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16 July, 2018

How to explain Ukraine’s bashing?

Afterthoughts on Babchenko’s case

Why is Ukraine’s bashing so widespread these days in Western media and public opinion? I claim that this is the main question raised by the reactions to the Babchenko case. Whatever the remaining dark zones, the case is under scrutiny and freely investigated. It has raised mixed reactions among Ukrainians and friends of Ukraine. On one side, relief and joy: Babchenko’s assassination has been foiled, perpetrators caught, and even pride: SBU showed (at last, some would add) great skills and efficiency in managing this operation. But there are also concerns on the other side: was this staging necessary to protect Babchenko and to trace the sponsors of the attempted murder? Could not official communication be more convincing and better organized? M. Lutsenko’s ability to behave publicly as a General Prosecutor is proverbial and we are used to clumsiness from presidency’s and government’s PR — which by the way is not a trivial concern: communicating with citizens in appropriate ways is integral to a democratic regime —, but such an operation, in the current context of Russian information warfare, called for better standards. Damages on Ukraine’s image in Western countries are devastating. So be it. But, even in the worst scenarios, and with the highest severity towards Ukraine’s official communication, there is a massive disproportion and injustice in Western media’s reactions. Confusion, bad faith, and prejudice are Ukraine’s lot. Even people sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause are impressed by this collective misjudgment, as if it were Ukraine’s exclusiveresponsibility that any information coming from Kyiv has now become suspicious. Why?

One cause has nothing personal (as mafia killers say): it is the deterioration of the public sphere and media ethics due to the unbearable immediacy of information, to the mixture of credulity and defiance which replaces critical mind, and to the spreading of conspiracist views, trivialized by Russian ideology and loved by social networks. The craving for transparency is turning democracy into an Orwellian nightmare. Thoughtless emotions and conformist imitation are replacing enlightened judgment. One dog barks and the hounds follow blindly: “one cannot lie about a journalist’s death” (why journalists only?!), the fake news of Babchenko’s murder is a “damage to the truth”, as The Guardiansaid. 

Then explanations become personal: nearly nobody in the West cared about Arkadi Babchenko’s personality and records, as if “Russian opponent” was a fuzzy, insignificant if not suspicious label. Babchenko is not only a journalist but a hero who took unbelievable risks in publicly confronting the Kremlin. He was not intimated by the assassination of dozens of Russian journalists since Putin took power. His courage and integrity should have been considered, and would probably have, if he were, say, a Turkish intellectual persecuted by Erdogan. Even experienced columnists yielded blindly to a huge confusion between a forgery staged for police purpose and revealed by the authorities within 24 hours, and the permanent and high scale lies of Russia, including Putin’s unashamed denial on MH17, right on the eve of the Babchenko episode. Rather, this conjunction lead to equate Ukraine and Russia as big liars, and to raise suspicion on subsequent news about the war and the hostages situation in Ukraine: “are you sure that Sentsov is really dying, that these hunger strikes are not faked?” 

This is of course a consequence of Russian bullshit propaganda, that is a propaganda not meant to convince, but to disorient public opinion, to bury facts under piles of fake news and false narratives. This is not transient: Ukraine is at the wrong place in the narrative. Reasons are many, but I think the ultimate ones are: 1) Europeans are reluctant to admit the Russian threat because life is already too painful with Islamist terrorism, migration crisis and Trump’s defection. Even M. Macron seems to have succumbed to the temptation of complacency with Russia, not to mention Germany’s capitulation on Nord Stream 2. 2) Ukraine appears in this context as nothing but a thorn in the side of “appeased relations” with Russia. So, let us forget the annexation of Crimea, the hostages, the war, but let us watch out for the least mistake or negligence of Ukraine, just to kill our guilt. Ultimately, this attitude is grounded in the assumption that Ukraine’s very existence is neither ascertained nor legitimate. This could be compared with Israel’s predicament: gross distortions in reports on Hamas campaign to invade “peacefully” Israel and to burn its villages put once more Israel in the bad guy role, not because of the level of its retaliation, but as a logical consequence of the background belief, explicit or not, that Israel’s existence is a mistake, that the world fare better without Israel. Likewise, whatever Ukraine does, right or wrong, will be turned against it. Friends of Ukraine must keep their heads not to fall in the trap. Ukraine must certainly amend itself and even apologize for its flaws in reforms, for instance the independence of Anti-corruption courts, but definitely not for what it does to defend itself and to reveal Russia’s war on European civilization.

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