Zarina Zabrisky
6 min readMay 18, 2015

By Vladimir Yakovlev @Sguschenka

Translation and introduction by Zarina Zabrisky


I wrote about my four years of forced study of special propaganda at St. Petersburg State University in one of my articles about The Arts Resistance. Putin and Medvedev studied the same subject, at the same place. Just earlier. And, they were much better students of the subject.

Apparently, special propaganda was taught at Moscow State University as well. I have discovered this excellent article by Vladimir Yakovlev in Russian. He covers the subject beautifully. I can add that in St. Petersburg State University we also wrote pamphlets: “American soldier, surrender. You are surrounded,” (imprinted into my memory forever) and studied tank parts, and that our (also cheerful) colonel Podoprigora fished the pages torn out of the secret notebooks out of the toilet bowls and brought them into classrooms as the evidence of our criminal activity. It was not a matter of spying at the time. There was a shortage of toilet paper in the Soviet Union. I intend to write a series of articles or essays or stories about propaganda but meanwhile —

Here is the original of the article in Russian. And here is the Ukrainian translation by Yuriy Bihanskyy.


By Vladimir Yakovlev

I wonder if I am about to betray a state secret? I remember this textbook so well — a smudged blue stamp: “belongs to the special unit” — and the notebooks for writing down the lectures — pages numbered, a thick waxed thread stitched through it — for security.

Top secret.

I studied journalism at Moscow State University. We had a military department. We were taught combat special propaganda, the art of sowing discord in the ranks of the enemy by means of disinformation and manipulation of consciousness, in an atmosphere of complete secrecy.

I must assure you: that was a scary business. Seriously.

Combat, or “black” propaganda allows to distort the real facts in order to achieve its goals. It is an effective weapon used for the sole purpose of killing — smashing — the opponent’s brains.

The method of rotten herring. The method of inverted pyramid. The method of the Big Lie. The principle of 40/60. The method of absolute evidence.

You know all these methods and techniques. You just do not realize you do. Because you are not supposed to.

We were taught to use the special propaganda tools against the soldiers of the enemy army. Today, these tools are used against the civilian population of our own country. Reading Russian newspapers or browsing through TV shows for the last two years, I have been noticing with interest that the people in charge of the input and interpretation of Russian news obviously learned from the same textbook and the same cheerful colonel or his colleagues.

For example, here is how the rotten herring method works. A false accusation is found. It is important that it is as dirty and scandalous as possible — petty theft, say, child molestation, or murder, desirably motivated by greed. These work well.

Proving the charge is not the purpose of rotten herring. The purpose is to invite a broad, public discussion of its …UNfairness and INjustce.

The nature of the human psyche is such that as soon as the charge becomes a subject of public discussion, “supporters” and “opponents”, “specialists” and “experts”, rabid “prosecutors” and ardent “defenders” of the accused inevitably enter the scene.

But regardless of the views of the discussion participants use the name of the accused in conjunction with dirty and scandalous accusations, over and over, thus rubbing more “rotten herring” in his “clothes”, until the “smell” follows him everywhere. And the question whether he “killed, stole, seduced or did not” becomes associated with his name.

Or, for example, the 40/60 method, invented by Goebbels at his time. The idea is to create a media source broadcasting 60 percent information in the interest of the enemy. Having earned the opponent’s trust, the media source uses the remaining 40 percent for broadcasting misinformation that becomes extremely efficient due to this very trust. During World War II, the anti-fascist worldwide community listened to a certain radio station. It was considered British. Only after the war it turned out that in fact it was a radio station operating on Goebbels’ 40/60 principle and run by him.

Another really effective method is Big Lie. It is a bit like a “rotten herring” but works differently. The idea is feeding the audience a lie so terrible, so overwhelming — and with such a maximum degree of certainty — that it is almost impossible to believe that one can lie about such a thing.

The trick here is that a properly arranged and well-devised big lie causes a deep emotional trauma in the listener or viewer. Later the trauma determines his or her beliefs that withstand all arguments of logic and reason.

False descriptions of violent abuse of children or women work particularly well for these purposes…

Our cheerful Colonel favored the method of “absolute evidence” that provided results reliable albeit not immediate.

Rather than trying to prove anything, you report the idea to the audience as something obvious, self-evident and therefore definitely supported by an overwhelming majority of the population.

Despite its apparent simplicity, this method is unbelievably effective because the human mind automatically responds to the opinion of majority and wants to join it.

In order to ensure the desired effect it is important to make sure that the majority is vast and its support is absolute and unconditional.

If these conditions are met the majority position supporters’ number begins to grow slowly but surely and over time increases in geometric proportion — mainly from the lower social classes populace that is most vulnerable to “the effect of compliance.” One of the classic ways to support the method of absolute evidence is, for example, the publication of the results of all sorts of sociological polls showing the public the absolute unity on a particular issue. The techniques of black propaganda, of course, do not require these reports to resemble reality in any way.

I could go on. They taught us propaganda for a year, and the list of methods is quite large. This is not important, though. The following is important.

Methods of black propaganda impact the audience at the deep psychological level and consequently conventional logical arguments can’t undo its effects. …

Simply put, combat special propaganda turns a human into a zombie not only actively supporting the settings embedded in his or her mind but also aggressively opposing those who hold other views or try to change his mind, using logical arguments. It can’t work any other way, in fact. All methods of special propaganda are united by a common goal: to weaken the enemy army by planting discord, mutual hatred and distrust into its ranks.

Today, these methods are used against us. And the result produced is exactly the one for which they were created. Only mutual hatred and discord arise not in the army of the enemy but in our own homes and families.

Just go outside and see how [Russia] the country has changed over the past three years. I think special propaganda works even better against the country’s own population than against enemy soldiers.

Probably because, unlike the enemy soldiers, civilians can not defend themselves.


*All facts and photos are in public domain and available through Google. Links to the original sources are included.

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Zarina Zabrisky

Zarina Zabrisky is the author of IRON and CUTE TOMBSTONE, EXPLOSION, a poetry book GREEN LIONS, and a novel WE, MONSTERS. More at