Information war on Euromaidan in Russia

 

Photo: Jason Freeny's "Think Tank." Illustration for Olexandra Tsekhanovska's "Information War on Euromaidan in Russia."

Olexandra Tsekhanovska,
Faculty of Social Sciences and Social Technologies,
Master Program of Political Science (1st year)
From Kyiv city 

During the three tense, controversial, desperate and hopeful months of Euromaidan Ukrainian citizens were introduced to a vast amount of changes. Transformations took place on the surface of social life and in its depth, from the topics of daily “expert” political discussions in the kitchens – a part of our Soviet heritage that cannot be removed as easily as a Lenin statue – to the perception of both state power and civic duty, which become more critical, intent and demanding. As the core changes in the social life, these events deserve a title of revolution, albeit its success or failure is yet to be seen. And among its achievements is a miraculous transmutation of a 46-million state into ‘a camp of fascists that is waiting to set out on Moscow’ – at least this is the idea of Kremlin propaganda that infects minds of some weakly immune Russian citizens and may turn your yesterday’s friends into tomorrow’s enemies.

“I would have never expected it from you,” writes my friend from Saint Petersburg that has been my source of mental comfort and support for more than five years and ceases to be one in just a minute. She calls me a supporter of a fascist coup, and it breaks my heart as a human, angers me as a citizen and surprises beyond any limits as a political scientist. Unfortunately, where propaganda unfolds, there is no room for reasoning. Black and red flags of nationalist group “Right Sector” that constitute only a small part of political forces represented at Maidan are viewed as a sign of the uprising Fourth Reich. Photos of hundreds of thousands people at veche, who dared to protest against thieves, are seen as photoshopped, as a live performance of “Triumph des Willes” or as both at the same time. Those who speak Ukrainian, apparently, dream of forbidding Russian. Those who want to join European Union – because they have been paid with American money, of course, – are betraying brotherly Russia, presumably because they have no desire to join it instead. As Kafkian might it sound, such conversations have become a dramatic reality for virtually everyone who stands at Euromaidan or at least virtually supports it and has friends in Russia at the same time.

Although it depends on one’s personal experience, it is safe to say that not all and not even the majority of friends and comrades in the northern neighbor fit the description. Nevertheless, even one loss among those who are dear is too much. So as to understand how it has become possible, one needs to do the simplest of things – to turn on one of the Russian television channels. When it becomes painfully evident that while calling protestors for democracy Ukrainian fascists, Russian media are, ironically, following the high standards of Goebbels propaganda, we, at least, may switch back to some of our independent media that is left despite the best efforts of those in power. Russians do not have such luxury – their only censorship-free channel Rain TV has faced severe repressions after it broadcast the events in Kyiv without “proper” fascist implications. Massive attack on truth follows through radio programs and newspapers as well, the most striking example of which is the publication at Komsomolska Pravda with report from the building of Verkhovna Rada, seized by the radicals. There were no radicals and, most importantly, there was no seizing, – as there was no marauding at Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, which was, instead, guarded by activists, – but the truth does not matter in that politics. The most one can do after listening to Dmitry Kiselov, in whose program cadres were switched to match the horror story of fascists attacking police, is to break one’s television. The feeling of hopelessness in the midst of information war that takes away our friends and relatives on the different side of border has become the part of Ukrainian revolution.

This feeling is further intensified by bewilderment that strikes like a lightning after Russia Today was officially acknowledged to contain the elements of propaganda by the Russian officials. A public recognition followed as well, while some programs began to state that Euromaidan was not monopolized by fascists, who became a new urban legend that everyone has heard of but nobody has seen; it also represented citizens dissatisfied with the rule of Viktor Yanukovich, who was expert at nothing but larceny and violence. It is not surprising that after he had been overthrown, Kremlin tries its best to establish the new, timid and uncertain, ties with the new government. It is surprising, however, that such sophisticated entity as society is considered to switch hatred on and off according to what is signed and sealed in parliament. Just as a ship cannot change its course in the matter of seconds after it has been racing full speed ahead, society cannot restructure its values in a blink of an eye.  The only place where it is as possible as instantly believing that 2+2=5 is in 1984 by George Orwell, which gives a grim warning about the future that Kremlin has in mind for the Russian citizens.

Our citizens should take this warning into account as well, and take it seriously. The metamorphosis of Ukrainian protest movement demonstrates two important things to all of us: the principle “divide and rule” is a classic one and it still works. It also shows that when people are not in control over their mass-media, mass-media take control over them. While Ukraine has no power to influence the foreign propaganda, it can and it should practice the lessons learned within its borders. Although the scale of lies was not as high as in Russia, it was – and still is – outrageous when it comes to certain television channels, newspapers and radio-programs. While censorship is out of question, Ukraine should force substantial reloading of its own mass-media system in order to prevent its transformation into a propagandistic machine.

It is necessary but it may be challenging when the world is in such turmoil that those who defend democracy in Ukraine are perceived as fascists in Russia. The people that we have lost in the information war, those who are at the different side of the barricades constructed of lies and half-truths, taught us a crucial lesson. We should consider carefully what is hidden behind all the labels generously spilled by mass-media; we should not let it turn into propaganda manufactory; but, above all, we should not give up.

 

This essay is part of a series of student writing on the Euromaidan, part of the the Student Views of Euromaidan project.

For more information on this series and a full index of contributions, please see the introductory post.

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