Ask students what they think Communism meant to people in 1917? Is it seen differently today?
Have students explain why the new Communist state put such a strong emphasis on
propaganda. Ask them to draw a map illustrating the phrase "Iron Curtain."
Ask students to report on the image of the Soviet Union they had before they watched this program. How did it change their insights?
Propagandist's headache: Good propaganda builds interpretation on truth. Like all good reporting it adds telling details to bring a certain flavor to its storytelling.
Silence often is preferable to the outright big lie. The following riddle told by
a Pravda journalist to illustrate the cleverness of a good propagandist makes for a useful exercise. Tell students the following: It is Moscow,
1959, the day after the Kitchen debate. Vice-President Richard Nixon visits the Kremlin. He intends simply to thank Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Nikita
Sergeyevich Khrushchev for his hospitality. The weather is fine. Khrushchev, the bubbly host,
invites Nixon to stroll on the Kremlin walls in order to look out at all the new building Khrushchev has done around Moscow. Nixon looks around. He is serious. "Great work but in California…", he says, walking ahead of the portly Khrushchev. "That is
it!" the explosive temper of the Soviet leader goes off, "you are always saying this is better in America, we are racing ahead in that. Enough! Let us have a real race,
right here, right now. I'll race you down around the Kremlin walls." Nixon is worried. He is afraid the contest will trigger a heart attack in the out-of-shape-looking Khrushchev
and that he will be blamed. It will start an international incident. Nixon will be blamed for killing the Soviet leader. There will be a show trial; maybe the two countries will go to war…nuclear war. Suddenly Khrushchev yells "Come on, you Capitalist chicken." Nixon decides to race. Of course, the younger man, the thinner man, the man who drinks less vodka, the man who still has the energy to climb to the top of his nation's political system
(which he has not yet done), that fitter man wins. At the end Khrushchev is huffing and puffing. Worse, he looks out and on Red Square sees huge crowds who have witnessed what just happened. How does Pravda report this incident?? Ask students to write out their report as if they were a loyal, smart, English-speaking correspondent of that newspaper.
(Answer: The classic Pravda answer is: Headline
-- Foot race, not arms race. Yesterday on the historic walls around the Kremlin, world symbol of Communism...a foot race took place between
Gen. Sec. Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, leader of the worldwide proletarian struggle for freedom and the running dog of capitalism U.S.
Vice President Richard Nixon, a guest of the capital as he opens the American propaganda display in Sokolniki park, known for his rabid anti-Communist activities in the Congress and a devotee of the cult of personality of the perfidious Senator McCarthy. American progressive forces call him, "Tricky Dick. " Khrushchev
six-time recipient of the Order of Lenin; holder of the Order of Suvorov for his self-sacrificing work during the Great Patriotic War of the Fatherland, came in an honorable second. Nixon finished next to last...)
Ask students to pay attention to the next day's newspaper headlines. Ask them to rewrite the headlines for an imaginary newspaper, Pravda of Your Town.
Have students read Tatiana Vorontsova's interview.
Ask them how her school years differ from their education. Have students discuss what they would do if subjected to the same kind of propaganda that she had absorbed.
Instruct students to take a careful look at the agitation art on propaganda trains.
Those interested in more details can look at Camilla Gray, The Russian Experiment in Art or Christina Lodder, Russian Constructivism. Ask students to draw a revolutionary-agitation style poster for the series,
RED FILES. Have students vote on the most effective poster and explain why it works as propaganda.
Ask students to draw propaganda leaflets for their favorite candidate for President in the 2000 election. Have students exchange leaflets and write a critique of another students work.
More inquisitive students should be asked to read George Orwell's novel 1984. They should write an essay on how individuals can deal with NEWSPEAK.
Have students search the local area for an émigré from the former Soviet Union. Ask them to discuss whether they believe in the cult of Pavlik Morozov. What does the person remember about listening to foreign radio broadcasts? How did their image of America coincide with what they found when they arrived here? Ask students to discuss the influence of the Young Pioneers organization on how Soviet school children behaved. Discuss the concept of "correct thinking."
Lenin's body is still lying in a preserved state in a tomb-like structure in Red Square. Does it still serve any propaganda purpose? Discuss with students what they would recommend be done with Lenin.
Ask students to compile a list of the top ten propaganda items they come across in the course of the next three days. Have students read their lists in class and discuss.
Have students bring pictures of the class to a Xerox machine. Have them make a copy. Have students make someone in the class disappear. Xerox the results so that the traces of manipulation are gone. Have students decide who has done the best job of making their classmate vanish.
Memory hole. Ask students to rewrite a chapter in their history book, making a key person in the American revolution, say Thomas Jefferson, disappear and have another turn out to be a Russian spy. Can they read the new histories aloud without laughing? Ask them to explain how and why Soviet citizens believed their constantly rewritten history.
Discuss the advantages and disadvantages a closed society has in explaining unpleasant news to its citizens. What do students think the long-term consequences of propaganda distortion are on a society? Ask students how they decide when they think the government is not telling them the truth? How do they protect themselves from propaganda in the news they get?
Russian names. Russians have three names. What looks like a middle name is not a given name but a
patronymic -- a derivative of the first name of the person's father. Hence all siblings will have the same patronymic. Boris Yeltsin's father was named Nikolas. So his son is Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin. If the Russian President had had a brother named Pavel he would have been Pavel Nikolaevich Yeltsin. The masculine and feminine forms of the patronymic differ slightly. If
Yeltsin had had a sister Natasha she would have been Natasha Nikolovna Yeltsina. He does have a daughter Tatiana Borisovna Yeltsina.[Note that Russian women can and do keep their
"own" last names; children sometimes choose to take their mother's last name if it is prestigious or if they want to hide a connection with their father, but the patronymic remains a life long reminder of their father.] In polite address people always use the first two names. Everybody
addressed the Russian President as Boris Nikolaevich. People address their peers and most members of their family just by a first name or a nickname. But elders and people in authority are always addressed by the first two
names. Many times the last name of a person is not used in conversation. Thus if a Professor is named Ivan Nikolaevich Sandrov his students would say to him Ivan Nikolaevich! Please tell me where I can find
XYZ book. When he got home he might tell his sister Natalia-"Hey Natia, guess what Ivan Nikolaevich gave
me -- a great book I needed for free."
If your teacher's name is Boris and his father's name is Nikolas you should address him as Boris Nikolaevich (the middle syllables
are swallowed and only the ich part is pronounced.)
What would Chelsea Clinton's name be in Russian? What would your name be? How should you address your teacher?
These suggested questions help educators move towards meeting national standards. Consult: