From the Peace Decree of October, 1917, to Gorbachev’s “Zero Option” in 1987, the themes, first of peace and then of disarmament were key subjects in Communist propaganda. The reality, however, was more complicated. While portraying themselves as the champions of the struggle against militarism – which was incarnated, in a Cold War context, by “American imperialism,” – the USSR, using the threat of encirclement as justification, was in fact constantly increasing and strengthening the Red Army. In addition, they established a protective shield through the Warsaw Pact, signed with the People’s Republics in 1955. Haloed by their victory over Nazism, the USSR even went so far as to develop a pacifist theme as one of the fundamental pillars of its ideology, turning itself into the international standard-bearer for peace. Although the theme did in fact mobilize many sincere partisans, it also caused some serious doubts, as the USSR did not stop at self-defense: in its rivalry with the West, it armed itself excessively, became a nuclear superpower and didn’t hesitate to defend or extend its zone of influence… with armed force. In the late 1970s, the USSR exponentially increased its direct and indirect engagements. It encouraged the Cuban intervention in Angola, assisted the Marxist guerilla movement in Mozambique, intervened directly in the Horn of Africa – first on the side of the Somalis, then on the side of General Mengistu’s Ethiopia, and above all, became heavily committed to Afghanistan in 1979. Thus a striking distinction appeared between, on the one hand, the propaganda posters and movements within the Eastern bloc – with their pacifist message virtually unchanged since the beginning of the end of the Cold War – and, on the other, political action that was less straightforward… not to say in total contradiction with official discourse. This can be seen, for instance, in the deployment of the SS-20 missiles that started the Euro-missile crisis in the late 70s. Thus, the pacifist theme could also be used, in the Communist bloc, to express dissent.
Soviet propaganda poster from the time of the Euro-missile crisis, in 1979.
Through NATO, the United States impose their missiles in Western Europe, blaming “the Soviet menace.”
country: Soviet Union / year:
Through NATO, the United States impose their missiles in Western Europe, blaming “the Soviet menace.” At the December 1979 NATO summit meeting, the decision was made to install missiles in Western Europe that would be pointing east. The USSR denounces this decision as a new example of American imperialism. In reality, two years earlier, taking advantages of loopholes in the 1972 SALT I disarmament agreement, the Soviets had installed SS-20 medium-range missiles on their own territory. At that point, the Western Europeans called on the USA and NATO to engage negotiations that would force the Soviets to withdraw their missiles, or, if that failed, to deploy cruise missiles and Pershings II on European soil in order to provide a response to the Soviet rockets. Those were the causes of the Euro-missile crisis. In the end, it was settled with the arrival of Gorbachev in 1985 and the signature of the Washington Agreement in 1987, which led to dismantling all missiles stationed in Europe.
Soviet poster criticizing American President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” project as the latest example of American imperialism.
"The same old product in a new package"
country: Soviet Union / year:
"The same old product in a new package" The Space Race was a favorite battlefield between the USA and the USSR during the Cold War. With the election of Ronald Reagan – who ran on the slogan “America is back,” – in 1980, the rivalry between the two major powers stepped up a huge notch: the American president launched a gargantuan armament program called SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative), better known as “Star Wars”. The idea was to deploy a network of satellites aimed at detecting and destroying Soviet missiles before they could reach their targets. This rearmament program gave the USSR the chance to point their fingers once again at the war-mongering American super-power.
Peace campaign in the USSR in the mid-80s, telling the story of two little girls, the American Samantha and the Russian Katia
In 1983, after writing a letter to Yuri Andropov in which she expressed her concern about the possibility of a war between the USSR and the USA, Samantha Smith, a 10-year-old American girl, was invited to visit the USSR, and her stay caused a media frenzy
country: / year:
Peace campaign in the USSR in the mid-80s, telling the story of two little girls, the American Samantha Smith and the Russian Katia Lytcheva. In 1983, after writing a letter to Yuri Andropov in which she expressed her concern about the possibility of a war between the USSR and the USA, Samantha Smith, a 10-year-old American girl, was invited to visit the USSR, and her stay caused a media frenzy. In reply, a little Russian girl, Katya Lytcheva, was invited to the USA, becoming another young Peace Ambassador. In a context of rising tensions (invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR, Euro-missile crisis...), the girls featured in peace campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic.
