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31 posts categorized "Propaganda"

29 December 2014

Tango with Cows – Mystical Images of War - Russian First World War posters: celebrating their centenary.

Before the year is out I thought I would reflect on some of the most notable Russian artistic publications held by the British Library that were published a century ago in 1914. Tango with Cows (Tango s korovami) has always been one of the most popular Futurist works with art students. They are initially fascinated by the brightly coloured original Russian flowered wallpaper from 1914 on which are printed poems by the Russian Futurist Vasily Kamensky.  This artist’s book with a corner deliberately cut off and held together by staples reflects the Russian Futurists’ desire to produce anti-aesthetic books made of rough materials such as newsprint, wrapping paper or even gingerbread, reproduced cheaply for an audience of artists, writers and students.

Pages from 'Tango s korovami', showing the pattern of wallpaper and a page of experimental typography                     Vasily Kamensky, Tango s korovami (Moscow, 1914) C.114.n.32.  

The collection is sub-titled “ferroconcrete poems” (not to be confused with the later Concrete Poetry movement).  Each poem is presented on a single page where the words are literally poured into segments. As there is no syntactic structure it would be difficult to read the poem in a linear way. Instead the text – mostly nouns and a few verbs – is organized by word association and visual links encouraging the reader to look at it as if it were a painting. In the poem Cabaret (see above) the reader’s eye is attracted to people, music, food, drink, sights and sounds in Maksim’s cabaret by the various types and sizes of font used for that person etc. For example the word MELLE (Mademoiselle) appears both in the upper and lower segments as if dressed in a different typeface. The text also includes the chemical formula H2SO4 (perhaps to indicate a danger area in a top left segment), and humour, as at the bottom right where it says entrance is 1 rouble and exit is 1000 roubles. The typographical innovations of this book show the influence of both Italian Futurist poetry and French calligrammes as for example the poem Vasya Kamensky’s aeroplane flight in Warsaw where the poem forms a visual representation of a plane taking off.       

Misticheskie obrazy voiny (Mystical Images of War; Moscow, 1914; C.114.n.24) by Natalya Goncharova has been much discussed this year in the context of World War 1 centenary events. Two of the 14 lithographs in this collection, Angels and Aeroplanes and A Common Grave, were included in the British Library’s exhibition Enduring War. This collection of lithographs is Goncharova’s response to the First World War and combines images based on Russian icons and popular prints (lubki) with aspects of modern life. This combination of the realistic detail with the metaphysical often calls to mind the works of the English artist Stanley Spencer. This is particularly so in Angels and aeroplanes which demonstrates an ironic approach to the war where the pilots and planes appear vulnerable in the hands of the angels. Unlike the Italian Futurists who glorified war, Goncharova expresses a more pacifist attitude to war here.

The Library also holds Russian First World War posters designed by the well-known artist Dmitry Moor (real name: Orlov). Moor took his pseudonym from the surname of three characters in Schiller’s drama The Robbers – no doubt this choice reflected his liking for biting satire and caricature in which he excelled in his posters.

Caricature showing vegetables and fungi morphing into the Austrian and German emperors and their armies Dmitry Moor, Kak chort ogorod gorodil (‘How the devil guarded the garden’). Poster [Moscow, 1914]. HS.74/273.(16)

Finally I’d like to mention a number of Russian First World War posters published in 1914 with captions by Vladimir Mayakovsky  held by the British Library.

Cavalry soldiers chasing infantry soldiers away from a stylised townSdal avstriets russkim L'vov... (‘Austrians surrended L'vov to the Russians...’] design by Aristarkh Lentulov; captions by Vladimir Mayakovsky. (Moscow, 1914). HS.74/273(10).

The Russian Futurists at first supported the war and created patriotic posters for the government when Russia was doing well at the beginning of the war. The project ‘Today’s Lubok’ employed Mayakovsky, Malevich and Lentulov in a scheme to make propaganda posters of the war in colourful lubok or folk styles for mass distribution. Although Mayakovsky is principally known as a poet, he originally studied at art school in Moscow and also designed posters as well as writing captions for posters designed by Malevich and Lentulov. You can find more examples on the Library’s ‘Images Online’ pages. For more information and images of those designed by Malevich with text by Mayakovsky see my earlier post. 

Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies

Useful Sources

Breaking the rules: the printed face of the European Avant-Garde 1900-1937. Edited by Stephen Bury. (London, 2007).

Susan P. Compton, The world backwards: Russian futurist books, 1912-1916. (London, 1978). X.981/21715

Peter W.  Hellyer, A  catalogue of Russian avant-garde books 1912-1934 and 1969-2003. (London,  2006) YC.2008.b.251

Gerald Janecek, The look of Russian literature: avant-garde visual experiments, 1900-1930. (Princeton, 1984). X.955/3162

Vladimir Markov, Russian futurism: a history. (London, 1969). X.981/1801

Margit Rowell and Deborah Wye, The Russian avant-garde book, 1910-1934. (New York, 2002). LC.31.a.179


07 November 2014

Is your governess really a spy?

