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Sunday, 13 April 2014 21:26

Artistic expression gone too far: Spoon fed propaganda tool, apathy towards genocide, or just plain ignorance of history?

Written by  Julija Minkunaite-Banioniene
Adjusted photograph from the article in Washingtonian Mom magazine showing the White House press secretary’s family in their kitchen with several Soviet era propaganda posters on display. Adjusted photograph from the article in Washingtonian Mom magazine showing the White House press secretary’s family in their kitchen with several Soviet era propaganda posters on display.

Wow... White House Press Secretary's home has Soviet propaganda wall décor...

I saw a recent article in Washingtonian Mom magazine, which at first was seemingly intended to inform readers of Claire Shipman’s busy balancing act with career and raising her children, as well as advertise her book. Claire is the wife of Jay Carney, who is President Obama’s press secretary. The headline photograph in the article showing the family in their kitchen – at a closer look, you can see they have a several Soviet era propaganda posters, framed and prominently on display in their home. I don’t read Russian, but the visual language on those posters reads all on its own. Call it a gag souvenir gift Claire perhaps received while studying journalism in Moscow in the early 1990’s – at time when freedom of the press in Russia was a rarity still. Sure people travel and bring home all sorts of souvenirs, including those from dictatorial regimes, after their regimes have ended. However, how does one look at Soviet Bolshevik propaganda souvenirs – a graphic art form, a labor movement’s ideological dream, or a reminder of reality - brutal ethnic genocide?

This article does not portray any ordinary family’s interior décor – It’s the home of a prominent United States representative, the main spokesperson of the President of the U.S.

We live in a world where Russia is continuously an aggressive threat to 20th Century Russian occupied countries. This article does not portray any ordinary family’s interior décor – It’s the home of a prominent United States representative, the main spokesperson of the President of the U.S. If Jay Carney represents the President, then he represents the American people, their values, their intellect.

The poster which caught my eye the most was the Russian Bolshevik soldier, poised aggressively, reminding me of my family’s torture and loss of life. For what? For being educated. For owning a modest home. For being spiritual. For being Lithuanian. For being loving human beings. The man in the poster looks like the team of men who attacked my family, on both my father and mother’s side. He is the reason why my family was torn apart by violent death or vast oceans. He is the reason why my elderly great-grandparents died homeless in Kaunas, after being forced out of their home so it can be split into apartments for Soviet Russian soldiers. He is the reason why my grandmother’s brother was killed by gun shot while trying to evacuate his home as the Russians took it. He is the reason why 4 of my uncles became so depressed during their deportations to Siberia, that they left Lithuania as music teachers, lawyers, doctors – and came back to Lithuania as invalids.

How can their stories be forgotten while admiring the graphic design of these posters? I cannot fathom how. I suppose since this hits home for me personally, I am repulsed by these propaganda posters. However – I would also be repulsed if I saw demeaning African slavery memorabilia, or perhaps a Saddam Hussein, or Che Guevara, or Hitler, or Mao Zedong, or Hugo Chavez, or Kim Jong-il propaganda poster displayed in any family’s living room. While in high school in 1986, I had asked our World History teacher, why we didn’t mention the Soviet occupation’s ethnic cleansing atrocities and its ongoing human rights violations, still occurring. She didn’t know what I meant. She asked me if there was a movie made about it. (I was somewhat surprised by her apathetic reaction.) I answered that I didn’t think so. Then she replied that IF there would be a movie about it, such as the Holocaust movie we saw in class the prior day, then she would be willing to show it for the class and then discuss it. Basically, I understood her response as – If Hollywood doesn’t bless a part of history, it’s not worth being told. I told her that what was happening in the Soviet Union is a current holocaust – Still happening. I ended up just using any opportunity myself throughout my remaining school days to educate fellow students and my teachers about Lithuania, about the Soviet Union occupation.

The man in the poster looks like the team of men who attacked my family, on both my father and mother’s side. He is the reason why my family was torn apart by violent death or vast oceans.

Besides school, the family home where children are influenced by their parents, is an educational facility. I just hope this family’s home “cool” décor is not a reflection of what is being taught to children in American schools and in their homes. Is the United States government dumbing our youth, through its pop culture, which is fanned by its representatives, who the youth happen look up to? Some might consider these posters as pop culture items – retro chic! Perhaps that is all Claire and Jay’s kids will ever know about the Soviet era; It was retro-chic. Well then, that makes us Americans look dumb in the eyes of Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Moldovians, etc. - Countries who are at this time, trying to seek help and trust from our government to help protect their national borders, from Russian invasions. Propaganda supporting the Russian threat is founded on the principle that the Soviet era was the best time for humans on earth.

It doesn’t help America’s image when America’s press secretary admires the Soviet era, its artwork, its retro-chic rare souvenirs. And it doesn’t help America’s future generation, when parents like Jay and Claire teach their children, that retro-chic fashion statements or forced unrealistic ideologies are more important than human life, spirituality, diversity, and dignity.

If we respect our elders and the sacrifices they made, and honor their struggles instead, we would be growing intellectually as human beings. When historical tragedies are minimized, our history books in schools are rewritten. When our teachers begin teaching our youth rewritten history, our youth are prone to repeat the same tragedies. After all, history will repeat itself, if we don’t learn from past tragedies. I don’t know what exactly Claire or Jay are teaching their children. However, I can’t help but wonder if choosing to display such Russian propaganda is for the sake of admiration of its artistic expression, ignoring its deeper meaning of the killing fields it perpetuated? What image of the Bolshevik era does this reflect on our future generation?

It doesn’t help America’s image when America’s press secretary admires the Soviet era, its artwork, its retro-chic rare souvenirs.

Do mothers reading the Mom magazine article about Claire and Jay really know about the Soviet Bolshevik invasions and war crimes from their history lessons? Do they not want to see those posters' true colors because that would make them “uncool” amongst their peers? If it’s not blessed by Hollywood, then I suppose it doesn’t matter to talk about it.

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