Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Names of political parties can make you feel unsure about your choice

Seven political parties of Russia will take part in the parliament's lower house elections on 4 December 2011. Let's have a closer look at their names as brands.

Two carry their names as acronyms of their full names: CPRF for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and LDPR for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

The Russian United Democratic Party is widely known under the name of Yabloko (the Russian for 'apple'). In the name, the first letter of the surname of its founder Grigory Yavlinsky was joined with the Russian word for 'block' with additional letter 'o' at the end.

Now, here comes the similar-named batch: United Russia, A Just Russia, Patriots of Russia, Right Cause.

A voter's initial judgment of the parties by their names can prove quite difficult. Patriotic-minded people would all vote for Russia that is united, just and with a right (as in 'fair') cause. Right? How do you make up your choice then?

In my family we would sometimes split our voices between several parties, big and small - a truly democratic process involving heated debates at times. But can a two-word name of a party even broadly describe its unique goals and objectives, especially when the second word stands for the country? Doubt so.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Does PR still stand for propaganda in post-putsch Russia 20 years on?

On 19 August 1991 I woke up in London to a terrifying live TV reportage of tanks moving into Moscow — the failed coup had just begun. My wife and I were spending a short summer holiday with my parents and sister in the then quiet financial heart of the capitalist world. Our little son and mother-in-law stayed behind in the USSR, a socialist country on countdown to extinction.

Twenty years on, I'm writing this blog post from London, again on a summer holiday with my wife. We had made our choice back then to return to a new country in order to stay in the homeland. Some things rarely change while other things change like rare-show.

In his opinion piece in the latest issue of Sovetnik, Russian magazine on PR published by the owners of same-titled portal, Guy Khanov wrote that commonly used terms such as 'communication technologies', 'humanitarian technologies' and 'public relations' say nothing of the professional objectives of those who deal in them.

“The history of PR was falsified by PR practitioners themselves using PR technologies,” Khanov wrote. “I am confident in declaring that PR is all but merely the beginning of the word propaganda.”

In the Soviet days there was so much propaganda that even advertising was part of it. TV ads were shown in a separate program. Most of the advertised goods were not freely sold in shops. The whole point was to make the viewer proud of the country that produced them. That is, if she could get hold of a decent TV set to watch the ads in the first place.

To prove propaganda is not just a trait of Soviet/Russian PR, Khanov mentioned the recently publicized case of Facebook using Burson-Masteller in its 'war against Google'. He then went as far as 1622 in search of the origins of the word 'propaganda'.

The Soviet propaganda went into oblivion twenty years ago with the country that gave birth to it. PR as public service and not as propaganda should ideally outlive brands, products, services, companies and people behind it. I think PR practitioners in Russia and elsewhere should make up their mind and become political scientists or advertising experts if they prefer the ways of propaganda.

UPD: On 21 August, twenty years ago we drank with my late dad in London in his TASS-rented flat at Edgware road to mark the end of the putsch. The following afternoon I went to Madame Tusseauds with my wife Anna. She hugged Mikhail Gorbachev's wax figure and I took a photo of her. A security officer said we shouldn't do that. I told him we were Soviet and could not hide our feelings. He said they had tried to call up Soviets the whole morning. I replied there was no wonder none had turned up early...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Whistleblogging as public service to government agencies in Russia

Today's editorial in Russia's financial daily Vedomosti  is about well-known bloggers that basically serve as citizen beacons by focusing on particular areas where the respective government agencies have been slow to act. All these bloggers are first of all activists that have dealt with the public service's bureaucracy, incompetence, silence and blatant wrongdoing for many years.

The column mentions some of them together with functions of the respective federal agencies they tend to be performing on their own:

Yevgeny Roizman (@roizmangbn, 888 Twitter followers; 4,002 Facebook followers), head of “City Without Drugs”  fund in Yekaterinburg, has been exposing drug trade and providing rehab for its victims for 12 years. He helps and agitates, when needed, the Police, the Prosecutor's Office , the Federal Drug Control Service and others, not forgetting about mass media.

Alexey Navalny (@navalny, 62,807 Twitter followers; 9,733 Facebook followers), Internet whistleblower and minority shareholder of major Russian companies, publicly assesses budget spending, state property management and ensuring rights of shareholders – the functions of the Accounts Chamber, the Prosecutor's Office and the Federal Antimonopoly Service.

Yevgeniya Chirikova (@4irikova, 5,876 Twiter followers), Leader of the Khimki Forest Defenders, by fighting to make the air cleaner for the inhabitants of the town of Khimki, located just outside Moscow on the ever-busy highway to St. Petersburg, performs the functions of Russia's environmental and consumer rights watchdogs.

Olga Romanova (4,998 Facebook followers), journalist and blogger, writes of personal efforts to ensure fair judicial treatment and to free her husband Alexei Kozlov.

The column concludes that the aspiring leaders are incompatible with the ruling elite which means they are ready to become the leaders of the future.

Bloggers rely heavily on social media as means of interconnecting with their citizen audiences. Any attempts by a government to disrupt such communication may widen the gap of misunderstanding between the officials, the bloggers and the rest. Such attempts show how uninformed the governments may be of the constant self-regulatory public opinion shaping process within the social media. Which indicates there is an imminent communications task for PR practitioners and journalists to undertake.