Monday, March 10, 2014

Continuing crisis

The attention span of the British media is not long. The Crimean crisis rumbles on, but has slipped out of the headlines. But interesting things are being written for inexpert eyes like mine. The third of Timothy Snyder's pieces on Ukraine is here. This time he is focusing on Russian propaganda and makes two points. The first is to do with its role in the internal coherence of the regime. The second is about how it is not necessarily about changing minds, but setting the agenda for reportage. I thought this was perceptive:
Plenty of people in the West now spread Russian propaganda, sometimes for money, sometimes from ignorance, and sometimes for reasons best known to themselves. Those who repeat the Russian propaganda conceits do not need to convince everyone, only to set the terms of debate. If people in free societies have their discussions framed for them by rulers of unfree societies, then they will not notice the history unfolding around them (a revolution just happened in Europe!) or sense the urgency of formulating policy in a desperate situation (a European country has just invaded another!). Propaganda can serve this technical purpose no matter how absurd it is.
Snyder is keen to point out that this is a national revolution against an oppressive kleptocracy, not a nationalist coup against Russia, something that is backed up here. This site is well worth exploring for voices coming from inside the revolution.

Of course, the only way farcical propaganda like the stuff Russia is coming out with can begin to set an agenda is if there is something, however small, to point to as 'evidence'. In comments on the other posts, Snoopy points out that, though the Russian account is "bullshit", we should be cautious of the role of the far right and points to this report from David Stern, which is a fair summary of what his contacts are telling him. Stern points out that ambitious, minority far right parties are a European, not merely Ukrainian, phenomenon, not least in Russia. But the aftermath of a revolution may give them opportunities. He comments,
Their role in ousting the president and establishing a new Euromaidan-led government should not be exaggerated... nor should their involvement be played down, especially now they have assumed key ministerial posts. Euromaidan officials are not fascists, nor do fascists dominate the movement.Contrary to some claims, ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers are not being attacked or under threat of violence. And anti-Semitism has played absolutely no role in the demonstrations and government.
That said, Snyder may well be indulging in wishful thinking about the threat of the far right, particularly if we look towards events in Hungary. However, to characterise this as a fascist coup is the equivalent of equating all anti-austerity opinion in Greece with Golden Dawn. Stern is also realistic in pointing out that,
... even though the far right are a minority, for their numbers they have played an outsized, though not decisive, role.
Stern concludes,
Svoboda are not violent fascists and may change with time. But as Ukraine's crisis grows, and the far right helps patrol Kiev's streets in "self-defence units," they bear close watching. Very close.
Snyder's conclusion is concerned with the links between Russian propaganda and Russian authoritarianism and adventurism.
The costs of what Russia has done are very real, for Europe, for Ukraine, and for Russia itself. Russian propaganda has elegantly provided a rationale for Russian tactics and articulately defined a Russian dream for Ukraine. But in the end propaganda is all that unites the tactics and the dream, and that unity turns out to be wishful. There is no actual policy, no strategy, just a talented and tortured tyrant oscillating between mental worlds that are connected only by a tissue of lies. Putin faces a choice: use far more violence, in the hope that another surge will finally make the dream come true, or seek an exit in which he can claim some victory—which would be wise but deflating. He appears to feel the weight of this choice.

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