Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Propaganda Machine

Propaganda is an amazing thing.  Powerful and effective, it is also revealing in its simplicity.  The absolute need to impress the simple folk with desperate machinations speaks volumes.  Throughout this Black Sea Cruise we have been touring the important sites, hearing reputed speakers from America, and then setting off with local guides and interpreters.  Impressive, learned presenters from American universities who have a humility, a respect for the many players in the historical drama have shared some high points in the complex unravellings of the nation-states-people and "culture" of the area.  Lectures about the ikon tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy, authors of note, myth and legend have filled the "free time" hours of what would otherwise have been a beach visit.  Altogether very intelligent, very high class.  And very respectful.

Here on the territory of a sovereign Ukraine, it is interesting to observe the quality of the local guides hired to present the highlights of the region though.  My personal experience with local guides in North America, and Europe of course are my frame of reference.  In each of those cases as representatives of their culture, nation and people, I have noted the generosity and genuine love for their topic.  And pride for the accomplishments of their nation, people and culture.  It is a little different here.

We have seen the resourcefulness of local bus drivers, the generosity of local vendors, and appreciated the human faces that met ours.  At one museum I was approached by a young man keenly interested in selling some books about Ukraine, and found him a lovely, genuine person who cared for his country and tried to meet me half way between Ukrainian and Russian.  In another case, an old man playing a bandura, kobzar style, brought us to tears with his fervent plea for things Ukrainian here.  We have also experienced some social decorum faux pas, things that speak volumes about class and status. 

In Sevastopol the opportunity came for the Black Sea Fleet Ensemble to perform on the cruise ship.  Lovely singing, and graceful dancing - all appreciated by a North American audience.  But it was like seeing something from a place in history that does not seem to want to change.  Unfortunately here, the performers were not champions of Ukraine and her sovereign language, but a carry over from empire  times.  The songs and images had an old-fashioned-ness that for some, must speak if nostalgia, I guess.   But though my cruise mates admired, they were clearly aware, and observant.  Open eyes, open hearts and keen intellect catches things, you see.  Through North American eyes, it did seem a bit over the top to have a high-power troupe perform for simple tourists.  It just does not happen that the state troupe is conveniently available for a small cruise audience, at least in my world.  

I am a native/foreigner here and a tourist too. Being a consumer, I recognize quality, but I also know what I paid for. Is it too presumptuous to think this "high class" show was more than "cruise entertainment"?  Or perhaps was it cleverly packaged propoganda, a form of communication intentionally designed, in this case in emotionally loaded music and dance, to perpetuate an ideological, irrational fraud about Empire on unknowing consumers?  But does being a tourist in Ukraine necessarily mean one should believe all the big glitzy gestures? Do we have enough media and propaganda savvy filters to see what is real beneath all the "stage presence"? 
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