Recently the Syrian Army has launched an operation to capture areas held by terrorists, in Eastern Ghouta, who have been shelling civilian areas in Damascus. Unsurprisingly, just as before in East Aleppo, a propaganda war has been launched by pro–imperialist forces condemning the Syrian army and calling for foreign powers to intervene and attack Syria. On social media, photos showing scenes of the results of bombing and destruction have widely been shared to target peoples’ emotions while calling for imperialist intervention.
One tweet by a Cleveland–based user who goes by the name of Sami Sharbek managed to get over 100 thousand retweets. The tweet included two photos with caption “This is not a movie. This is Syria.” The first photo showed a residential area being heavily bombed; the second showed a man carrying a crying child amid destruction.
The problem with this viral tweet is that despite claiming in the caption “This is Syria” neither of the two photos are from Syria. The first photo is from Gaza, it shows the Israeli bombardment of the Tuffah neighbourhood in the east of Gaza City. The photograph can be found in an Independent article dated July 2014. The second photo is from Mosul, in 2017, during the Iraqi forces offensive (with support of U.S. airstrikes) to take the city from ISIL. That photograph can be found in a Reuters article from July 2017.
During the Syrian army’s offensive to take East Aleppo the same tactics were used. Not only was the above mentioned Gaza photo used many times but even images taken from a music video of a song by Lebanese singer Hiba Tawaji were used.
Back in 2012, the BBC used a photograph from Iraq in 2003 in a news article on Syria under the heading “Syria massacre in Houla condemned as outrage grows.” According to a BBC spokesperson the image was widely circulated on the internet in the early hours of the morning. The photographer who took the image, Marco di Lauro, was shocked when he discovered the image being used whilst checking the front page news of the BBC website. He said “the picture was taken by me and it’s on my web site, on the feature section regarding a story I did In Iraq during the war called Iraq, the aftermath of Saddam.”
“Someone is using someone else’s picture for propaganda on purpose.” — Marco di Lauro
Using images from one event to falsely portray another is not new to imperialist propaganda. It has been done for many decades by mainstream publications and even states.
A popular myth which has begun spreading even further, due to the western anti-Russian and pro–Maidan coup situation as well as bourgeois fears of a growing support for Socialism, is the so–called Holodomor “man–made famine.” This is based on a famine which took place in the Soviet Union in the period of 1932–1933. It is claimed that this famine was intentionally created by the Soviet authorities in Ukraine, the reason given is often different but it is usually stated it was done to “crush Ukrainian nationalism.” This theory is false for many reasons. The truth is that, like the many famines that had occurred for centuries in Russia until collectivization, the causes of the famine were environmental factors. These factors include drought in some areas, unusually heavy rainfall in others, serious infestations of crop diseases rust and smut, plagues of pests, etc.
“Popular media and most historians for decades have described the great famine that struck most of the USSR in the early 1930s as “man-made,” very often a “genocide” that Stalin perpetrated intentionally against Ukrainians and sometimes other national groups to destroy them as nations… This perspective, however, is wrong. The famine that took place was not limited to Ukraine or even rural areas of the USSR, it was not fundamentally or exclusively man-made, and it was far from the intention of Stalin and others in the Soviet leadership to create such as disaster. A small but growing literature relying on new archival documents and a critical approach to other sources has shown the flaws in the “genocide” or “intentionalist” interpretation of the famine and has developed an alternative interpretation,” Tauger wrote in his research work “Review of R.W. Davies and Stephen G. Wheatcroft, The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933.”
The use of the famine for propaganda can be traced back to Nazi Germany. It was spread in the United States in the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst (known in the 1930s as “America’s No. 1 Fascist”) who had, just months before launching his famine propaganda campaign, met with Hitler in Germany. This narrative was picked up during the Cold War with the help of Ukrainian Nazi–collaborators living in the west and anti–Communist propagandists such as Robert Conquest. It continues to be pushed after the end of the Soviet Union in order to attack Communism and Russia as well as being used by neo-Nazis and anti–Semites who claim a Jewish conspiracy. Douglas Tottle exposed the fraudulent propaganda campaigns in his book Fraud, Famine and Fascism.
“[The photographs] are among the most important sources for the actual facts of the Russian position” — Dr. Ewald Ammende
A book, which has been important to the Holodomor narrative, was published in 1935 Nazi Germany (long after the famine was over) named Muss Russland Hungern? by Dr. Ewald Ammende. This book, which was republished 50 years later in Reagan’s Cold War America, contained many false photographs which still are used today. Ammende claims that all of the photos in the book were taken in the summer of 1933.
One of the most famous examples is that of the frozen corpses on a snow covered field. This is frequently used by proponents of the Holodomor, including the Ukrainian state. The photograph was used in Ammende’s book. It is claimed that this photo was taken in Kharkiv, Ukraine in 1933.
