Forest Brothers in a propaganda battle


NATO produced and released a short dramatized documentary in mid July about forest brothers in the Baltics, which caused lively discussions in the Russian media and caused an anti NATO propaganda attack.  NATO was accused of re-writing history, glorification of Nazism, Russo phobia as well as the Baltic nations using the alliance for „their own purposes“.

The film was released on the NATO TV YouTube channel as well as on the NATO twitter account on July 11. There were no real incidents on the first evening after release although on the evening of July 12. the Russian standing representative at NATO took notice and called the film a shameful attempt to re-write history as well as praising members of the SS. This was the opening salvo of the Russian propaganda attack.

On the early morning of July 13. a representative of the Russian foreign ministry, Maria Zahharova stated that the film about the forest brothers was offensive and accused NATO of disseminating false information, whose purpose is to undermine the findings of the Nuremberg trials. She also claimed in her posted statements that the forest brothers were responsible for the deaths of thousands of peace loving citizens and were backed by western intelligence agencies well into the mid 50’s. On the same day the Russian deputy prime minister, Dmitri Rogozen tweeted confirmation that the NATO clip on the forest brothers was about the remnants of Hitler’s disciples.

This was the direction of this theme’s development and in the following hours and days; the majority of Russian media joined the attack on NATO using mostly well-known and practised propaganda rhetoric. Members of parliament, politicians, columnists etc. spoke up and among the propaganda talking points, the following examples and claims were put forth:

NATO re-writes history – the original statements from the press representative of the foreign ministry was continued in almost all of the news;

NATO glorifies the henchmen of Nazism – a statement by the Russian standing representative at NATO that went out via Twitter and which was further fueled by the posted statements of Dmitri Rogozin;

The film deals with vandalism and Russo phobia – The assistant director of the Russian duma’s cultural commission, Iosif Kobson called the NATO film an act of vandalism as well as Russo phobia;

Many news outlets took the stance of direct propaganda by stating the same view as well as declaring that the Baltic nations are using NATO for their own purposes and to stir up the alliance against Russia.

The majority of the reports were in their own Russian language media and a few English language stations that are influential in Russian media. The clip did not see much coverage in Estonian or Latvian media nor was there much attention paid to the Russian propaganda campaign. Although it became a big news story in Lithuania when the Lithuanian foreign ministry gave infographics of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact on their twitter account as a response to the Russian propaganda attack,

This was the beginning of a new action, during which the Lithuanian journalist and TV host, Andrius Tapinas called up the people to post commentaries on the Russian foreign ministry’s Facebook account using hashtag #Кремльнашуисториюнеперепишешь as a response to their posted comments. This campaign was successful and the Russian foreign ministry ended their campaign and erased their comments.

This NATO produced short documentary film has been successful, through which the message has been widely broadcast. Even though NATO TV has posted over 2500 video clips, this was the first time that such wide attention has come from it. It is clear that the theme of forest brothers was like a red flag to a bull to the Russian government and this had to be taken into account by the producers and distributors of the clip.

In the opinion of Propastop, it is important that NATO came out with such a predictably provocative story to Russia about the Baltic’s. This definitely gave a strong statement to the worthiness and necessity of the Baltic nations belonging to NATO. The negative aspect would be the non-preplanning of what the clip’s message accomplished. The clip did not gain much attention in Estonia, Latvia or the English language media. This was not supported enough by the NATO partners, which could have brought more attention to the clip outside of the Russian speaking media. The large majority of attention was in Russia and in Lithuania to a certain extent.  The Lithuanian- Russian „face off“in social media lost its focus and was a confrontation for confrontation’s sake, not a message promoting campaign.

Photo: screenshot from media