The manipulation of European and national symbols in audiovisual media as a form of propaganda
There are different ways and means by which symbols are used and often manipulated in order to convey a specific idea. One such way, frequently employed by propaganda is appeal to authority that is, citing prominent figures to support a position, idea, argument, or course of action. The logic behind this depends upon the fact that the authority is a legitimate expert on the subject and also on a general consensus existing among legitimate experts on the matter under discussion. Such is the case of a promotional clip commissioned by the Czech government on the occasion of holding the EU presidency during the first half of 2009. The whole idea and realization are quite catchy, in fact. Here is the video:
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Apart from using the very distinct European anthem and flag, the promotional clip calls upon some particular elements of national pride, such as sugar cubes, a Czech invention and renowned Czech celebrities. Although the video is part of a campaign promoting Czech presidency of the EU, I believe it is cleverly targeting exclusively Czech people, since the average European maybe is not aware that sugar cubes are a Czech invention and may not even recognize the celebrities.
The subliminal message of eurocrats bored out of their minds, playing with sugar cubes is reinforced by the campaign slogan “Evropě to osladíme”, which literally translates to “We will sweeten Europe”, suggesting that the EU is boring and bitter. This message gains even more importance considering Czech ever-growing euro scepticism, thus reinforcing the image of Czechs as pragmatic sceptics. However, the slogan “hits a sour note” as BBC puts it. Translators contracted by the BBC reveal the message’s ambiguosity, suggesting “we’ll give Europe a taste of its own medicine” as a more appropriate translation. So, here we have a message and several ways of decoding it, depending on different cultural and social backgrounds/contexts of the viewers. In fact, to the Czech viewers the clip reflects the typical national characteristics of humour and irony, giving thus a positive meaning to the message, as opposed to the British viewers, who perhaps are much more acquainted with Mary Poppins’ “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”.
In the meantime, what different youtube viewers get from the clip has mostly economic implications. For some viewers the sugar cube dissolving in the cup of coffee, bear yet another interpretation of loss of their national sovereignty to the EU. “However since joining the EU, Czech has been transformed from sugar exporter to sugar importer… a 35% downgrade in production. The cube dropping into the Coffee, a symbolic gesture of integration (or dilution depending on your perspective)…brilliant…” says a youtube user identified aswill3205.
The sugar cubes on their own, bear yet another hidden message of integration and neutrality. According to this website, they were first produced in a Moravian factory in 1841 in Austria-Hungary, now the Czech Republic, by Jacub Christoph Rad who owned the company and was born in Switzerland, which not only isn’t a member state of the EU but is also for a long time now a symbol of neutrality.
Because the message that the clip tries (not-so) subtly to convey is euroskepticism and quite provocative, most of the Czech viewers commenting on the video adopt rather easily the dominant-hegemonic reading of it.