Ever since Baroness Lehzen taught the young Princess Victoria, German governesses had occupied a place in 19th-century British consciousness. Many German women came to Britain during the century to teach either in schools or private homes, and a Verein deutscher Lehrerinnen in England  was founded in 1876 to offer them advice and assistance. By the beginning of the 20th century it was common – and fashionable – for upper-class families to employ a ‘Fräulein’ to help educate their daughters, even against the background of rising of anti-German sentiment.

Vereinsbote PP.1215.fb
Der Vereinsbote. Organ des Vereins deutscher Lehrerinnen in England
. Vol. 26, no. 1, February 1914 (P.P.1215.fb). The journal of the Association of German Teachers in England. Like other British German newspapers and periodicals, it ceased publication in August 1914.

On the outbreak of war, however, governesses were among the Germans in Britain viewed with particular suspicion. Because some lived closely with the families of well-connected employers, they could easily be demonised as potential spies or fifth columnists.  A browse through contemporary newspapers via the British Newspaper Archive reveals a number of stories, or variations on the same story, about German governesses whose trunks were found to conceal bombs or secret documents. A report in the Lichfield Mercury of 21 August 1914 even claims that a German ‘secret order book’ had been discovered which recommended the placing of ‘handsome German governesses’ in the families of British military officers to gather information; presumably their handsomeness was intended to help tempt the officers into indiscretions  of various kinds.

These stories may strike us as faintly absurd, but their underlying message was taken seriously at the time, even in high places. In 1916, the Prime Minister of New Zealand specifically mentioned governesses, alongside waiters and clerks, as Germans employed in Britain who had used their position to collect information which was ‘promptly conveyed to Berlin.’ And of course these attitudes could have serious consequences for the women who suddenly found themselves designated ‘enemy aliens’, perhaps after many years as part of a British family, and suspected of spying.

Families who employed a German governess sometimes themselves fell under suspicion. A Mr Cunningham was still pursuing damages from the War Office in 1923, claiming that his business had collapsed when it was boycotted following a military search of his house in 1914, triggered in part by the presence there of a German governess. Even the British Prime Minister was suspected of harbouring a spy in the form of his children’s long-serving governess Anna Heinsius.

A popular example of the ‘governess as spy’ theme was the 1914 play The Man who Stayed at Home, set in a small seaside hotel where the hero, a British secret agent, affects a languid and flippant air to disguise his true mission as a spy-catcher. One of the first characters we meet is Fräulein Schroeder, described in the stage directions as ‘a tall, angular and unattractive spinster with a dictatorial manner and entirely unsympathetic soul.’

A modern audience might expect, or even hope, that such an obvious candidate as Fräulein Schroeder would turn out not to be a villain. But the popular stereotypes of the day prevail: she is in fact in cahoots with the hotel’s owner, Mrs Sanderson (German widow of an Englishman), her ‘son’ Carl (actually ‘Herr von Mantel, son of General von Mantel, and paid spy of the German Government’) and the waiter Fritz (who, despite a thick stage-German accent, manages to convince everyone that he is Dutch), all spies in the service of their ‘Imperial Master’ in Berlin.

Cover of  'The Man who Stayed at Home', showing a warship firing on a U-Boat
Cover of a 1916 acting text of The Man who stayed at Home.The image was also available as a poster for groups wishing to stage the play.

The play clearly pleased the British public. It had a long run in London and was filmed twice (1915 and 1919) and adapted as a novel (1915). The novel is somewhat kinder about Fräulein Schroeder’s appearance: initially, at least, she radiates  ‘all the placid good nature and quietude of spirit of the best of her race’ and has ‘small, kindly brown eyes’. But her fanaticism and ruthlessness are far more strongly emphasised and, in a change from the play, she poisons herself when the German plot is foiled, a ‘sordid and ugly’ death depicted as encapsulating the inglorious nature of her cause.

Amidst all these tall tales and spy-panics it is comforting to encounter stories of those who supported and defended such ‘enemy aliens’ trying to continue a teaching career in Britain during the war years. The Daily Mail of 3 September 1914 reported that a man who applied to the International Women’s Aid Committee for a governess for his children was shocked to be sent a German woman. But, the report continues, the Committee’s secretary responded that, ‘Our object is to help foreign women of any nationality who are the innocent victims of the war. We do not consider that we are helping the enemy in assisting a non-combatant German governess.’ A refreshing sentiment to set against the popular jingoism of the time.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading

Lechmere Worrall / J.E. Harold Terry, The Man who Stayed at Home: a play in three acts. French’s Acting Edition No. 2535 (London, [1916]). 2304.h.71.(4)

Beamish Tinker [i.e. F. Tennyson Jesse], The Man who Stayed at Home ... From the play of the same name. (London, 1915) NN.2687

Panikos Panayi, The Enemy in our Midst : Germans in Britain during the First World War (New York, 1991) YC.1991.a.4196

This piece was posted live from Selwyn College Cambridge as part of the Women In German Studies Postgraduate workshop in November 2014.

