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Russian Society and the Conflict in Ukraine: Masses, Elites and Identity

Courtesy of gωen/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 26 April 2017.

This is an excerpt from Migration and the Ukraine Crisis: A Two-Country Perspective – an E-IR Edited Collection.

This chapter looks at how Russian society reacted to the conflict in and with Ukraine. The active phase of the conflict began in March 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and continued with Moscow’s support for the separatist movements in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine. The main object of interest here is popular views of the conflict and its context, and in particular the way these views are conditioned by nationalism and the national identity discourse. At the same time, as I show in the first section, it is hardly possible to consider ‘public opinion’ as ontologically separate from the public debate waged mainly by the elites, as well as from the state’s policies and the way they are legitimated. The issue is not just that public opinion is influenced by the state propaganda, but that both are part of the same broader discursive domain where meaning is constructed and reproduced.

Accordingly, this chapter starts with an analysis of Russian public opinion on the conflict and its relationship to the official propaganda. I then go on to discuss how the attitudes to Ukraine and the wider assessment of Russian foreign policy in recent years are related to the complex ways in which the Russian nation is defined and how the concept of the ‘Russian world’ plays into the picture. The final section focuses on the broader context of what Russians see as Western expansionism and how they justify Russia’s conduct in terms of the need to defend the country’s sovereignty and moral integrity against Western subversion. It is not my ambition in this chapter to present any original analysis of primary sources; rather, I see my task as summing up the findings of the existing studies (including my own) and highlighting the key issues that have come up in the scholarly debate so far.

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China Dreamin’

The three Mandarins, icons of Confucianism. Image: Internet Archve Books Images/Flickr

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 8 December, 2014.

Every Chinese leader since Mao has attempted to separate themselves from their predecessor by articulating a new overarching praxis. For Xi Jingping this grand idea is the ‘China Dream’ – that is, a call for ‘national rejuvenation’ which improves people’s livelihoods, strengthens the military, and restores China’s status as a great power. The ‘dream’ has come with an official propaganda blitz – everything from TV shows and educational campaigns, to Party School courses and academic funding streams to research the ‘dream’. » More

Japanese Manga Diplomacy

"My name's Doraemon. I'm Japan's Anime Ambassador". / Photo: gutninja, flickr

I didn’t take it seriously when in 2007 foreign minister Taro Aso launched the International Manga Award. The media ridiculed Aso for not being able to read Japanese properly, which some said was due to him preferring cartoons to books. And indeed Aso liked to portray himself as a manga otaku, a freak.

I thus saw nothing else in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ initiative to actively use pop culture in public diplomacy than the minister’s personal obsession.

Even though it had never interested me much, I knew that many young people were attracted to Japan because of its manga and anime culture. But creating the post of an Anime Ambassador and filling it with Doraemon, the popular comic cat, didn’t seem like serious foreign policy to me.

However, recently, a couple of impressions have changed my mind. First, there was the article in Le monde diplomatique‘s Atlas. In “Japan’s innocent faces” Namihei Odaira argues that the  government’s efforts in promoting anime and manga abroad have contributed to Japan being perceived favorably in the yearly BBC global attitudes survey.

He also mentions how the trucks of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in Iraq were painted with the image of Captain Tsubasa, another popular anime figure. The trucks were never attacked, which is attributed to Captain Tsubasas positive influence.

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