's watching the debate unfold about Russia invading his native land, he said he can see the Russian rumor influence operation is making its way into western media the way it did during the Cold War.
He has noticed, for example, the Russian narrative about the Ukranian opposition movement as “Nazis” and “Fascists” appears to be finding itself in Western outlets and American blogs.
“The Pro-Russian propaganda is still being spread. This time, it’s not leftists. It has nothing to do with Communism. It has nothing to do with anti-war sentiment. It has everything to do with Russian national interest and Russian nationalism and Russian dominance in the region. The same people the same town the same figures are being used to plant this information,” Atbashian, comparing it to the Tea Party being maligned as racists in the U.S.
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh noticed the coverage as well. During one of his segments last week, Limbaugh played a CNN clip with Wolf Blitzer citing the Ukranian protesters as “neo-Nazis” “anti-semitic” and “anti-Russian.”
Atbashian has an interesting story about how he came to be part of the Soviet propaganda machine – and eventually landed in the U.S. as a conservative activist.
“It sounds a little grander than it was. I was 23 years old. I wanted to be an artist and if I wasn’t an artist, then a member of the artist union,” Atbashian said “It was hard to get anywhere in that profession so the only outlet for people like me was to become a maker of visual motivational and agit-propaganda art that was in the street and in the interiors of companies.”
Atbashian compares the work he did to many billboards seen in the U.S. “They kind of brighten up the landscape especially around the cities and along the highways. In the Soviet Union we didn’t have any of that. We had motivational propaganda, so you would’ve seen a poster of a worker calling comrades to work in order to fulfill the five-year plan ahead of schedule to build Communism. Those were the only bright spots in the otherwise drab landscape. Everything else was dark and dated,” he said noting that most people would look at it as decorative art.
“Towards the end during the collapse of the USSR, most people didn’t believe in the propaganda. It was pretty cynical and everybody was making jokes about Communism,” he said.
Atbashian left Ukraine in 1994 explaining that while it was easier to leave the country after the collapse of the USSR, Western countries like the United States were not accepting many Ukranians.
“Getting a visa at the American embassy was more complicated than getting an exit passport and so I was luckier than others, but a large portion of people who applied for entry visas to the U.S. were not approved," he said.
The graphic designer says that the KGB “used to be a great rumor machine.” Who received much mileage from the rumors they started. According to Atbashian, the FSB, which is a successor to the KGB in Russia, “is operating the same way and so the channels the KGB had are still in place in Europe and the United States. Whatever useful propaganda needs to be spread is being spread.” Atbashian points to even less mainstream American sites where he believes information could be planted.
He said, “I have always suspected Alex Jones of being a tool. The positioning of certain facts. The way he was describing American involvement in the world stage was always suspect to me, but now he’s taken an active role from the very beginning. There are postings over at Info-Wars, for instance that sounded like direct translations from Pravda editorials, even though the authors had American sounding names. A lot of articles that I read from western sources about Ukraine had the voice of Russian chauvinism. “
“It was very surprising. Why would suddenly people who are not Russian espouse these views that are benefiting the Kremlin?” he said.