One hundred years ago this week, Europe began the deadliest war in its history (to that date). I have been writing about how historians can find and use visual resources to understand attitudes at the time, and I have written about Germany and France.
The other key player at the start of the war, of course, was Russia, a fact that often gets forgotten in Western war histories, which can’t wait to get the British into the story. Russia’s role in the war was crucial, although it often get lost when we read back form the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Russia, though, was a highly advanced state in 1914, with a thriving media, and it produced its share of war propaganda.
In the West at least, this tradition is little known and appreciated, and most of these images are unknown. Partly, this is because the Soviets were not too interested in preserving Tsarist history.
Several themes strike us immediately, including the patriotic appeal to smash the demonic Germans and Austrians.
That task should be child’s play!
As occupiers, the Germans committed notorious atrocities.
The Turks were a particular bugbear whom the Russians had often beaten in the past, and the Russians of 1914 enjoyed taunting them.
Facing the political realities of the time, the Russians had to present themselves as faithful and ancient allies of the British and French, although the British in fact had recently been deadly enemies.
One distinctive feature of Russian propaganda though was its pronounced and explicit apocalyptic tone. All the countries involved depicted their enemies as fearsome monsters, which might hark back to the Beast of the Apocalypse. Here for instance is a French poster from 1914.
With the Russians, though, there was rarely any doubt that the Germans and Austrians were straight from the Book of Revelation, the seven headed Beast.
This is what we might expect from a country with an Orthodox state church, and a deep devotion to warrior saints who likewise slew dragons.