19 September 2014

‘Sack of Louvain – Awful holocaust’ (Daily Mail headline, Monday 31 August 1914)

On 4 August 1914, the German army invaded neutral Belgium on their way to Paris and a speedy victory. In the event, the Germans met with unexpected resistance from the Belgian army which slowed their progress and allowed time for the arrival of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).  Accounts from Belgium, Luxembourg, and Northern France of German troops engaged in the mass execution of civilians and the wilful destruction of towns helped mobilise support for the war in Britain as well as influence public opinion in neutral countries such as the Netherlands and Switzerland.  The Germans countered that their actions represented harsh but just punishment for attacks on their troops by civilian snipers (‘francs-tireurs’).  In reality such attacks did not take place in 1914, but the Germans had indeed had to contend with civilian snipers in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and so were expecting to come under fire from civilians on this occasion too.

The German writer Arnold Zweig, best known for his later anti-war cycle, Der Große Krieg der Weißen Männer (‘The Great War of the White Men’), based on his actual experiences serving with the German army in Belgium, Serbia and at Verdun, began his literary career penning nationalistic stories fictionalising German propaganda about Belgian snipers. In Die Bestie (Munich, 1914;  012552.i.24/3), the eponymous ‘beast’ is a treacherous Belgian farmer who is justly executed for cutting the throats of three sleeping German soldiers. In Zweig’s later Erziehung vor Verdun (Education before Verdun), on the other hand, the German investigating judge Mertens discovers that ‘In Luxemburg alone over 1,350 houses had been burned, and more than 800 people shot. In Belgium and Northern France the same methods had led to even worse results’.

The ‘sack of Louvain’ (Leuven) and destruction by arson of the university library during the week 25-28 August struck a particular chord both at the time and in popular memory as a wilful attack on a cultured university town, the ‘Oxford of Belgium’. 

Cover of 'Remember Louvain' with an illustration of the bombed city in flamesJohn Neat, Remember Louvain. March (London, 1914) h.3827.x.(31.)  Cover illustration signed M.H.

Englebert Cappuyns, a lawyer from Louvain and refugee based in Kingston upon Thames, provided an early eye-witness account in his Louvain: a personal experience (Kingston upon Thames, 1914;, while the narrative of An eye-witness at Louvain (London, 1914; 09083.b.36(1)) by an anonymous Professor at Louvain ‘furnished through Father Thurston, S.J. of Farm Street’, concentrates on the execution of the Jesuit priest Father Dupiérieux. Albert Fuglister, a Swiss businessman based in Louvain, and present during 25-28 August, countered German propaganda in his Louvain ville martyre (Paris & London, 1916; 9083.f.14). In addition to the usual eye-witness accounts, Fuglister includes many photographs. In an appendix, ‘Comment j’ai  photographié leurs crimes’ (‘How I photographed their crimes’), he explains that he took photographs of Louvain in ruins from 2 September 1914 onwards.  He also reproduces photographs taken by others, in particular the two Arnou brothers.  Photographs from the Arnou album are on show in the 2014 Leuven exhibition Ravaged: art and culture in times of conflict

Illustration of soldiers being attacked by snipers in a narrow street
Fuglister reproduces a German propaganda postcard depicting the alleged Louvain snipers (above). The caption reads ‘The atrocities against unsuspecting German troops in Louvain’. Fuglister’s counter caption tells his readers that ‘this widely circulated postcard is intended to show the public how German soldiers were attacked by the population of Louvain. This street does not exist anywhere in Louvain except in the imagination of the author of this drawing’.

Here Fuglister uses before and after photographs of the Grand Hall in Louvain University Library  (below) to highlight the impact of the devastation wrought by the Germans.

The book-lined main hall of Louvain University Library (left) and the ruiined hall after the bombing (right)
The caption explains that the library ‘held [note the imperfect tense] more than 300,000 books, incunabula, manuscripts of incalculable value reduced to ashes in the space of one night. The fragments are found within a radius of five kilometres’.  