The true source for the photograph is from Dr. Fridtjof Nansen’s album La Famine en Russie, Geneva, 1922. In the period of 1921–1922, during the Russian Civil War, a devastating famine hit Russia centered around the Volga regions. A Norwegian explorer, named Fridtjof Nansen, headed the International Committee for Russian Relief to direct relief for the famine. He took many photographs to show the western nations, who were reluctant to help Revolutionary Russia. This photo showing frozen corpses was taken in Buzuluk, near Saratov, in Russia. It, of course, was not taken in the summer but in the winter during early December 1921. Photographs from the same location taken by Dr. Nansen can be found on the website of the National Libary of Norway.
In 2008, a Latvian documentary, filled to the brim with falsifications, was released, named The Soviet Story. This film also made use of the false ‘Holodomor’ photos. The documentary liked to use images of “victims of Bolshevism” published by Nazi propaganda in 1941, including the Nazi propaganda film The Red Mist. The images were published in the anti–Semetic book The Year of Horror, however they actually show the crimes of Latvian nationalists, who cooperated with the Gestapo. This became known in 2006 when “Latvia under the yoke of Nazism,” a collection of archival documents, was published in Moscow. The documents included an NKGB (People’s Commissariat for State Security) memo from FSB Central Archives, previously unpublished. It states that Gestapo forged the evidence of “bolsheviks’ atrocities” in Latvia. The memo was marked as “top secret” and was only intended to be read by Soviet leaders not for propagandistic broadcasting.
In 1941, after the occupation of Latvia, the German military authorities established the so-called “Centre of Organization” in Riga, renamed “Directory” in the end of July 1941.
On instructions of Gestapo, the Chairman of the Centre, KREPSHMANIS (who ﬂed with the Germans) established the “Commission for investigation of Bolshevik Atrocities in Latvia”…
The Commission, working under direction of DRESLER, head of Latvian Reichskommissariat propaganda department, soon announced by radio and in newspapers, that mass burials of Latvians, “tortured to death by CheKa”, were discovered in Riga and its suburbs.
As confirmed by witnesses and arrested Commission members, PUKITIS and GRUZIS, ZUTIS headed a group of 40 people. The group arranged a “special treatment” of the dead bodies maiming and disfiguring them, and Commission members were drawn forward to sign ﬁctitious reports on “Bolshevik atrocities”.
Disfigured bodies were shown to general public and relatives to identify the dead.
To conceal the deliberate disfiguring of dead bodies, used for broad demonstration and proof of “Bolshevik atrocities”, Germans shot 10 Jewish women who worked in ZUTIS’ special group and buried them in Boltozer [Baltezers] near Riga.
The German propaganda widely used the ‘materials’ of said commission for its slanderous anti-Soviet campaign conducted all over the Baltic region. Solemn funerals of the “victims of Bolsheviks” were organized, anti-Soviet meetings held, articles on the subject published in newspapers and magazines. Two books, “The Year of Horrors” and “Evidence of Prosecution” were published, and the documentary called “The Red Mist” was released, which was then specially adapted for Estonia and Lithuania.
Investigation conducted by NKGB of USSR confirmed that facts of “Bolshevik atrocities” used by German propaganda had been falsified. For instance, documents and original evidences proved that scenes of “The Red Fog” documentary were falsiﬁed on cinema studio, where photos of dead bodies were mounted to get the shots of ‘mass burials of Bolsheviks’ victims’. The so-called condemned cell of NKVD prison was produced and shot in a Riga film studio.
As a matter of fact, in 1941 A.E. REITGARS was condemned by People’s court of Riga to one year of imprisonment for disorderly conduct, moved to Pechory camp of NKVD, and when discharged, served in the Latvian regiment of reserve. At present he is residing in Riga and is a concertmaster in Latvian Broadcasting Committee.
The documentary also includes a part dedicated to imagined medical experiments on gulag prisoners. It is entirely based off fake evidence provided by Sergey Melnikoff. The false photographs of Melnikoff include victims of the Klooga Nazi concentration camp in Estonia, 1915 Armenian genocide victims, and regular autopsy sessions.
“THE DEATH OF RUSSIA is the atonement for everybody and the scourge of CONSCIENCE. RUSSIA MUST BE STAMPED OUT OF EXISTENCE. This will be the only right choice of the development, which some call God, some call Mother-Nature and some – the Fate” — Sergey Melnikoff
The use of false photographs has continued over–and–over again in imperialist, fascist, and bourgeois propaganda.
The President of Ukraine, Poroshenko, tweeted a photo of Jews on their way to the Chelmno extermination camp, and claimed they were Ukrainian victims being deported to Siberia.
Not long–ago a Ukrainian news website, Ukrinform, posted an article with a photo showing the murder of Jews by the Ukrainian auxiliary police in the town of Miropol in the Zhytomyr region in October 1941. The Ukrainian website claimed that the photo showed a crime of the Soviet People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs and captioned the image as “Atrocities of chekists: NKVD shooting a mother with her baby.” The photo can be found on the United States Holocaust Museum website and in the photograph (even the one posted by the Ukrainian website) a horizontal bicolour armband is clearly worn by one of the perpetrators.
When imperialist propaganda is in need of shocking images to target peoples’ emotions and convince the public, it will often resort to falsifications especially when they have no evidence of their enemies supposed crimes. It is important to search for the truth and expose the lies because lies can claim many lives just like the lies about “weapons of mass destruction.”