Authorities pull popular Soviet TV show, run propaganda instead

January 05, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- The Soviet Union's most popular television show was banned last night for the second week running to prevent a live, on-the-air discussion of the resignation of Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.

The hit talk show, "Vzglyad" (View), was replaced by a crude propaganda film that accused the United States of funding anti-Soviet nationalist organizations and compared Baltic nationalists to Irish Republican Army and Mideast terrorists.

The episode showed that censorship is alive and well at state-run Soviet television. Control has been tightened since President Mikhail S. Gorbachev appointed conservative Leonid P. Kravchenko, former head of the news agency Tass, to be chief of the State Television and Radio Committee last fall.

The ban is the latest manifestation of a conservative turn by the Gorbachev leadership that prompted Mr. Shevardnadze to announce his resignation Dec. 20 with a dramatic warning that "dictatorship is coming."

Television employees said Mr. Kravchenko personally made the decision to ban "Vzglyad" the previous Friday and again last night, after the show's hosts invited Shevardnadze aides Teimuraz G. Stepanov and Sergei P. Tarasenko on the air. One of the hosts, Alexander Lyubimov, told reporters he understood that Mr. Kravchenko had consulted Mr. Gorbachev before imposing the ban.

"The program 'Vzglyad' will not be on the air tonight for the same political reasons as existed one week ago," a spokesman for the program told viewers in explaining the ban. He denied Mr. Kravchenko's claim that the program was "not ready," adding, "We nevertheless hope for a change in the situation."

"Vzglyad" editor Galina Ivkina said the show, which is watched by more than 100 million people across the country, had received hundreds of telegrams in solidarity.

Mr. Kravchenko went on television last Sunday to explain the ban. He said he thought it "inappropriate" to interview Mr. Shevardnadze or his aides in connection with the resignation and said that in general he hoped to cut the amount of politics on the air and increase time for pure entertainment.

But the documentary shown in the time slot for "Vzglyad" was far from the escapist fare Mr. Kravchenko promised. It was introduced as a "film without authors," had no credit lines and did not look like the work of professional cinematographers, which led several Soviet viewers to conclude that it was the work of the KGB.

In any case, the film's message was very much in line with recent speeches of KGB chief Vladimir A. Kryuchkov blaming Western "special services" for Soviet ethnic strife and economic troubles.

In the film, recent violence in Soviet Transcaucasia was associated with the Baltic independence movements, although there has been almost no violence in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Baltic republics, however, have come under a heavy barrage of propaganda as a result of their insistence on full independence and their refusal to sign Mr. Gorbachev's proposed treaty of union.

"The national-separatists have those who inspire them," the narrator said. It quoted from the conservative U.S. Heritage Foundation's advice to President Bush to "encourage freedom fighters" in the Soviet Union and to exploit Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia.

"The special services of Western countries, operating through emigre organizations and various foundations, give propaganda and material aid to separatist movements," he said.

"It's known, for instance, that the so-called National Endowment for Democracy, financed from the U.S. federal budget, gives nationalist groups in the Baltic republics and the Western Ukraine tens of thousands of dollars to buy duplicating equipment, computers and to organize trips abroad," the film said.

It concluded with a picture of a ticking clock: "Stopping the extremist intoxication is the behest of the time," the narrator said. "Tomorrow may be too late."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.