Fuglister’s book has a preface by the Belgian poet, and Louvain graduate, Emile Verhaeren. Verhaeren, himself a refugee in London and Wales from September 1914 to January 1915, and transformed by his shock at the fate of his country from a cosmopolitan man of letters into a ‘Belgian Paul Déroulède’ used his time in Britain tirelessly producing patriotic verse, and touring the country in support of his native land. His preface to Fuglister’s book mentions an earlier book by a citizen of a neutral nation, the retired Dutch professor L. H. Grondijs, author of The Germans in Belgium (London, 1915;

As for Louvain University Library, it was reconstructed after the war largely with American money (though see The reconstruction of the Library of the University of Louvain: an appeal for further contributions by Henry Guppy, the Librarian of the John Rylands Library, Manchester (Manchester, 1919; 011903.d.16)). This new library and collection was in turn destroyed in the Second World War. Finally, the Belgians themselves dismantled the new post-Second World War collection when the French-speakers were evicted from the now exclusively Flemish university and the collection was divided equally between the old foundation and the new university at Louvain-la-Neuve.

Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator French Studies

References/Further reading:

Arnold Zweig, Erziehung vor Verdun (Amsterdam, 1935) 12557.y.11.  English translation by Edward Sutton, Education before Verdun (London, 1936) 12554.r.14.

Sophie De Schaepdrijver ,The ‘German Atrocities’ of 1914

Fernand Van Langenhove, Comment naît un cycle de légendes : francs-tireurs et atrocités en Belgique (Lausanne; Paris, 1916). 9083.ff.10.  English translation by E.B. Sherlock, The Growth of a Legend (New York, 1916)

 John Horne and Alan Kramer, German atrocities 1914: a history of denial (New Haven, 2001) m01/34099

Alan Kramer, Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War (Oxford, 2007) YC.2008.a.8001

Leuven University Library 1425-2000 edited by Chris Coppens, Mark Derez and Jan Roegiers.  (Leuven, 2005). LF.31.b.7798


03 January 2014

The Panizzi Lectures - Censors at Work: Bourbon France, Imperialist India, and Communist Germany.

The Panizzi Lectures, based upon the original researches of eminent scholars of the book, have been delivered annually since 1985. They cover a wide and international subject range within the overall umbrella of historical bibliography. In this year’s series of three lectures, on Monday 6, Tuesday 7 and Thursday 9 January 2014, Professor Robert Darnton will look at how censorship operated in three different periods and countries - Bourbon France, Imperialist India, and Communist Germany.

Poster for the 2013 Panizzi Lectures showing censors raiding a printing workshop

The image used in the publicity for the lectures (above) is a detail of a satirical print by J. J. Grandville, published in November 1833 in L’Association mensuelle, a special edition of Charles Philipon’s La Caricature.  It shows King Louis Philippe and his entourage raiding the workshop of the Freedom of the Press. The king is seen on the left, brutally trying to silence a woman worker (a personification of  Freedom of the Press), his right foot treading on a paper called  Le Bon Sens (‘Common Sense’). Other officials are depicted attacking the press itself, or tearing newspapers. Hanging above  are issues of anti-Government papers like  Le Charivari  and  La Caricature, the latter showing a pear - a notorious caricature of the head of Louis-Philippe, created  by Philipon in 1831 and subsequently used by artists (notably Daumier) to represent the king.

The three lectures are:

1.  Monday 6 January 2014. Bourbon France: Privilege and repression.
Censorship under the Ancien Régime in France was positive: a royal endorsement of a book’s quality in the form of a privilege. Books that could not qualify for privileges circulated in a vast underground trade, which a specialized literary police attempted, with limited success, to repress.

2.  Tuesday 7 January 2014. British India: Liberalism and Imperialism.
After the rebellion of 1857, the British masters of India realized they understood little about the country they had conquered and therefore produced extensive surveys of “native” literature. The surveys reveal the nature of imperialist discourse about Indian literature, and they provided material for the repression of everything deemed seditious after the partition of Bengal in 1905.

3. Thursday 9 January 2014. Communist East Germany: Planning and Persecution.
In Communist East Germany, censorship meant “planning,” a literary version of social engineering.  Every book had to be incorporated in an annual plan after a complex process of negotiation and compromise, which made authors complicit with censors and led to struggles that reverberated up to the top of the power structure.

Professor Robert Darnton (right) is Carl H. Pforzheimer UniRobert Darntonversity Professor and Director of the University Library at Harvard.  He has written and edited many books, including The Business of Enlightenment: A publishing History of the Encyclopédie (Cambridge, Mass., 1979, an early attempt to develop the history of books as a field of study; British Library X.981/21846), The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (New York, 1984, probably his most popular work, which has been translated into 18 languages; X.800/41225), Berlin Journal, 1989-1990 (New York, 1991, an account of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of East Germany; YC.1993.a.3801), and The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Prerevolutionary France (New York, 1995, a study of the underground book trade; YC.1995.b.3040). His latest books are The Case for Books (New York, 2009; m09/36681), The Devil in the Holy Water, or The Art of Slander in France from Louis XIV to Napoleon (Philadelphia, 2010; YC.2012.a.15402), and Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris (Cambridge, Mass., 2010; YC.2010.a.16713).

