Index on Censorship nasce nel 1972 a Londra come risposta alla censura operata nel mondo, all’epoca con il preciso scopo di dare voce ai dissidenti sovietici penalmente perseguiti dal regime per impedire la loro espressione intellettuale. Con gli anni è diventata una organizzazione che cerca di tutelare attraverso le sue possibilità e la pubblicazione di una rivista trimestrale, la libertà di espressione, segnalando le lesioni dei diritti nel mondo e aprendo le proprie pagine a scrittori e autori che denunciano mettendoci la faccia.
Nel 2015 pubblica questi due interessanti articoli, uno firmato da Andrei Aliaksandrau, giornalista bielorusso che segue fin dall’inizio gli eventi in Ucraina, uno di Helen Womack, giornalista di stanza a Mosca fin dal 1985. Aliaksandrau scrive un pezzo sulla nuova “guerra di informazione” che impegna la Russia in Ucraina, con la sua propaganda e le attività legate alla disinformazione in due territori, quello ucraino ma anche quello russo, dove le due narrative si differenziano o si equivalgono a seconda dello scopo da raggiungere.
La Womack invece, racconta un aspetto raramente riportato dai nostri media nazionali ma che ha incendiato abbastanza la stampa indipendente e che riguarda i funerali segreti dei soldati russi morti in territorio ucraino, un segreto di Stato che la nazione protegge a suon di minacce e muri di gomma. Infatti, così come non c’è nessun intervento russo oltre i confini ucraini, non esistono morti russi negli scontri in Ucraina dell’Est.
Di seguito i due testi integrali in inglese.
Brave new war (DOI: 10.1177/0306422014560963)
“There is no civil war in Ukraine. It is a war between Russia and Ukraine, and it is inspired by heavy Russian propa-ganda,” says Volodymyr Parasyuk as we sit in a café on the main square of the regional capital Lviv in western Ukraine. This year Parasyuk became a national hero in his country. Some say he changed history when he made a passionate speech on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kiev on 21 February 2014, after the police killed about 100 protesters. Parasyuk, head of a sotnia, a unit of 100 men, and part of the protesters’ defence force, demanded President Yanukovich resign and said otherwise protesters would launch an armed attack. The next day the head of state fled the country, and there was a new government formed in Ukraine. Parasyuk knows what he is saying about war. He joined a voluntary battalion of Ukrainian forces and fought separatists in the east of his country during the summer and autumn. He was wounded and spent a couple of days in detention, but managed to escape.
“This is direct aggression by the Kremlin against my country. This war is completely directed from Russia. We do not have internal reasons to fight each other, the conflict is provoked by lies and propaganda that come from the east,” says Parasyuk. Antonina Cherevko, a Kiev-based lawyer, was born in Dnipropetrovsk, in eastern Ukraine, almost a 1,000 kilometres away from Lviv. She agrees the conflict in her country has to do with lies and propaganda coming from Russia. “What has been going on in Ukraine since November 2013 is not a revolution, and not a civil war, it is a classic anti-colonial war. Ukraine was in fact a colony of Russia in different forms for three centuries. Once we decided we were ready to make our own decisions, the empire got hysterical and they use lies to make the point we are not a ‘valid’ nation,” Cherevko says.
The Ukrainian authorities refuse to call the bloody events in the east of the country a war. According to them this is an “anti-terrorist operation”. But the death toll in Donetsk and Lugansk regions runs into thousands. And there is a different war that is definitely going on in Ukraine and around it – an information war. Its battles might seem less bloody, but it causes many more casualties. The information war is nothing new. Homer wrote about the role of poets mobilising the Greeks to a war against Troy. The great Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck is known for saying his wars were not won on the battlefield but by local Prussian teachers. During World War II, propaganda leaflets were dropped over enemy lines. But today the information wars are different. Information wars used to be a necessary component that accompanied “real” wars, the ones with shootings, bombings, explosions and killing. Today it is the opposite shootings and bombings now accompany information wars. The more you lie, the less you need to shoot. And if you are very good at propaganda, you don’t need to shoot at all to win a war. The principles of an information war remain unchanged: you need to de-humanise the enemy. You inspire yourself, your troops and your supporters with a general appeal which says: “We are fighting for the right cause – that is why we have the right to kill someone who is evil.”
What has changed is the scale of propaganda and the number of different platforms used to distribute it. In a time of social networks and with the whole world online, there is no need to throw leaflets over enemy lines, instead you hire 1,000 internet trolls. The ways people produce and consume information have changed dramatically over the last few decades, and these changes affect the methods information warriors use as well.
Several new interesting media projects appeared in Ukraine last spring. Online publications, including Stopfake.com, were launched in order to expose the false stories, photographs and general lies which they claimed were being told about events in Ukraine and that circulated on internet as well as being disseminated through the Russian media. Examples cited by online publications are numerous and horrible. Pictures of dead bodies, burnt-down towns and murdered children with captions such as: “Look what Ukrainian fascists do in Donetsk”, or “Here is how the Ukrainian junta deals with east of the country”, were exposed as being photos taken not in today’s Ukraine, but years ago in different places, including Syria, Chechnya or Bosnia, during different armed conflicts, accidents or natural disasters. Ukrainian bloggers, social media activists and journalists are educating their audiences on how to identify fakes. You can google pictures. You can find sources. You can pay attention to dates of publication of videos on YouTube. Attentive viewers revealed another technique used by Russian TV channels: “travelling actors” who feature in interviews in different roles in different places. The same woman was found “starring” in different TV clips on different channels – first, as a mother of a soldier, then as an inhabitant of Odessa who called on Russia for help, and finally as a refugee from Donetsk who allegedly barely managed to escape the horrors of Ukrainian bombings. Traditional media have lost their monopoly on content creation and distribution, but are still important, because they reach large audiences, and are still used as the “regular army” in the information wars. But ordinary people, activists and bloggers have also become the foot soldiers of these new wars and sometimes they are no less effective than journalists.
