We Won’t Win This War
In his famous book Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard has written that in the modern world, information “rather than creating communication, exhausts itself in the act of staging communication. Rather than producing meaning, it exhausts itself in the staging of meaning”.
If one tries to grasp the meaning of what has been happening around Crimea since the first day of March, it looks a little like diving into an ocean of information. If you don’t have at least a basic background knowledge about the history and modern reality of the post-Soviet space, you have the right to feel lost and probably even powerless facing combating narratives, interpretations of facts presented with confidence by clever experts. And this is the core of Crimean crisis.
Much has been written about the Russian war propaganda machine over last several days. There is no sense in repeating once again the “myths” about Ukraine spread by the Russian mass media. Sometimes it seems that they cross the thin line of sanity. According to Angela Merkel, President Vladimir Putin has lost his connection to reality. In fact, however, no one in the West (at least among decision-makers) seems to believe it. And still, the propaganda continues and you can be sure that it will not stop.
The natural question that appears is how to stand up against this “insane propaganda”? The first thing is to understand the goal of this information flow. Too often we presume that it is designed to justify aggression. Thus, we assume that Putin tries to communicate something to the West to present an alternative point of view on what is happening (and it is a democratic norm that we give the floor to every point of view, isn’t it?).
The truth is – I believe – that the Kremlin’s goal is to create its own reality in which its own narratives and meanings would be obvious for those who listen to them. Is there anyone “in the room” who believes that what’s happened in Ukraine last month is not the result of a revolt of the desperate masses, aspiring for such simple things as, generally speaking, a “normal life in a normal European state”? It is obvious, isn’t it? Is there anyone who believes that “fascists” from the Maidan have been trained in Poland and Lithuania?
It is impossible that the people just organised themselves spontaneously. For most of us these are axioms; we don’t need any proof for that, and it’s just a part of our reality. Understand me correctly – I’m not saying it to discredit the Maidan or to spread doubt among the readers. But it is important to understand that there are many people in the world, and especially in the post-Soviet space, for whom quite the opposite things are “objectively obvious”. And they are the main targets of Russia’s propaganda machine, the main aim of which is to crystalise the core supporters of Putin’s regime. A recent poll has shown that most Russians support his politics towards Ukraine. Furthermore, let us not forget that even in Ukraine about half of population did not support the EuroMaidan at the beginning of this year. Thus, that alternative reality exists. We may argue that it is built out of a simulation of “actual reality” but try to convince an average Putin or Yanukovych’s voter. And it becomes a huge problem for us.
Going back to the thesis in the title, I’m quite pessimistic about winning the war in terms of merging two information realities dividing Europe today. Obviously, looking from this perspective this war has not started on March 1st 2014 or even on November 21st 2013. And it will last long after the Crimean conflict is settled. This perspective will not help us assess the probability of military action, its scale or outcome. But if a single shot will be fired, is there any doubt that it will be immediately transplanted into both narratives and exploited by them? I’m also quite pessimistic about our attempts to fight propaganda. Yes, we can create and spread touching videos. Yes, we can create catalogues of “myths” as the United States embassy in Russia did. Undoubtedly, it is our moral obligation to speak the truth. The irony is that our truth is nothing but an insolent western propaganda in the eyes of “them”. The paradox of the information age is that humanity has an access to an incredible amount of information, but it loses its skills of critical thinking.
Russia’s information war has raised the wall among societies and within them. Tearing them down will take a very long time and will cost a lot of energy. From a societal point of view, it is a lose-lose situation.
Igor Lyubashenko is a contributing editor to New Eastern Europe. He is an academic teacher, new media enthusiast and international relations analyst with a PhD in Political Science from the Maria Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin.