While propaganda has come up in many contexts with regards to conflict, David Motadel’s writing and Ben-Ghiat’s commentary on the use of propaganda within the structure of colonisation brings a new dimension to propaganda as nation-maker.
To put a point on it, on sees propaganda used most frequently like how Hanebrink outlines it in his article about Judeo-Bolshevism, that it is a direct tool of nation-building from within the nation, usually by outlining an enemy and then using either pictures or sound to reiterate negative elements of that enemy, or the strength of the nation against it. This propaganda relies on consistent use of tropes that are understood by everyone within the nation that the propaganda is released in – it creates a unifying narrative for everyone occupying the territory. In Hanebrink’s article, this is best seen in the anti-Semitic propaganda published by Poland as part of the effort to stand against the encroaching Boleshevik army.
In both Ben-Ghiat’s talk and Motadel’s writing, however, we see propaganda being used indirectly by a nation, i.e. within a proxy country, in order to achieve the nation building goals. With Ben-Ghiat’s talk, the use of Italian cinema to outline positive Fascist characteristics, but having these characteristics put forward in a proxy country rather than within Italy itself. It ends up serving a double-use, one side to show the important characteristic of masculinity within Fascist Italy, but also showing Italy as colonizer in a time when that would have been of importance.
In a similar strain in Motadel’s writing, Nazi Germany was looking to undermine enemy nations by using propaganda to spark anti-colonial uprisings in select proxy countries as a way to preserve their own nationalistic agenda. They also hosted anti-colonial leaders as part of this effort, who looked at Germany as an ally for their cause and as an alternative to the liberal, imperialist structure that dominated the bulk of the world.
Interesting in the case of Italian cinema is the proxy countries desire to create and promote their own national identity, where Somalis would come to film and then leave when they found out that they would have to be the losers in a film working to create the ideal male national identity in fascist Italy. There is also a kind of dialogue between national and proxy in Germany, where heads of anti-colonial movements were restricted in what they could do by the German state. The anti-colonial movements to a certain degree were driven by German investment and the belief that it would be of benefit to Germany. Radio propaganda was driven by the Germany state, leaders were invested in by the state to travel to communicate their anti-colonial ideals (in the case of Bose), and the publications by anti-colonial leaders could be censored at the behest of the Nazi government.
This is not to say that these leaders were impotent in the drive for anti-colonial efforts, the entire reason they went to Germany was because they had started the efforts and saw in Germany another tool against the states that had colonised them in the first place. Rather what I am looking to say is that promotion of nationalism in proxy areas was a tool that Germany was using to preserve its own nationalistic agenda – they fed off each other. Italy also used proxy countries, in a different way than that of Germany, but for the same reasons – creation and preservation of national identity.