“Every Ukrainian can also find a way to contribute to this information war. Do not consume propaganda. Think critically. Speak up. Or do what the Israeli government asked students to do in 2013: add comments to material written about Israel. When war is here, all ideas are priceless,” Yevhen Fed-chenko, a director of the Mohyla School of Journalism and co-founder of StopFake.org, wrote in the Kiev Post, a leading English-language newspaper in Ukraine.
When the war is on and stakes are high, anything goes. The question is whether a war like this can be decisively won by any side. The impact propaganda has had on societies in the whole post-Soviet region is tremendous. Russians support President Putin and think Ukrainians are fascists. As a response there is a huge growth of anti-Russian attitudes in Ukraine, where people are sure Russia is the aggressor. This alienation between neighbouring nations, which have centuries of history in common – sometimes tragically in common, will take decades to fade away.
People in countries that are not directly involved in the conflict become victims of the information war as well. In neighbouring Belarus people keep arguing whether Ukraine is going the right way after its revolution of 2013-2014. These arguments fall far beyond the virtual world of social networks and affect real life. Mova ci Kava, a popular Belarusian language course held in Minsk, stopped in October 2014, because the organisers had different positions on the events in Ukraine, and could not reconcile their differences to offer a coherent syllabus.
One of the problems with the information war today is that the amount of content produced and the speed the content can be disseminated makes it hard to track all lies and expose all fakes. There is probably no need to, says Uladzimir Matskevich, a philosopher and a public figure from Belarus. “The content transmitted in an information war is not facts, but ready-made schemes of their interpretation. One example of such a scheme is: ‘a normal person would never join an armed revolution’ or ‘you can go out in a street to protest only if you are paid for it’. A person who becomes a ‘victim’ of an information war gets this scheme installed in his or her mind. Once it happens, all facts that you try to provide this person with get filtered by them, and only those that match the ready-made scheme are perceived,” says Matskevich.
In other words, people like thinking they are right. Critical thinking and readiness to consider a different point of view can theoretically be a remedy. Otherwise, the truth becomes the main casualty of an information war.
© Andrei Aliaksandrau
Propaganda war obscures Russian soldiers’ deaths
by Helen Womack
In the information war with Ukraine, Russian media have made heroes of the separatist fighters and demonised Kiev government forces while trying to maintain a news blackout on what should be of greatest concern to the Russian public – Russia’s own involvement in the conflict and the fate of her serving sons. The Kremlin continues to deny it deployed troops to Ukraine, but Russian newspapers and human rights activists, including the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, say discreet funerals held in farflung Russian provinces indicate Russian soldiers were not only on the ground there this summer but in some cases lost their lives. Bereaved families have been discouraged from talking to the media but an independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, for which assassinated journalist Anna Politkovskaya used to work, has argued it was obvious Russians had been killed in the war in Ukraine. “We as a society should find a dignified way of bidding farewell to those slain,” it said.
The business daily RBK has named a dozen Russian soldiers it said had died in Ukraine. It carried photographs of their graves. It quoted cemetery officials in the Volga city of Kostroma as saying three fresh graves had appeared in the “Afghan alley” of their graveyard, dedicated to those who died in war zones. The men, who died in late August and early September, were named as Sergei Gerasimov, 26, Alexei Kasyanov, 32, and Yevgeny Kamenev, 27. Those who have tried to find out about this so-called Cargo 200, the military jargon for returning soldiers’ remains, which come home in sealed zinc coffins, have been intimidated. Back in August, Lev Shlosberg, a newspaper publisher and opposition politician in the regional assembly in the north-western city of Pskov, was beaten up and hospitalised after looking into the funerals of two Pskov-based paratroopers thought to have died in Ukraine.
The arrest in October of Soldiers’ Mothers activist Lyudmila Bogatenkova, a 73-year-old grandmother from Budyonnovsk, near Chechnya, caused an outcry among her colleagues. She was charged with fraud, an offence carrying a possible six-year jail sentence, in what appeared to be retribution for her having drawn up lists of Russian military casualties in Ukraine. After an intervention from the head of the Kremlin’s own human rights council, Mikhail Fedotov, she was released from custody. It remains to be seen whether the charges will be pursued against her. The Russian daily Vedomosti commented that Bogatenkova had been a target because, like Shlosberg, she demanded the truth. “A fallen soldier must remain unknown: the state insists,” Vedomosti said. “Since war has not been declared, the state’s answer to society’s questions about dead servicemen is unofficial – in the form of arrests and beatings.”
Yevgeny Kiselyov, who was a well-known face on Russian TV in the Yeltsin era but now writes for Russia’s New Times from Kiev said: “There is a need to nip in the bud murmurs spreading all over the country about Cargo 200 arriving from abroad.” On 12 October, President Vladimir Putin ordered nearly 18,000 Russian troops who he said had been exercising near the border with Ukraine to pull back to their bases inside Russia. Western sanctions, or possibly Russian deaths and casualties, might have been factors in his thinking.
© Helen Womack