All lectures will be in the Lecture Theatre of the British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB.  18.30-19.30. Admission is free and  the lectures are not ticketed; seats will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

The last lecture will be followed by a drinks reception to which all are welcome.

Chris Michaelides, Secretary, Panizzi Foundation.


19 August 2013

Second World War Soviet Propaganda

Eighteen envelopes full of World War II Soviet propaganda material, containing about 350 items, including leaflets, newspapers and flyers are held in the  "Official Publications" collection at the British Library (shelfmark S.N.6/11.(2.)) and were accessioned by the British Museum on 31 August 1955. A short typewritten note in Russian, signed by one IU.Okov and addressed to a Mr Barman survives as part of the collection: “Dear Mr Barman, please find enclosed several of our leaflets in German and Hungarian. Yours sincerely, IU. Okov”.

Okov's note and typewritten list

In the same envelope is a typewritten list of items, probably enclosed with the same letter. The letter is dated January 1945 and was sent by the Soviet Office of Propaganda, presumably to some British counterpart. However, as the collection contains more items in other languages, including Finnish, Polish and Romanian, it is very likely that this correspondence originated on more than one occasion. It would be very interesting to learn more about the provenance of the collection and its whereabouts before it came to the Library. Unfortunately, we don’t have any information on Mr Okov or Mr Barman, but it would be very interesting to learn who they were.

When war with the Nazi Germany broke out on 22 June 1941, the Communist Party of the USSR took a decision  to create a new organisation, which was called the Soviet Office of Political and Military Propaganda (later reformed into the Office of Propaganda on Enemy and Occupied Territories). By the end of 1941, eighteen propaganda newspapers were being published in the Soviet Union in various foreign languages, ten of them in German.

Even the German intelligence accepted that the Soviet propaganda was very effective. Propaganda aimed at Nazi soldiers and civilians in Germany and on occupied territories didn’t focus on communist ideology or criticise religion, the class structure of society, etc. The main objective was to condemn Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers Party.


The propaganda materials vividly illustrated atrocities by Nazi troops on the occupied territories on the one hand and the strength of the Soviet Army and consequently its inevitable victory on the other. Among various propaganda techniques one of the most important was an emotional appeal to ‘common’ people who were forced to fight a war that was not in their interests. Images of women and children waiting for their husbands, sons and fathers back at home were widely used. Women and children in these pictures appeared miserable and ashamed that their loved ones were fighting on the Eastern front, and these impressions came out as genuinely poignant and moving.

Most of the flyers contain a pass written in German and Russian that could be torn off and presented to the Soviet troops when surrendering. In 1942, after the first German defeats, a special series of propaganda materials demonstrating the enemy's losses was launched. The propaganda message addressed to Germany's allies stressed the argument that the German fascists were using their allies' troops in the most dangerous situations and campaigns.

Anti-German propaganda leaflets

Several items from this collection can be seen in the current BL exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion  which is on till 17 September 2013.

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator Russian Studies


16 August 2013

German propaganda in Esperanto

Memories take me back to the USSR: in 1973, while reading a biography of famous Esperantist Vasili Eroshenko by the Ukrainian writer Nadia Andrianova, I admired the vivid description of his journey to England in 1912. A newly-wed couple, Margaret and Paul Blaise, waited for this courageous blind traveller from Moscow at the Charing Cross station.  As Eroshenko wrote later, the ten days that he stayed with this international (Welsh-Belgian) family were “the happiest days” in England. Years later, after exploring the streets of London that Eroshenko walked in 1912, I found books and pamphlets by Margaret Lawrence Blaise (1878 -1935) in the British Library, as well as her photograph in one of them.

MARGARETBLAISEPHOTO1913The kind hostess of Eroshenko was not just the charming wife of Paul Blaise, secretary of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in London, whom she met via their mutual interest in Esperanto. At the time of her marriage to him in 1910 she herself was an established teacher of Esperanto and already had a popular book The Esperanto Manual: A complete guide to Esperanto in the form of twenty-five lectures specially adapted to the requirements of pupils in evening classes (London, 1908) [] under her belt (published under her maiden name of Jones). Various editions of this manual are a part of our collections.


Margaret Lawrence Blaise in 1913


She was also a passionate propagandist for the new language, created only a few decades previously. No wonder that when the First World War started Margaret Blaise continued to plead for its use in international communications.  In the spirit of the time (with many books and pamphlets titled “Why I am…” or “Why not…”) she produced a pamphlet entitled A World Language: Why not Esperanto? The British Library holds the seventh edition of this pamphlet, reprinted in June 1916 [01902.l.33. - see picture].

