On Thursday, former California Governor and action-movie hero Arnold Schwarzenegger recorded a video and put it out “through various different channels,” in hopes of reaching some of the Russian citizens who are likely unable to get news outside of Putin-sanctioned war propaganda. Schwarzenegger, popular around the world as a real-life muscle-bound superhero, does have an appeal that’s hard to pin down. Enough Californians voted for the Republican movie star to become Governor back in 2003.
Schwarzenegger’s video begins with him saying he wants to inform Russians who may be unaware of some of the darker, more inhumane things happening as a result of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. But first, he begins with an autobiographical retelling of his relationship to Russia and Russian culture, which began when he was first getting into weightlifting and went to Vienna to watch the world championship—in which Russian weightlifting champion Yury Petrovich Vlasov took the gold. Schwarzenegger said he was lucky enough to watch Vlasov lift what was once considered impossible, and meet him after the event—cementing the trajectory Arnold’s life would take from there on out.
Teenage Arnold put a photo of Vlasov up in his bedroom, much to the chagrin of his father who demanded he take it down and choose a German or Austrian hero to look up to. Arnold didn’t.
Schwarzenegger goes on to talk about his movie career and his Russian fans, and the fact that his 1988 action film, Red Heat, was the first American movie production to film in Red Square—where he was able to spend time with his childhood inspiration, closing one circle in his life.
Arnold’s childhood hero, Vlasov, passed away last year at the age of 85.
Schwarzenegger then gets into the meat of what he wants to tell the Russian people. The propaganda about “de-Nazifying” Ukraine is just that—propaganda. He reminds everybody that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is the Jewish descendant of men murdered by Nazis during World War II. “Ukraine did not start this war. Neither did nationalists or Nazis. Those empowering the Kremlin started this war. This is not the Russian people's war.”
Arnold speaks to the isolation Russia is experiencing from the global community because of this move and enumerates some of the humanitarian casualties of the war Putin is waging.
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This is not the first time Arnold has released a video, directed at folks participating—or complicit in— violent, politically motivated behavior. A few days after the attack on our country’s Capitol, Schwarzenegger released a very personal video, imploring Jan. 6 insurrectionists and their supporters to see the parallels between what was happening in the MAGA movement and what Arnold experienced personally as a young Austrian boy, born right after the war, whose father and other men around him had been Nazis. They were “broken men drinking away the guilt over their participation in the most evil regime in history.” He explained that while many of the people he knew growing up weren’t ideologically Nazis, they had “just went along, step-by-step, down the road.”
In that Jan. 10, 2021, video, Arnold talked about the ravages of war and the darkness and trauma it brought to his father. In that video he spoke to growing up in a home where his father would come home at least “twice a week,” drunk and rageful, “he would scream and hit us and scare my mother,” he explained in that video. Schwarzenegger references his father once again to the Russian people.
“To the Russian soldiers listening to this broadcast: You already know much of the truth that I have been speaking. You have seen it with your own eyes. I don't want you to be broken like my father.”
This new plea has similar themes of autobiography. Will it make a difference? To some people, it will. What is most hopeful in the plea by Arnold is that it is a call for peace, not for more violence. It is not a call to overthrow Putin but a call to pressure for a peaceful resolution between Russia and Ukraine, with a reminder that Russians and Ukrainians do share many family connections, and, “So every bullet you shoot, you shoot a brother or a sister. Every bomb or every shell that falls is falling, not on an enemy but on a school or a hospital or a home.”
The New York Times reports that the official “President of Russia” Twitter account follows 22 people. Guess who one of those people is?