As published at Unz Review, Intrepid Report, CounterCurrents and LA Progressive, 2/9/16:
Born and raised in Russia I live in Germany, and my boyfriend is Turkish. I spend at least 4 months a year in Turkey but I still have my family and friends back home in Russia. So I found myself in a rather interesting position in the recent Russian-Turkish crisis. Usually propaganda is based on the population's ignorance of the other side's opinion. This state of ignorance is automatically achieved if opponent countries speak different languages. In my case every day I read news and watch television both in Russian and Turkish. I love both countries and I hate seeing those becoming enemies. But what I hate to see even more, is how two nations, not just states and political elites, start hating each other on a personal level. Official news – both in Russia and Turkey - do not reflect the reality. It's just a part of the official propaganda which goal is to control citizens' minds. If that statement wasn't true, I would've received approximately the same information through both Russian and Turkish channels. But what happens in reality?
I want to give you a couple of examples why I think that carefully chosen anti-propaganda and not events and facts influence common people's minds. Let's start with Turkey. A couple of weeks ago I saw on my boyfriend's Facebook page an article in Turkish with a familiar figure. It was Vladimir Zhirinovsky – the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party in Russia - proposing to drop a nuclear bomb on the Strait of Bosphorus. This extremist statement has provoked a lot of aggression towards Russia. Without any previous knowledge about that politician (who is familiar to any Russian) Zhirinovsky's words sounded as a direct appeal to start a war. Unfortunately, Turkish people are not aware of the fact that Zhirinovsky is famous for his radical statements. I would like to cite just a couple of them. He is against women's rights (‘a woman should sit at home, cry, repair clothing and cook'), learning English at schools (‘let’s not make our children learn English. It will be better if they learn how to use Kalashnikov. Then the whole world will have to speak Russian') and has strange views about terrorists (‘we should hate everything about terrorists. A normal man won't wear a long black dangling beard'). So none of his statements are taken seriously in Russia. Really. It may sound absurd but he is seen more as a clown / comedian in the Kremlin. I think his function is to distract people's attention from serious issues. Anyway, those facts are not known in Turkey, so his statement was successfully used to heat up anti-Russian hatred.
Another case was a true 'elephant' made out of a 'fly'. Right after the incident with the Russian plane there was a photo all over Turkish media with a man wearing a black mask on his face on a board of the Russian warship 'Caesar Kunikov', while the ship was passing through the Bosphorus Strait. The man was holding a ground-to-air missile on his shoulder. That incident was immediately interpreted by the Turkish as a Russian provocation. The photo circulated through the media for days and received a lot of attention. As if a single man could blow up a half of Istanbul! Needless to say that the photo has never appeared in the main-stream Russian news.
Now about Russian media. Anti-Turkish propaganda had a wide range: from sarcastic jokes and cartoons (My favorite joke is about Dmitri Medvedev banning Turkish kebab, a music group called 'Turkish Choir', a cezve – a pot designed for making Turkish coffee and 'Turkish Gambit' – a book by Boris Akunin) to Putin's rather dirty statement that Turkey tried to 'lick America's private parts' - a phrase which is not, to my mind, supposed to come out of the president's mouth. Russian media has also proved to be perfect at exploiting the sentiment of pity. Russian TV has attracted a lot of attention to the death of Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov – the pilot from the downed plane. Posthumously he has been awarded the title of the Hero of the Russian Federation. One of new streets in Lipetsk – the pilot's home town – will receive his name. Television seemed to have captured everything: arrival of the plane with the coffin, young cadets – future officers – bringing flowers to the Lipetsk’s monument dedicated to fallen pilots, crying old women with red carnations, paper planes with signs 'We remember' made by school children... With all respect and my condolences to the Lieutenant Colonel's family I can't stop worrying if that tragedy has received too much attention. At that time it was very hard not to start hating Turkish army, Erdogan, Turkey and everything what is connected with that country after just a couple of evenings spend by watching the news. My Mom told me in November that she would like to visit me again in Istanbul. When I started talking about it in December she simply said: “I am a patriot”. So fast Russians - at least the generation born and raised in the Soviet times - have become a Turkish enemy. Not a single person on the TV screen was shown asking this simple question: why a Russian pilot died in Syria?! Despite a lot of information about that case I couldn't find any videos with Peshkov’s widow. What did she have to say about it? Is it fair that her husband had to protect the homeland even if there is about 464 miles between Russian and Syrian borders? There is no statistics how many Russian soldiers have already died in Syria. This data is of course classified. And how many somebody else's fathers, husbands, and sons still run the danger?! These questions cannot be asked and answered in Russia.
How easy it is to start a mass paranoia! Anybody who was interested in this conflict has already heard about a 'stab in the back'. Russian government looks back now and with pity exclaims: 'Turkey has been always our enemy, so many wars have been between Russia and the Ottoman Empire! We shouldn't have trusted them in the first place'. Years of friendship and partnership are forgotten, as if Erdogan never came last September to Moscow to open a new mosque or as if Putin has never shaken hands with Erdogan in Samsun, eastern Turkey, on the opening ceremony of the 'Blue Stream'. In the past Russia had so many wars with so many countries, so that according to this logic of post-war-distrust Russia shouldn't deal with any of those states: Germany, USA, France, Poland, Japan, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Hungary, Iran, etc.