MARGARETBLAISEWHYNOTESPERANTO_OKThe sharp eyes of Margaret Blaise noticed the use of Esperanto by Germans in a way which was  previously unthinkable for idealists: for state propaganda. The British Library’s current exhibition “Propaganda: Power and Persuasion”  looks at many aspects of the use of language for the aims of propaganda. It pays attention to the use of established state languages  in wartime.   But what about auxiliary or so-called “invented languages”? In one chapter of the pamphlet called “German Propaganda”, Margaret Blaise summarises the use of Esperanto by the German authorities. She mentions an official German publication, La vero pri la Milito (The Truth about the War),  which presents  ideas “from the German point of view”. “They issued a pamphlet with the above title, sending out thousands and thousands of copies”, she notes. The British Library holds one of the surviving copies [08027.dd.12] as well as other German publications from this period.

It seems that Germany was the only country to use Esperanto for propaganda purposes during the First World War.

In later decades it was used in other countries. The “Little Red Book” by Mao Zedong (exhibited in “Propaganda Power and Persuasion”) exists in an Esperanto version too [the BL’s copy is held at YP.2011.a.378]. The most richly illustrated Esperanto journal, “El Popola Ĉinio”, published in paper form in 1950-2000 by the Chinese Esperanto-League, dedicated a whole issue to the death of “La Granda Gvidanto kaj Instruisto Prezidanto Maŭ Zedong” in 1976 [ZF.9.a.6337].

Languages are created by people and for people. It seems that not a single one of  them can escape the temptations of state propaganda.

Further reading:

Eco, Umberto. The search for the perfect language. (Oxford, 1995). [95/25870]
Lins, Ulrich. La danĝera lingvo: studo pri la persekutoj kontraǔ Esperanto. (Moskvo, 1990). [YF.2007.a.27179]

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Esperanto Studies.

12 August 2013

Britain and Russia in the First World War and the Revolution of 1917: some interesting sources in the British Library collections

As someone who is half Russian and half English, Anglo-Russian relations have always been a source of fascination for me - at a time like the First World War, these would have been far more important and complex than usual.

During my work experience at the British Library, I came across a report about the first time British and Russian soldiers fought side by side in the First World War: Report on R.N.A.S. Armoured Car Squadron under Commander O. Locker-Lampson ... serving in Russia. ([London:] Russian Government Committee in London, 1918) [Shelfmark X.802/2122]. The Squadron was sent to the Eastern Front when its capabilities on the Western Front were thought to be limited due to trench warfare.

The nature of the various negotiations regarding the terms of the squadron being sent to aid the Russian forces are the primary essence of this report by Nugent M. Clougher. The general terms of the treaty revolve around the British Government providing travel expenses and ammunition, whilst the Russian Government was to provide salaries and food for the soldiers as well as upkeep costs for the cars.

The document is typewritten – which adds to the interest for an observer even if the very meticulous content is not overly fascinating. Indeed, the specifics of the report  are somewhat repetitive. However, some of these specifics are visually interesting, such as a diagram showing the growth of expenditure sanctioned by the R.G.C. at the end of the report.

King George V took a personal interest in the work of the squadron in Russia and in a message to his men said:  “Tell the men under your command how glad I am that they have been placed at the disposal of His Majesty the Emperor of Russia. I know they will uphold that high reputation King George's messageswhich they have already earned in the Western Theatre of War” (p. 8).

In his message sent to Tsar Nicholas II via the squadron’s commander, Oliver Locker-Lampson he also stated: “I trust they will be of some service to your brave army. They share my satisfaction that Russian and British Comrades will now for the first time in this war fight side by side.”

(Left: Messages from King George V from the Report on R.N.A.S. Armoured Car Squadron. X.802/2122)

Interestingly, Locker-Lampson became involved in Russian politics during his time in Russia, allegedly having been asked to participate in the 1916 assassination of Rasputin and in Kornilov’s failed coup against the provisional government of Kerensky. He is also said to have planned to rescue Tsar Nicholas II from Bolshevik-controlled territory following his abdication. Partially because of his experiences in Russia, Locker-Lampson became fiercely anti-Communist and suspicious of covert Bolshevik influence in Britain's economy, society and politics (he was a fairly prominent pro-Churchill Conservative MP).

Although towards the end of 1917 the squadron was no longer needed as Russia left the war, it remained in its winter base in Kursk for months. In the following years Britain would join the “Whites” in the Civil War that resulted from the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power. The Czar’s British Squadron by Bryan Perrett and Anthony Lord (London, 1981) [X.622/11785 and 83/34072] tells the full story of the squadron from 1915-1918. It provides an intriguing perspective from English soldiers in Russia during this troubled period that led to one of the most infamous governments in history becoming all-powerful in Eastern Europe.

