It all started long before Russia Today; not even so - it all started more than half a century before the birth of Margarita Simonyan. If we consider broadcasting at each other as a kind of ideological duel of great powers, then it was the Soviet Union that started it: Moscow Radio (later Voice of Russia, and now, by the way, Sputnik radio) began its work in English and German back in 1929 .
But the answer had to wait until the start of the Cold War, when the iron curtain descended "from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic." It was the awareness of the upcoming long confrontation with yesterday's allies that pushed the governments of Western countries to start funding media in Russian (and other languages of the USSR).
Almost simultaneously with Churchill's Fulton speech, in 1946, the BBC Russian service began its work. A year later, Voice of America joined her. A year later, in 1948, Vatican Radio. Later, Radio Liberty, Deutsche Welle and others began to work.
It was the awareness of the long upcoming confrontation that pushed the governments of Western countries to start funding the media in Russian
First of all, it was about broadcasting - all these "enemy voices" were caught on short and medium waves. Despite attempts to jam them, which were partially successful in the largest cities (Moscow, Leningrad, Kyiv and others), tens of millions of people regularly listened to them.
According to various estimates, the number of radio receivers capable of receiving foreign broadcasts in the late Soviet Union is estimated at 25-40 million. Transcripts of meetings of the Central Committee of the party, which became available later, show that the leaders of the Union seriously discussed who should be silenced and who should be silenced - and in general they treated this "ideological" threat with the due degree of vigilance.
Sovietologists and Kremlinologists express different assessments of what role this foreign broadcasting played in the fall of the USSR. But assessments are assessments, but there is an eloquent fact showing their true role in the society of that time: it is documented that Mikhail Gorbachev, locked up in Foros during the 1991 coup, learned about what was happening in his country through these “voices”.
This only confirms an obvious observation: in the late Union such broadcasting was in great demand. People made their way through jammers to cling to the receiver and hear alternative information. A sign of that time is the saying "There is a custom in Russia - to listen to the BBC at night."
Locked up in Foros during the 1991 putsch, Mikhail Gorbachev learned about what was happening in his country through “enemy voices”
Already in the 1990s, this popularity ended abruptly. All these organizations, faced with the competition of young and daring independent editorial offices within the new and democratic Russia, found themselves on the sidelines of media progress. All these thirty years after the collapse of the USSR, they existed as half-forgotten relics of the Cold War, although they continued to receive serious budgets from their governments and from other sources.
And although over the past ten years many of them have mastered the digital space, websites and social networks, and the work of Russian independent media has consistently become more difficult, there was no longer a mass demand for foreign broadcasting. Of course, the organizations met their targets and gained the necessary numbers of views - one way or another - but they were never "on the hype" and in the focus of everyone's attention.
Own sources - Dozhd, Meduza, Ekho - have become much more important for the media landscape of people with oppositional views. The only exception was, perhaps, the BBC Russian Service, where, thanks to the efforts of its editor-in-chief Andrei Goryanov, it was possible to gather a galaxy of talented special correspondents, many of whom had previously worked in business newspapers.
Foreign organizations, faced with the competition of young and daring independent editorial offices within the new and democratic Russia, found themselves on the sidelines of media progress.
And today, in the summer of 2022, it is worth asking yourself: are “enemy voices” our past or our future? Are there any chances and prospects for such undertakings in the 2020s?
Now not only major players continue their work, such as Radio Liberty and its Internet product Current Time, but also small countries are returning to foreign broadcasting after a long break. For example, Swedish Radio, as it once did in the sixties of the last century, began to broadcast again in Russian - and even pack it into podcasts .
However, we have to admit that there are practically no prospects that even in modern reality the Swedish podcast will become a hit. Although the intention itself, no doubt, deserves approval and admiration.
But why is this happening? What has changed in Russian society over these 30-40 years?
The fact is that we are talking about an authoritarian consumer society. About the aggressive society of petty-bourgeois and at the same time imperial resentment. This is not a country that dreamed of Coca-Cola and McDonald's. This is a country that hoots goodbye to Coca-Cola and McDonald's, which leave on their own due to the start of the war. This is the captivating jingoistic patriotism of small shopkeepers, through which almost all the countries of Europe went through at one time.
This is not a country that dreamed of Coca-Cola and McDonald's. This is the country that hoots goodbye to Coca-Cola and McDonald's
Perhaps if the war drags on for years, and isolation and economic decline for decades, we will still find ourselves at a point where people again at night, overcoming the blockages of Roskomnadzor, will try to read or watch alternative news. But so far this point is far away. Putin's consumerism has filled the stomachs, and Putin's TV has devastated hotheads.
However, even if it comes to this, I would bet that the new "enemy voices" will be primarily those who were called "foreign agents" in the past - that is, normal and professional independent media, which are now for the most part forced work from abroad. In fact, they have already become such voices - whether they wanted it or not.