The "Beating Swords into Plowshares" Event
The theme of defending peace was widely used by Communist-bloc propaganda during the Cold War.
country: German Democratic Republic / year:
The theme of defending peace was widely used by Communist-bloc propaganda during the Cold War. So protest movements cleverly echoed it when they wanted to criticize the authorities. While the Euro-missile crisis in the late 70s and early 80s stimulated pacifist movements on both sides of the Iron Curtain in Germany – a country that was particularly threatened, in other Eastern-bloc countries, freedom of expression was so curtailed that the movement had to resort to acting out the Biblical expression, “They will beat their swords into plowshares” (Micah 4:3 and Isaiah 2:4). This symbolic action, which was well-covered in the media, was performed during a peace meeting attended by some 4,000 people in Lutherhof, in 1983. A protest against both rearmament and the East German authorities’ policy of militarization, one of the participants was the theologian Friedrich Schorlemmer, a respected member of the East German movement for peace, human rights and environmental protection. This meeting illustrates the need for political dissidents to seek protection from the Church, the only institution that had preserved even a limited amount of autonomy.
Interviews with Russian soldiers returning from Afghanistan in 1987 I
On 27 December, 1979, Soviet troops entered Afghanistan
country: Soviet Union / year:
On 27 December, 1979, Soviet troops entered Afghanistan: it was the end of 10 years of détente between the two blocs. For the first time since 1945, the Red Army intervened beyond the zone it controlled directly. The operation caused a wave of indignation in the West and was the beginning of a war that would last for 10 years and cost more than a million Afghans their lives. Afghan resistance fighters (the mujahidin) opposed Russian helicopter rockets and antipersonnel mines with their machine guns – the damages they inflicted were kept under wraps by the Soviets. Yet the Soviet Army, and Soviet society, refused to pay the price of victory. A total of 630,000 Soviets, for the most part low-ranking soldiers, fought in Afghanistan: More than 13,000 of them lost their lives, and another 54,000 were wounded. The Afghan conflict – this “bloody wound” (Mikhail Gorbachev), sped up the collapse of the Soviet system. In the sense that it was a difficult and costly war, that although it did not lead to actual defeat the men fighting never truly understand why they were there, it is comparable to what the Vietnam War was to the United States.
Propaganda movie presenting the success of the Apollo-Soyuz mission, the first joint USSR-USA space mission, launched in 1975.
In a context of détente symbolized by the Helsinki Act, the Americans proposed a joint space mission
country: Soviet Union / year:
In a context of détente symbolized by the Helsinki Act, the Americans proposed a joint space mission, including docking the Apollo and Soyuz vessels together in space, at an altitude of 250 km. On July 17, 1975, astronaut Thomas Stafford and cosmonaut Alexis Leonov shook hands in space. Above and beyond the technical challenge this represented, the encounter was a striking symbol of détente between the two super-powers. Yet it would be another 20 years before another Russo-American handshake in space – when Atlantis docked at the Russian MIR station in 1995.
Propaganda film from 1982 about American President Ronald Reagan’s military aggressiveness.
After the acme of détente at the Helsinki conference of 1975, tension began to build once again from 1979.
country: Czechoslovakia / year:
After the acme of détente at the Helsinki conference of 1975, tension began to build once again from 1979. Despite the SALT I (1979) and SALT II (1979) treaties limiting strategic arms, the arms race had started up again. In response to Soviet SS 20 missiles being deployed in the USSR, American Pershing missiles were based in Western Europe, and American president Ronald Reagan launched the “Star Wars” program in 1980. Soviet propaganda used it as a chance to reprise the Zhdanov Doctrine, as presented in Stalin’s right-hand man’s famous 1947 report to European Communist Parties denouncing “the expansionist course of the United States,” aimed at “the establishment of world domination.” This film also argues that the Soviet Union’s main rival represents a threat to world peace – which the USSR liked to portray itself as having been defending since the end of World War II.