More than twenty years ago, a convicted German neo-Nazi named Ernst Zundel launched a weekly television programme in Canada. He described it like this:
“This TV programme differs from the mainstream media, because we [...] bring you uncensored news, uncensored commentary. Also, commentary from few points that are seldom heard today in this world of political correctness. [...] We hope to be politically incorrect, uncorrect, [...] because we want to bring you the rebels.”
Zundel’s programme, “Another Voice of Freedom”, ran for more than 30 episodes before it was closed by the Canadian authorities. Even tolerant Canada couldn’t stomach a programme promoting Holocaust denial. And so Zundel took his business elsewhere. In 1996, he moved to Kaliningrad and began broadcasting weekly on the Voice of Russia (VoR). From there, his “long monologues and quotations from the works of various Holocaust deniers” reached Germany, where Holocaust denial is a criminal offence. The public reacted, a scandal followed—and the VoR shut down the programme. The management pleaded that it had been unaware of the content of Zundel’s broadcasts.
Nineteen years later, much has changed. President Boris Yeltsin has been replaced by President Vladimir Putin. A once relatively free Russian press is now almost entirely under de facto state control. Russian international broadcasting policy has changed too. Instead of promoting their country abroad, VoR, and RT, the Kremlin’s international broadcaster, have adopted a new philosophy. In the words of one observer, they have “morphed into a platform for conspiracy theorists and other like-minded figures on the margins of debate—especially for those who espouse anti-American views”.
Since 2008, the Russian media have in fact been doing exactly what it shame-facedly stopped Zundel from doing in 1996: “bringing the rebels”—publicists and commentators coming from the far right and far left, including conspiracy theorists and committed racists—to the Western public. At the same time, they have deepened their relationship with European far right and far left activists, presenting them as legitimate commentators and even opinion-makers. This article examines the origins and development of that policy.
- Putin’s Useful Idiots: Russian Media and the European Far Right—A conversation with Anton Shekhovtsov, September 2015 (Details)
About the Author
Anton Shekhovtsov is Visiting Senior Fellow (2015) for the Transitions Forum. His main area of expertise is the European far right and illiberal tendencies in Central and Eastern Europe. Over the course of his fellowship at the Legatum Institute, Anton will explore the rollback of transitions towards democracy in Central and Eastern Europe. Anton is also Associate Research Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation (Ukraine), and General Editor of the Explorations of the Far Right book series at ibidem-Verlag (Germany). He is the author of the Russian language book New Radical Right-Wing Parties in European Democracies (Stuttgart, 2011), and co-editor of The Post-War Anglo-American Far Right (Basingstoke, 2014) and White Power Music (Ilford, 2012). He is also a member of the Editorial Board of Fascism: Journal of Comparative Fascist Studies, and published several academic articles in Journal of Democracy, Russian Politics and Law, Europe-Asia Studies, and Patterns of Prejudiceamong others.
The Transitions Forum is a series of projects dedicated to the challenges and possibilities of radical political and economic change.