Propastop gave an overview of the popular cartoon series „Masha and the bear “from a Kremlin propaganda perspective on the 22nd of May. We referred to an article by the Lithuanian author in the Italian newspaper La Stampa and the 2015 Priit Hõbemägi article in Eesti Express.
The overview gained much attention in the news and reached the Russian media where it caused a large insurgence of propaganda articles. It became one of the main themes relating Estonia with Russia during that week in the media. Here is an overview how the story spread and what it morphed into during that period.
On the 22nd of May the article is translated and appears in the Russian language portion of the Postimees, a few days later the chief editor of Eesti Ekspress, Erik Moora in his editorial writes that there is no sense going crazy in trying to find hidden meanings (it is more directed to the newspaper itself: referring to the original posted article that appeared in Eesti Ekspress). Vladimir Barsegyan writes an article on this theme as well in Sputnik.
It gains a more wide readership after Kaja Kunnas translates the article into Finnish. The Helsingin Sanomat prints an article entitled: „ The Balts are concerned: the world renowned cartoon series „Masha and the Bear“ could be part of Russian cyber warfare“ this is in turn translated into Russian on May the 31st and put out by the Russian foreign news agency Rossija Segodnja via its portal Inosm, after which within a few days it appears in more than 40 Russian language articles. Articles appear in RIA, Trud, Komsomolskaja Pravda, Lenta, NTV, Life.ru, as well in lesser known channels Data24, EG, Mir Novostei, Vremja and in many others.
The Finnish language article’s introduction that unfoundedly calls it „the concern of the Baltics“ gains momentum in the Russian language media. The headlines are now no longer questioning it but are written as true statements. The articles are also no longer in a tone of discussion and instead of referring to various articles on the subject they centre mainly on Priit Hõbemägi and a couple of quotes from his article. The emphasis is on his association with the University of Tallinn, which give the articles a sense of being official. The idea that a cartoon could be a vehicle for propaganda is ridiculed.
The stories contain many factual mistakes such as Hõbemägi having given an interview to the Finnish newspapers. The newspaper website Rusversion.info quotes a Tallinn University lecturer „Priit of Cyberage“. In many instances references to referred texts in the article do not appear, so the reader cannot control these allegations. A Ukrainian publisher ties it to a wider conflict, mentioning an expelling of diplomatic personnel by both Russia and Estonia at that time.
The media event had its culmination with propaganda specialist, Dmitri Kisselyov ironically awarding Hõbemägi with the top Russophobia prize. This of course is noted in the Estonian version of Sputnik.
This is an example of what can happen to every text, when the media does not wish to discuss the issue but rather simply states a pre-decided stance on the matter. We have seen previously how during info conflict situations when the actual content of the article no longer matters and just a few key words can be used in a propaganda narrative. This is all that is needed if a big media happening is taking place. „Estonians consider cartoons as cyber warfare weapons“ was all that was needed for the afore mentioned to use media stereo types, for example: that Estonia is inhabited by hysterical and paranoiac russophobes.
The attention to the Masha article brought Vladimir Putin himself into the situation, when he visited the animation studio at the end of May. „ Masha and the Bear“ is an item of pride for our eastern neighbours and one of the few Russian made items today that truly is very popular and successful throughout the world. Consequently you can even understand an angry response. Our own media could easily explode as well if our own famous cartoon, the dog girl Lotte were named as a propaganda tool. Our media would hardly be very interested in thoroughly analyzing it though.
Still as an example, the concept of children’s cartoon characters being influential can be shown very clearly in WWII era Hollywood cartoon propaganda.
Pictures: screenshots reference the articles. Drawing of Saega Bear. Pixeljuice23/Flickr/CC.