Page 4, 4th March 1983

4th March 1983
Page 4
Page 4, 4th March 1983 — South Bank's 'great mistake'

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Locations: Moscow, London


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South Bank's 'great mistake'

THE MASSIVE concrete cultural jungle on the South Bank of the Thames is not a pretty sight at any time, but the exhibition on the ballroom floor of the Royal Festival Hall, which concluded last Wednesday, made this unlovely part of the metropolis more unlovely still. It was a photographic exhibition '60 years of the USSR', presented by the British Soviet Friendship Society, with the aid of the display of 250 photographs supplied by the Soviet news agency lass, supported by the Greater London Council.

This exercise in Soviet propaganda was one vast misleading visual from beginning to end. As in all such exercises there was only one God, and he was Lenin. He and the exhibition were best summed up in a colour photograph from the canvas in oils by the artist A Shmatko. This portrayed Vladimir Illyich as the Leader in 1920, pointing out to his disciples a thousand and one new electric power stations on the map of Mother Russia. Lenin was the central figure on the canvas, a halo of light around his bald head, and his henchmen in the shadows in wrapt attention around a long table, made him look like Jesus Christ and his disciples at the Last Supper. In the middle foreground was the seated figure of young Stalin, gazing up at his master like St John.

What was particularly fascinating about this exercise in Soviet propaganda was the abundance of expensively produced literature in books and booklets piled high on the entrance tables and available absolutely free. Not since the golden free spending days of the Spanish Civil War, when Franco's press agency in London poured out free propaganda booklets on such topics as Guernica and the massacre in the bull ring at Badajoz, had we seen such misleading literary largesse.

High on the Soviet free list were 70 page well illustrated booklets on each of the Socialist Republics of the Soviet Union. We picked up one on Lithuania, and another on Estonia, but we could not find one on Latvia. All this free propaganda was printed and published by the Novosti Press Agency Publishing House in Moscow.

According to these "history" books anyone who opposed the Soviets were "bourgeoisie", and, for example, the singing dancing electorate of the states such as Lithuania supported the Soviet army takeover 95.51 per cent with only 0.81 per cent against.

In all the free propoganda booklets such as "It's a different way of life", "One Hundred Nationalities — one people", and "By the will of the People", only one leader was portrayed and quoted and that was Lenin.

Beneath the smiling portraits of Russian peasant girls, tractor drivers, ballet dancers, Olympic athletes and cosmonauts we recalled a photograph, not on display, that of one of Andropov's predecessors, Beria, one time chief of the Soviet secret police, and Stalin, explaining to a Polish Army delegation in Moscow during "The Great Patriotic War" that the massacre of Polish officers and intellectuals in the forest of Katyn, near Smolensk, in the Soviet Union, had all been "a great mistake".

What the British Soviet Friendship Society, Tass, and the Greater London Council overlooked was that such a propaganda exercise as that in the Royal Festival Hall last week can never obliterate the memory and the photographs of the bodies of 4,500 Polish Officers with a Soviet bullet in the base of their skulls, their hands tied behind their backs, and with Soviet bayonet wounds in the bodies of those who had resisted. Nor will it blot out the question of a further 10,000 Polish Officers and intellectuals, prisoners of war of the Soviets, who vanished without trace at the same time as the Katyn massacre, and whose bodies have never been found.

Beria said it was all "a great mistake". In our opinion so was the decision of the Greater London Council to help and to permit this exercise in Soviet Propaganda on the South Bank.

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