Nov 10 2011: Welcome To Moscow: Moscau Sagt Willkommen (Sport Verlag, Moscow, 1972)

The images in the gallery below – selected from a full-colour glossy book introducing Moscow’s life, culture, sporting prowess and history in anticipation of the 1980 Olympics – are essentially the component parts of a pitch for international respectability at a time when the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and the nuclear brinkmanship of 1963 were still fresh memories. Although essentially a propaganda and marketing exercise by the Soviet Union’s increasingly sclerotic leadership, the visual language here is indisinguishable from an equivalent Western publication: there’s no doubting that London in 2012 will be represented to the world, by and large, exactly as Moscow is in these pages.

Which begs the same question we’ve encountered before, when looking at Soviet Union Magazine in 1964, for example, or Jochen Weyer’s 1974 pamphlet extolling the GDR as a kind of paradise for the young, which is that while the propaganda of a defeated ideology can be easily recognised, what of that same propaganda when consumed under a still active ideology that uses every single one of the same visual and presentational strategies to normalise itself? Looking at the 35 photographs below, all of them could easily have been lifted from Western rather than Warsaw Pact publications, give or take minor details of language and typography.

No-one has yet adequately explained how the blanket surveillance of citizens and the saturation of public space with idealized images of a never-quite available state of grace we might one day enter really differs from the routine propaganda issued by any other controlling interest within a society being run for the benefit of a small minority of its citizens. Perhaps this leaves us, in relation to our own times, in a similar position to that of those living under Soviet rule in the mid to late 1980s: the power continues to be exerted long after the ideology it is defending has failed. Our own blinkered elites, like those of 1989, remain in place as the pressure builds for a decisive transformation.

The question, I suppose, is whether oncoming change turns things for the better or merely delivers more of the same. It was the dissidents, after all, not the rebranded apparatchiks, whose influence was sidelined after 1989.

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