I also had access to other books regarding Bolshevism in Russia and British opinions towards it. As it became clear that the Communists would not give up in their bid to control Russia, streams of anti-Communist propaganda were created in Britain where there were fears that a similar uprising could occur. A collection of tracts (shelfmark 8092.dd.9)  published by the Russian Liberation Committee  one of the most active Russian émigré organizations operating in London in the period following the Russian Revolution with the aims of “the overthrow of Bolshevism, the restoration of order in and the regeneration of Russia”, shows that, although mostly written by Russians, they also try to reflect the British viewpoint on events in Russia.

Harold Williams and his Russian wife Ariadna Tyrkova-Williams were among the supporters of the anti-Bolshevik cause of the Russian Liberation Committee and wrote for this series.  Further reflections can be also found in Ariadna’s From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk: The first year of the Russian Revolution (London, 1919) [8095.h.8]. The unique Tyrkova-Williams collection of pamphlets and press-cuttings which they saved while in Russia during the Civil war was also deposited with the British Museum Library. 

T-W collection, General Denikin
Leaflet from the Tyrkova-Williams Collection, Cup.410.c.312.(33)

References:  Charlotte Alston, ‘The Work of the Russian Liberation Committee in London, 1919–1924’, Slavonica, Vol. 14, No. 1 (April 2008), pp. 6-17 (12)  [P.901/3414]

Tom Walters, Work Experience Student

07 August 2013

Propaganda of Success

This term was used to describe the period often referred to as Gierek’s decade (1970-1980) in Poland. Edward Gierek, the First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza PZPR) came to power in December 1970 following a wave of strikes that had been provoked by the announcement of a drastic food price increase. After many years of economic stagnation under Gomułka’s rule Gierek promised the nation economic reforms and industrial modernisation. His new political style raised hopes that the socialist system might be reformable and was well received by the majority of people.
Through foreign loans new companies sprang up and consumer goods were filling the shops. Products that had been absent from the shelves in previous decades such as bananas, oranges, chewing gum and the symbol of ‘the rotten West’, Coca-Cola, were easily available.

Gierek aimed at mass motorisation so that every worker could afford a car. He also relaxed travel restrictions, allowing people to travel to the previously forbidden West.  At the beginning of this ‘bonanza’ a lucky potential traveller could even purchase 150 dollars in a bank at a competitive tourist rate (this was usually half the rate on the black market), so the standard of living rose considerably.

Gomułka’s ideology was replaced by Gierek’s consumerism. His language of political propaganda included a broad range of populist slogans of which the most popular were ‘building a second Poland’,  ‘economic miracle’, and  ‘let Poland grow strong and people be prosperous’.  ‘Will you help?’ was the first phrase spontaneously formulated by Gierek at the very beginning of his rule and is now regarded as the basic catchword in the linguistic canon of that period.  

The period of prosperity was, however, short-lived. In the mid-70s the signs of the coming economic crisis were apparent. 1976 saw another wave of protests in response to a planned massive increase in food prices. The repressions which followed led to the formation of illegal opposition groups and this, in turn, laid the foundation for the growth of the Solidarity movement in 1980. 

Not without reason the Polish People’s Republic was seen as the jolliest barrack in the socialist camp. Poland enjoyed a comparatively high degree of freedom among the countries of the communist bloc. In such a climate humour and satire flourished, targeting the distortions of the system and its weaknesses. Satire was regarded as a form of social resistance, and also helped people to survive turbulent times. To pass the censor’s approval cartoonists had to employ subtle allusions and hidden metaphors.  Any cartoon which might have had the slightest anti-communist undertone was immediately censored. There were, however, cases of the withdrawal of the entire circulation of a paper because of a joke that escaped the censor’s attention.

The current British Library exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion  includes some examples of the works by Andrzej Krauze, a great Polish illustrator and cartoonist noted for his allegorical drawings. He lives and works in London. His illustrations have been published in The Guardian since 1989 and in other prominent newspapers and journals around the world.

Magda Szkuta,  Curator of Polish Studies

MS Krauze


Cartoon from Andrzej Krauze’s Poland. (London: Nina Karsov,  1981). BL shelfmark    X.958/7224. (By kind permission of the author and publisher)













15 July 2013

Propaganda from the skies

For the last two years, I have been working on a PhD about propaganda history at the University of Sheffield in collaboration with the British Library. The Library's current exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion has spectacularly advertised the importance of the subject and its impact on our modern society. My own research topic of ‘Allied propaganda in occupied France and Belgium during the First World War’, was triggered in this same institution by the discovery of a typescript and a collection of newspapers given to the British Museum Library in 1919 by Edward Heron-Allen (1861-1943).(C.40.l.21.).

