Kyiv, March 18, 2014. Today, the reputable Austrian news source Die Presse accused the Kremlin of having an addiction to “imitation” (or misrepresentation of the truth) and of manipulating terms, facts, and history. Russian leaders fake the existence in their own country of an independent media, independent courts, and fair elections, as well as economic and social reforms, modernization and even connection to the “civilized” world. Following the same pattern, Putin announced a war on “fascism” in Crimea in order to justify Russia’s unlawful annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula. However, the basis of his premise is not real, according to Anna Schor-Tschudnowskaja’s article:
Russia’s leadership has and continues to systematically apply an arbitrary interpretations of terms and resorts to various distortions, while persecuting the few remaining initiatives critical of the regime, independent thinkers, alternative media, politically active opponents, and human rights activists, and labeling them extremists. The clearest and most recent example of such persecution is the recent detention of demonstrators holding “No War” signs in Moscow and St. Petersburg. These activists were abducted by the police for protesting against both Ukrainian and Russian blood being spilled.
The practice of misleading and manipulating the Russian public has been actively deployed in Crimea. As a result, people began to believe that citizens of the peninsula were not merely voting for Crimea’s becoming a part of Russia, but that they were “fighting fascism, Nazism, and NATO”. While surrounded by more than 22,000 Russian soldiers, Crimean citizens voted in a staged “referendum” against “Euro-Reich” and “Euro-Sodom”.
Scared by an imminent “threat of fascism”, the people of Crimea were called upon to defy Ukraine’s leaders, who are allegedly supported by the U.S. and the EU, and who can only be stopped by Russia. Appealing to the topic of defeating fascists by the Red Army comes as no surprise: the city of Sevastopol and other Crimean sites were the scenes of some of the fiercest fighting of World War II. The historic victory over fascism is one of the only positive aspects of Soviet collective memory. Over the years, this fact has been exploited by Russia to gain support for its political goals.
The propaganda tactic works well even beyond Crimea, where huge posters depicting a blood red map of Crimea with a black swastika have appeared, as opposed to depictions of Crimea with a Russian flag. Russian citizens also believe the story of “fascists, anti-Semites and extremists”, who have unlawfully seized power in Kyiv, despite there being no evidence in support of this claim.
As a result of Putin’s propaganda, the military occupation of Crimea and thus the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity is perceived as a fight against fascism not only by common Russians, but also by artists, writers, scientists and athletes. They applaud Putin and his fight for Crimea, and see this move as reminiscent of the USSR defeating Hitler’s Wehrmacht.
At the same time, even a number of “liberal” Russians cannot seem to understand the desire of Ukrainians to live in a state of their own, independent from Russia. Unfortunately, chauvinism and xenophobia have been part of the national character of Russia for generations, and the world is often simplistically divided into “ours” and “not ours”. Until recently Russians saw Ukrainians as “ours”, and even considered Ukrainians “Russian people”.
Few in Russia really understand who “ours” are, however. What seems to be a common understanding is that being one of “not ours” would mean to be in trouble and considered a possible traitor and public enemy. This Soviet concept was revived with Putin’s accession to power in 1999. Today, Putin’s regime is drawing the line between “ours” and “fascists” in Ukraine while the Russian government continues to promote violence against the “not ours” as desirable and even mandatory.