Thursday, May 01, 2008

Europe.view column

Russian propaganda, good and bad

May 1st 2008

Shunning criticism is less good than refuting it

WAS the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005 a sinister western plot? Many Russians, particularly those close to the Kremlin, say so, and a new book called “Orange Webs” tries to confirm that view. It is the first piece of work by the new “Institute of Democracy and Co-operation”, which aims to provide Russian answers to the West’s democracy-promotion efforts.

The new institute’s founders say it will open offices in New York and Paris, but to date it does not even have a website. “Orange Webs” has not yet been formally published, though extracts have been quoted on the website of Russia Today, a pro-Kremlin television channel.

But the question of how to deal with the new outfit is already a tricky one. Some Kremlin critics look forward to having new opponents to engage with. Others think that the new venture is so ludicrous that it is better ignored.

That would be a mistake. Weaknesses in Western political systems—whether gerrymandering in America or the scandalous extent of phoney postal voting in Britain—are numerous and deplorable. If outside criticisms are wrong, they can be refuted. If they are true, then they are a spur to action.

Communist propaganda during the cold war encouraged Western leaders to think harder about their decisions. The lack of an overt ideological challenge since then has led to complacency and smugness. It is hard to argue that Western politics has become healthier over the past two decades.

But the real point is a bigger one. The main argument made by the Kremlin so far is not based on the theoretical advantages of “sovereign democracy” (or whatever the current label is). Instead, it is on the practical results.

Put crudely, it goes like this: Russia was not ready for democracy in the 1990s. The result was chaos and looting, perhaps encouraged by the West, which wanted to weaken Russia. Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin has restored the balance, bringing back stability and self-respect. Growth and living standards have rocketed; most Russians are delighted.

Disproving that involves arguing, among other things, that the prosperity of the past eight years is superficial, and that Mr Putin’s popularity is the result of rigged elections and a controlled media. Reasonable people can disagree about these issues.

But when the Kremlin shifts its attack to issues of “democracy” (ie, political freedom and the rule of law) things may become trickier than its propagandists realise. If the Orange Revolution in Ukraine was really just a stunt pulled by clever outsiders, why have the results proved so durable? Nobody is trying to put the deposed Leonid Kuchma back in power.

Politics may still be chaotic and corrupt, but they are also open and unpredictable and largely settled by the electorate. Contrast that with the mystifying question of the future relationship between Mr Putin and his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, which is being settled by backstairs intrigue rather than the voters’ verdict.

Any attempt to elevate the Russian system is likely to seem highly unconvincing to an outside audience. Alexander Shokhin, a reformer in the 1990s and now an ardent supporter of the Kremlin, told the Financial Times last week that Russia was “an island of stability”, with a “single programme for economic development until 2020”.

By contrast, he said scornfully: “We don't know the name of the next US president, let alone the policies which are going to be developed,” he said. If the new institute criticises open elections and a free press, people will laugh at it. And if it praises them, people will ask: “Why not in Russia too?”


Colleen said...

Didn't an American PR firm take credit for the Orange Revolution (I think it issued a press release or something)?

Anton said...

Orange Webs -Sounds like a Russian version of an Edward Lucas book.

Apparently the State Department, George Soros and several other Western government and nongovernment agencies supported, supplied and paid the rioting students. Won´t be suprised if Berezovsky played a role too.

Funny that similar tents were used by both opposition rioters in Georgia and Ukraine.

A mate from Ukraine, said that there was a campaign in his university, where students were offered 3-5$ an hour just to hang around the major square in Kiev, with a posters and banners.

Anton said...

Oh, Mr Lucas, came across a documentary on the Russian cable, which suggested that the West was involved in Chechnya, apparently the French printed Chechnyan passports, the Americans donated cash ( something on those lines) etc. Would be interesting to see what you think about this matter.

Grigol said...

My dear opponent Anton. How ill-informed you are. First of all, there were no tents in Georgia whatsoever. It was november but it was not cold--people did stay out at night though. You cannot find a single photo from the Rose Revolution with tents for the simple reason that there werent any.

"Ukrainian mate" I want to laugh

Anton said...

Opponent? I beg you! You play no more than an entartaining role, somewhat similar to a clown. Whenever I get bored with mundane reality of life, I turn to this blog,occasionally write a thing or two and then enjoy how you burst out in anger and hate towards everyone, Kremlin, West anyone on the daily agenda. Once I'm done enjoying this little alternative reality of paranoia of this blog and its members, I get back to doing my things. Hah, an opponent.

There's a really nice russian proverb: Смех без причины - признак дурачины

Figure it out yourself.

Grigol said...

Your English is very polished. Mr. Lucas is right that the vigor of the Kremlin's propagandist is at all time's high.

You revealed the fact of being one by a remarkable blunder--trumpeting about some obscure similarity of tents during Orange and Rose revolutions--perfectly in line with all sorts of conspiracy theories pouring from Lubianka all around.

Once again, there were no tents whatsoever during the Rose Revolution. I think no further comment is needed.

Anton said...

I do acknowledge that I'm wrong, I did hear it through the grapevine that there were tents. That was something I geniully believed for a while but now that you proved it wrong I will no longer consider it to be true.

I guess you're right, it is difficult not to fall for such rumours of conspiracy theories, when the whole media spectrum around you only brags about, how the west is behind Kremlin's every single political blunder. Nevertheless I do think that some of those theories do have some truth about them.

However we are products of two different influences, which push for a similar idea. Here are the Russians brought up to believe that there is nothing more to the west than evil conspiracies against Russia, while Western media and press are continuesly warning about the so called "evil" menace of Kremlin. Both ideas have some credibility and both are hugely overplayed. That's my opinion.

klx said...

>Nevertheless I do think that some of those theories do have some truth about them.<

why? regardless of what russians are brought up to believe or what russian media says, we (in countries that are not russia) have been given no reason to agree, believe or even understand these thoughts.

try to be be less naive, anton.

Anton said...

Open your eyes! It is pretty blatant that US is behind the Orange and Rose revolutions.
Why would the West want a strong Russia?

Back in the Cold War days the Americans had a plan to fracture Russia into several states and autonomies, they have suceeded at doing so, and they´re doing it even further.

You have been given no reason, because you´re told elesewhat by your media and politicians.

Have a look at the map and notice the extent of NATO and American bases, also consider economy and military of the West and still to believe the nonsense this book is about, that is what I call naive.

Are you one of those people, who belive that the war in Iraq is about democracy by any chance?

Anton said...

Just to follow up. You haven´t been given a reason to believe these theories, because it is very unlikely that a British or an American official is going to go live and admit to the Nation that yes, we have supported terrorist extremist KLA in order to break up Yugoslavia, yes we have aided and trained Chechnyan terrorists, just as we have established the Taliban movement.

Milliband is not likely to constantly brag about, how Britain offers asylum to people who are terrorists, who have actually killed civilians and soldiers in Chechnya, or protect Oligarchs like Brezovsky, who got his business by fraud and murder...Jee that is not going to look good in the light of the War on Terror.

That is why, you are not given any reason to believe these "theories".