Edward Heron-Allen was an intellectual with interests in Persian literature, science and music but was also one of the propagandists working for what was probably the most mysterious communication unit of the British army during the First World War – MI7b.  Our knowledge of this organisation is limited by the 1919 destruction of their archives. Yet surviving sources reveal varied activities such as attempts to demoralise the enemy, propaganda behind the lines, communication with the press or translation of pamphlets.

The newspapers contained in the British Library, made by the British between 1917 and 1918 and named Le Courrier de l’Air, were written in French in order to be dropped by planes (later by balloon) over the invaded territories of Belgium and France. The typescript attached to this collection describes the creative process behind the conception of this form of propaganda.

Two years after having accessed these documents, my research has allowed me to contextualise them. At the end of 1915, the French decided to drop a newspaper over their invaded departments in order to fight the powerful German propaganda being produced in French. The distribution by plane was partially done by the British over the sector of Lille. The Belgians imitated their neighbours in 1916 and published newspapers both in French and Flemish in an attempt to fight the campaign of division led by the Germans in the country. Le Courrier de l’Air was created by MI7b at the beginning of 1917.

Le Courrier de l'Air 7.11.1918
The masthead of Le Courrier de l'Air (British Library C.40.l.21.)

While there is not enough space to develop here all the findings of my transnational study, it seems useful to answer one of the most intriguing questions surrounding the topic – why did the British bother writing a newspaper specially aimed at the occupied civilians of foreign allied nations? The answer lies in the German propaganda. The content of the occupier’s French-language newspaper, the Gazette des Ardennes,  (BL newspaper Library MF175) was strongly Anglophobic in order to arouse anger at the Franco-British alliance. Daily attacks against the British raised concerns inside the War Office which, when the French refused to offer assistance, decided to create the Courrier de l’Air.

The impact of British propaganda in French will be researched during the last year  of my PhD. In the meantime, the last words will be offered by a Frenchman who experienced the occupation and reflected on the efficiency of German propaganda against the British:  ‘Each piece of literature produced in the last centuries against England is reproduced in the Gazette des Ardennes. Not an issue without a mention of Joan of Arc or Napoleon. It is in vain – each occupied individual realises that he owes the existence of his country to England. And after all… the Hun hates her [England], and that’s reason enough for us to love her’. (P. Stephani, Sedan sous domination allemande 1914-1918, (Paris, 1919) [], pp. 26-27.)

Bernard Wilkin, Sheffield University/British Library Collaborative PhD student

11 June 2013

Make your own anti-soviet propaganda!

Looking for material in the British Library's Russian collections that could be shown in our current exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion, I found a small collection of anti-Soviet propaganda  purchased by the Library in 1978 [British Library shelfmark HS.74/2168].

The collection consists of about 50 items published in the 1950s by the Narodno-trudovoi Soiuz (The National Alliance of Russian Solidarists)  a Russian far-right anticommunist organization founded in 1930 by a group of young Russian White émigrés  in Belgrade. The organization also set up a radio station called ‘Radio Free Russia’; during the Cold War its programmes were broadcast from West Germany to the Soviet-occupied eastern zone until the West German government, responding to pressure from the Soviet government, shut the station down.

The NTS actively sent out propaganda leaflets via air balloons and other means, including direct mail. Messages containing anti-Stalinist slogans and the NTS’s political programme were printed on leaflets, handkerchiefs, fake roubles, false books, etc. to be smuggled into the Soviet Union.
For example, in our collection we have a leaflet addressed to the entire ‘population of the country’ with an image of a hundred-rouble note on the reverse, which of course could not be taken for a real banknote. Other items are presented as handwritten letters to a friend, and some are really small pieces – about the size of a matchbox - with graphic images and some text on them. It is difficult to say whether these tricks and others, such as a fake newspaper intended to imitate the established Soviet newspaper, Literaturnaia Gazeta (The Literary Newspaper), really helped to smuggle more material into the USSR. Not the Literaturnaia Gazeta
A fake Literaturnaia Gazeta

In my view, the most interesting items in this collection are two templates which could be used to produce more copies of anti-Soviet propaganda. The instructions for doing this are not exactly simple: “Take 22 teaspoons of water, 5 teaspoons of potato starch, 8 teaspoons of real ink, and 2 teaspoons of glycerine. Mix all the ingredients very well and heat slowly till the mixture becomes fairly thick. Using a small piece of wood smoothed by fabric or rubber, rub this substance into paper through this template. Rinse and dry the template after use”.

Home propaganda kit -1
Make your own Propaganda! One of the NTS templates

I’m afraid that even those who have a valid reader’s ticket for the British Library  won’t be able to try this out. But the collection will soon go undergo conservation treatment and will be available to consult in the reading rooms in 2014. 

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator Russian Studies

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