So what is the result of the crisis? Putin has hypocritically declared that Russia is not against Turkish people but against its government. Turkey tries to convince its population that Turkish economy – not the most stable one – won't suffer from the crisis with Russia. But even carefully chosen propaganda is not able to conceal the truth. Last December vegetable and fruit had record low prices in Istanbul. Television showed excited housewives buying three kilograms of tomatoes instead of usual two. The reason for that fantastic luck was a long line of trucks with greens stuck on the Russian border after the Putin's partial ban on Turkish import. So while somebody had saved 20 cent on the market, thousands of people got bankrupt. Other markets which have suffered a lot in Turkey are textile, leather and fur. Fur market has suffered at the most because a big part of it was oriented toward Russian importers. Needless to say that furs are not that popular among locals because of the warm climate, so those goods couldn't be sold inside of Turkey like tomatoes and cucumbers. Buyers from other countries in the region such as Moldavia, Tadjikistan or Kyrgyzstan who also buy furs are usually interested in lower quality and cheaper products, so that companies selling high-quality furs suffered at most. I walked on Laleli two weeks ago - a wholesalers’ district in Istanbul – some shops were closed and it was unusually quiet on the streets. I talked to the street seller of chestnuts and he told me that the business has been very slow for a long time. The young man was complaining about the worsening of the economic situation unlike Erdogan who keeps promising Turkish citizens that cooperation with Europe instead of Russia will bring wealth and prosperity to the country.
Russians have suffered as well from the crisis. Not Putin – he still will eat tangerines from a gold plate – but Russian pensioners who won't be able to pay twice as much as before for fruit and vegetables in the wintertime. Turkey was also one of the most favorite vacation destination for a lot of Russians. It was popular because of warm sea, relatively lower prices in comparison with Spain or Thailand, good service and hospitality of Turkish people, who already learnt Russian, so it was not even necessary to practice broken English. Instead of going to Turkey, Russian officials recommend to visit the newly-acquired Crimea resorts, the Baikal Lake or even Iran. First two destinations have really beautiful nature but the infrastructure and hotels are in a poor condition. I don’t want to deny that the Baikal Lake is a magnificent place to visit with many ancient legends and unique shaman rites but it takes days actually to get there. It is obviously not an easy place to go to with small children or for elderly tourists. As for Iran, who is planning to cancel visas for Russian tourists, it’s one of the most unsuitable tourist locations. Alcohol is officially forbidden, signs in English are scarce, and women have to wear a scarf on the streets. I had an Iranian female friend who argued that it's not a very strict ban, as 'you just have to put a scarf on your head but your hair may be showing'. Well, a poor consolation for Russian girls who are used to wear bikinis and miniskirts in Antalya and Alanya. For me personally the most disturbing fact is that they use Arabic or Persian numerals in Iran. So you won't be even able to figure out prices in a restaurant if locals don't speak English.
To sum up, the crisis between Russia and Turkey has brought only harm to both countries. Both governments try their best to conceal the simple truth – the conflict will affect common people’s lives – and use all possible means to heat up hatred towards each other.
In my mind, this fiasco can be laid at the feet of just one man, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. See my "Turkey's Weasel Problem" and "Striking Russia Through Syria."
I have also left this comment at Unz Review, "Ramziya Zaripova is showing us how two friendly populations, with much commerce, affinity and even affection, can suddenly be turned against each other thanks to the decision of just one man, Erdogan. True, she is also pointing the finger at Putin, but Zaripova is not presenting herself as a geopolitical expert like the Saker or James Petras, but as a person whose love for both Russia and Turkey is thrown into turmoil literally overnight. War doesn’t tolerate subtleties, and thus rage is being whipped up by both sides, and this blind hatred is also showing up here, for Zaripova is being depicted by some as a hater of Russia or even a race traitor!
Timur, “We are not interested in the opinion of pathetic whore. That’s that we in Russia think about those who not only leave their country, but betray their own kind by mixing with rusophobic muslims.”
As Zaripova points out, Turks annually welcomed hordes of Russians, with many going as far as learning the language, and there’s a Istanbul neighborhood, Laleli, that’s like a little Russia. Turks were anything but Russophobes, and many still aren’t, but all one hears now is the hate-filled propaganda. And how rational is Timur’s contempt of Russians for merely leaving the country?
War or its mere threat can quickly distort perceptions so grotesquely, and this theme of Zarpova’s is farcically confirmed when even Ron Unz is accused by a couple of commenters of somehow serving the evil elites by merely running this article."
Monday, February 15, 2016
As published at Unz Review, Intrepid Report, CounterCurrents and LA Progressive, 2/9/16:
- Linh Dinh
- Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.