CRF Blog

Dmitry Kiselev Is Redefining the Art of Russian Propaganda

by Bill Hayes

In Dmitry Kiselev Is Redefining the Art of Russian Propaganda, the New Republic reports on Vladimir Putin’s favorite TV host.

Outside Russia, Kiselev is perhaps most famous for his pronouncement that gays and lesbians “should be prohibited from donating blood, sperm, and, in the case of a road accident, their hearts should be either buried or cremated as unsuitable for the prolongation of life.” He made the remark in April 2012 to a studio audience — who clapped approvingly — but the segment did not receive widespread attention until a year later, after Russia passed a law banning “gay propaganda” in the presence of minors. Since then, Kiselev has spent a lot of time trying to explain himself. It was a “controlled flame that I used to ignite the discussion,” he told one interviewer. The problem with homosexuals, Kiselev told another, “is that they carry themselves provocatively … deliberately encouraging and provoking a situation so they become victims.” Still, Kiselev can’t stay away from making gay jokes, if that’s the right word for them: In February, he suggested that the Iwo Jima monument looked like men having sex. “A fevered subconscious could ascribe just about anything to it,” he said, his lips curling into a self-satisfied grin. “Take a closer look: a very modern theme, isn’t it?”

Kiselev’s true target is not the millions of viewers who watch the Rossiya channel — though his ratings are strong, he does not win his time slot — but the handful of people in the Kremlin who set the accepted tone for the country’s political culture. He praises Vladimir Putin extravagantly on air. On the occasion of the president’s sixtieth birthday in October 2012, Kiselev delivered a twelve-minute panegyric that concluded, “In terms of the scale of activity, Putin as a politician is comparable among his predecessors in the twentieth century only to Stalin.” Above all, his show is a portal into the darkest, most conspiratorial urges of the current iteration of Putinism. For years, Putin did not make any ideological claims to legitimacy. Instead, he based his power on Russia’s improving fortunes and rising standard of living. But since his return to the presidency in 2012, he has tried to assemble a new justification for his rule, based on an amalgamation of conservative values, Russian exceptionalism, and a sense that the country is under threat from the malicious encroachments of the West. The crisis in Ukraine, which Putin sees as a proxy struggle between Russia and the West, has only intensified these impulses, and Kiselev presents this worldview at its most uncompromising. [more]