Perhaps what is most amazing and regretful about the current situation in Russia is the nearly complete absence of truth and objectivity in the mass media covering Ukrainian events. Lie upon lie — unprecedented in quantity and quite typically dismal in quality.
It looks like a full monopoly of the nationalist Great-Russia-style propaganda! Obviously those professionals engaged in it and their high-ranking customers do not realize that to be really good in this profession takes some real education, talent and charisma combined with at least a certain degree of sincerity — actually, much more of it than in the case of Dmitry Kiselev, our main TV newsmaker recently decorated by President Vladimir Putin.
These days in our country, the nick-name “a fascist” and its corresponding adjective lead the list of favorite terms in the political vocabulary. If not the Kremlin itself, then at least its unofficial spokespersons and sympathizers generously hurl these words at not only the Ukrainain but also Russian opposition and their intellectual vanguard.
Trying to withstand this perilous trend on March 19 in Moscow, a group of intelligentsia arranged a meeting of a new public congress spearheading opposition to war, intolerance and eventual the “self-isolation” of Russia.
Another favorite accusation-condemnation term applied to the people opposing the instantaneous anschluss of Crimea and the conscious instigation of separatism in the Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions is the “fifth column.”
The irony is that, in the times of the Spanish civil war, the “fifth column” described the hidden actual fascists in Madrid ready to assist the four army columns of Francisco Franco marching toward the Spanish capital. Nowadays the “fifth column” is attached to those few brave and sane Russian men and women who share the critical attitude of the democratic world toward the Nazi-like tactics of the Kremlin.
All this is only natural and logical if one considers the fact that one single person dictates all the events and that this very person himself chooses to say what he considers useful and right even when it has little in common with truth.
In the sharp political confrontation with the U.S. and EU leaders over the Ukrainian issue, he is determined and persistent, which in today’s situation leaves little hope for a satisfactory outcome. Something very much like this occurred in the heart of Europe during the 1930s preceding World War II.
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev could not have hoped for this kind of uniformity of public opinion and ardent loyalty that we observe in Russia now. Why? Because there was no personality cult of “Mr. General Secretary” on the scale the modern boss has built up for himself through the clever combination of stimuli and intimidation.
Personality cult does not come from the grass roots. It is cultivated from above, more often than not inspired by the person who is the object of the cult, as was the case with Josef Stalin — the biggest “seducer of the masses” of all (except perhaps for Chinese leader Mao Zedong, who also was an Oriental-style ruler, not a product of Western civilization).
In a nutshell, personality cult is a euphemism for dictatorship. Even if it begins as authoritarian rule of a softer kind or as a dictatorship “with a human face,” that face tends to become less and less human if the rule lasts long enough. Political crises and wars speed up this process in a major way.
On March 10, the famous two-part movie “Ivan the Terrible,” made by Sergei Eisenstein on a personal order by Stalin, was aired on the “Culture” TV channel. I wonder if it has been conceived as an anti-authoritarian movie or if its initiators wanted to glorify the strong but really terrifying Czar Ivan IV to underscore the great responsibility and the heavy state burden that he had to bear on his shoulders.
The most typical in today’s lies about Ukraine is the indiscriminate accusation of the Maidan activists as being followers of Stepan Bandera, a West Ukrainian legend of World War II who fought against Adolf Hitler and Stalin. There are surely some odious personages among the thin stratum of Ukrainian people who were engaged in overturning the dismal Yanukovych regime. Influenced by the right wing, the Maidan made its most silly and tragic mistake upon its historic victory — the fortunately abortive attempt to rob the Russian language of its right to serve as the second official language in certain regions of this vast and densely populated country.
But does that justify Moscow’s hysteric anti-Ukrainian propaganda campaign, instigation of separatism and recourse to military force? Extremists and radicals are few but omnipresent. In every social crisis, they appear as practically an inescapable ingredient in a cloudy brew that always stands for “truly people’s revolution.”
In the Ukrainian political kaleidoscope, it was Crimea with its predominantly Russian-speaking population that stood out as a really special area, voluntarily given over to Ukraine as a “gift” by the selfish and nearsighted Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Moscow has now torn Crimea from Ukraine and included it in the Russian Federation.
There seems to be no end to this large-scale confrontation in sight. In several Russian cities and towns, noisy tricolor-swinging putings (from “Putin” and “meeting”) have taken place under the motto “We don’t abandon our own people!” Until recently our own people exclusively referred to Russian-speaking population of Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions. Now it looks like Moscow has in mind the Ukrainian people as a whole whom “we must protect” from its own government not recognized by the Kremlin.
In early April, pro-federalization activists declared the creation of Donetsk People’s Republic and the People’s Republic of Kharkov in eastern Ukraine. In the province of Donetsk, armed local pro-Russian elements, assisted by “green humanoids” infiltrating from Russia, have occupied administrative buildings, engendering clashes with Ukrainian troops.
On the overall background of mass euphoria in connection with the “return of Crimea into Russia’s fold,” some local politicians indulge in speculation about a “civilizational and geopolitical combat” between Russia and the democratic (for them — rather “imperialist”) Western world. They believe that the unrest in the Ukraine and the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych by the Maidan are merely results of an anti-Russian complot of the U.S. and its European allies.
For example, immediately after the Federation Council authorized an eventual invasion of Ukraine by a Russian “restricted military contingent”— a word construction dating back to the infamous Soviet war in Afghanistan — a Liberal Democratic member of the Duma, Leonid Slutsky, spoke about the necessity to strongly react to the “impermissible words of the U.S. president, according to which Russia would pay a high price for its actions concerning Ukraine.”
This author believes that the stakes in the Ukrainian geopolitical game are extremely high. The destiny of civilization, democracy and geopolitical balance in Europe depends on its outcome. For either side in this — so far, diplomatic — confrontation, to lose the “combat” would mean a very big defeat indeed.
Andrey Borodaevskiy (email@example.com), an expert on world economy and international economic relations, was a professor at Seinan Gakuin University, Fukuoka, from 1994 to 2007.