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(SAKHAROV, THE KGB AND THE MASS MEDIA Cont'd)

II

 KGB VIDEOTAPES AND GORKY FICTIONS

This brief account of events in Gorky between May 1984 and December 1986 does not do justice to the sufferings endured by Sakharov and his wife. But since the KGB's intentions were to falsify the reality of what happened in Gorky, it is essential to have a firm grasp of the main facts as we turn to the disinformation campaign itself.  

  By the time Bonner received her exit visa, four videotapes had been released in the West. A fifth appeared in December 1985, timed to coincide with her arrival in the West; two more were to appear while she was in the West, and a final tape was released within a few weeks of her return to the Soviet Union at the beginning of June 1986. Thus the KGB produced a total of eight videotapes amounting to some three hours of pictures. With the exception of the last one, all were shown, in part or in whole, by television stations in Europe and the United States. Presumably they were offered to third world networks as well, though we have no information on this point.  

 The general nature of this campaign is not hard to discern. Contrary to western reports, the tapes were saying, Sakharov was enjoying life in Gorky. Contrary to anything his wife might say, the tapes claimed to speak with Sakharov's true voice.  

 To the average, well-informed reader or viewer in the West, such a campaign might seem so obviously fraudulent as to be counterproductive, succeeding only in fueling the flames of western interest in the Sakharovs. Such a conclusion is indeed possible, but before reaching it, the tapes themselves deserve close study. But looking carefully at the way they were produced, we can learn much about Soviet society, and specially about its professional middle class, in addition to learning about KGB behavior and Soviet disinformation techniques. Further, we should note the response of western media to the tapes and the problems that arise for western society when subjected to a campaign of visual disinformation of this nature.  

 Most readers will understand that a film or videotape consists of a number of different visual images which have been assembled in a particular order to provide the illusion of a continuous visual narrative. In fictional films, the separate shots may be taken in different locations and at different times, sometimes with stand-ins, and often with special effects. The eye of most viewers cannot detect these fictions, nor does it seek to do so. In fictional films, we willingly suspend disbelief. But in factual films - newsreels and documentaries - the case is very different. Here viewers are persuaded that the pictures they are seeing are truly representative of what they show and were taken at the time when, and in the place where, the events took place which they record. We accept on trust the meaning given to the order in which the images have been edited together, and it is this meaning which provides the context in which we view each shot, and which, as it were, authenticates each shot. We have been conditioned into what can best be described as a willing commitment of belief to photographic truth.  

 In the KGB tapes, of course, almost every shot of Sakharov and Bonner has been taken on separate occasions and shown out of context, while the new context created by other shots and by the editing is invariably false. One jump cut is so well made, it can only be detected by looking carefully at the different dates on the calendar in the background. Thus, although each shot my be true in itself, that is a true visual impression of the whole is totally untrue. Bonner puts it well in her book: "That kind of documentary lie can create the impression of truth, and it is harder to refute than as absolute lie."[7] Soviet film makers were among the first to resort to these deceptions in what they claimed were factual representations of reality. The KGB videotapes, therefore, can be viewed as the latest examples of a tradition that dates back to Lenin and the Bolshevik falsification of Russian history.  

 It seems that the material used was all recorded by electronic cameras on videotape. In this discussion, however, the terms film, tape, and videotape are used interchangeably.  

 While the study concentrated on the visual aspect of the campaign, it should be noted that the text of the KGB tapes would also repay close attention since the Soviets place importance on putting things on the record, which in this case means on the sound track. Whatever significance the KGB intended in their Russian text, however, is usually lost in translation and editing.  

Index of Papers   1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 
11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  References 


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