Moscow and Kiev – a triumph of propaganda

Boris Timoshenko,
Glasnost Defence Foundation

With both Ukrainian and Russian media focusing lately on developments in south-eastern Ukraine, there has been a tendency to replace reports with accusations that colleagues on the other side are guilty of unseemly thoughts and deeds. In both countries the authorities have accused each other’s media of lying. And as the situation appears today, all parties, both the authorities in Kiev and Moscow, seem to have some reason for their point of view.

Lies have ceased to be anything out of the ordinary. They have become a common instrument of propaganda with both sides acting on notorious precept of Joseph Goebbels, “The bigger the lie, the more likely it is to be trusted”. Two shining examples of the genre: “the fire-resistant calling cards of Dmytro Yarosh”, shown on Russian TV, which have rapidly acquired the status of a legend – or a joke (see below); and the Ukrainian media’s “mirror image” of an answer – its reports about “Kadyrov’s Vostok battalion”, which is allegedly fighting on the side of Kiev’s opponents.

The latter hoax was perpetrated by Sergei Garmash, chief editor of the Ostro.org news website. He shocked the world when he reported that “Chechens entrenched outside Slavyansk and Kramatorsk have now been sighted near Mariupol”. Explaining their origin, he declared “they are from Kadyrov’s Vostok battalion”, i.e. armed men serving Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.

Journalist Arkady Babchenko, who fought in both Chechen campaigns and can hardly be suspected of sympathizing with the authorities on either side, responded:

“‘Kadyrov’s Vostok battalion’, did you say?

“I’m sorry, but by any standards that’s total nonsense. The ‘Vostok battalion; was  commanded by Sulim Yamadayev, someone who was at loggerheads with Kadyrov. After Yamadayev’s 2009 assassination in Dubai, his battalion was disbanded.

“Since then (a) no Vostok battalion has existed at any time during the past five years, and could not exist on principle, and (b) ‘Kadyrov’s Vostok battalion’ is a contradiction in terms.  It’s as if one were to talk about ‘the [ultra-nationalist group] Right Sector led by Victor Yanukovich.”

So what is the purpose of such reports? Are they, perhaps, graphic instances of journalistic unprofessionalism? Are they a form of silliness – or something else? People seem to have forgotten that a journalist’s job is to inform readers, not to feed them propaganda – and certainly not to label anyone who does not “expose the enemy” or sing the praises of one or other National Leader as a “traitor”. The clichés employed by the media on both sides are amazingly similar: the dominant principle is the Bolshevik assertion, “He who isn’t with us is against us”. This should not be surprising since we all grew up in one and the same – Soviet – country, and therefore we were taught to think alike.

Russia has already seen its three hundred “best warriors of the ideological front”, i.e. media workers, honoured with government awards. Will Ukraine now follow suit? Or perhaps  we should instead return to reporting, pure and simple?

(tr. VS)

NOTE : The Right Sector’s incombustible calling cards

The Internet has been making fun of the pro-Russia separatists and the Russian authorities after a photo of what was supposedly a business card of politician Dmytro Yarosh was offered as proof that the Right Sector were involved in the shooting in Slavyansk. “Yarosh’s calling card became an Internet hit and was among the most popular Russian and Ukrainian tweets”, (notes Ukrainskaya pravda).

GDF weekly digest, No 661E, 19 (23) May 2014

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