“A Factory of Dreams”: Zhanna Nemtsova on Russian propaganda

Zhanna Nemtsova explains the techniques, aims and impact of Russian propaganda, at our “Weaponising the Media” event.

Zhanna Nemtsova, like her father, Boris Nemtsov, has become an outspoken critic of the Putin regime.

Russian journalist and activist, Zhanna Nemtsova, branded TV propaganda in Russia a “factory of dreams” and a “weapon of mass destruction”, as she deplored the human rights situation in her homeland during the second instalment of Prague Talks, a film-and-debate series organised by the Prague Civil Society Centre.

Nemtsova, daughter of murdered opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, and who now lives outside Russia, explained how propaganda permeates Russian society, and the effect it has on people’s attitude towards the country.

“Russian propaganda appeals to emotions, rather than your brain. This is why it has such an appeal to broader audiences – not only uneducated people. Many experts think that this propaganda is designed only for uneducated people. But it’s not true, lots of educated people have become victims of Russian propaganda,” Nemtsova told the audience of 200 analysts, policymakers and students at Charles University in Prague.

On the aims of Russian propaganda, Nemtsova was unflinching: “The key is to destroy the ability to think critically. It’s a factory of dreams, but a very negative factory of dreams.” Quoting her late father, she added: “Russian media is a weapon of mass destruction of people’s brains.”

In the evening session, hosted by Rostislav Valvoda, executive director of the Prague Civil Society Centre, Nemtsova also discussed how media outlets and journalists are coerced and persuaded to follow the official state line.

“In an authoritarian regime, ownership is not a guarantee of free speech. Even privately-owned media outlets can be – and are – controlled by the state. It’s very cheap and easy. The management of any private media outlet is interested in maximising profits. That’s why they tend not to be very critical, because they understand there might be consequences.

“And when you see what’s going on and you understand that risks are growing, you as a journalist try to be softer and softer in conveying your message to your audience. And that’s a very big internal struggle, trying to be objective and trying to be brave. That’s why fewer and fewer real journalists still work in Russia. Courage is now a quality which is very important, and you rarely meet it.”