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18 April 2014

The Slow Death Of Free Speech In The West

AA671283: Literature, Music, Theatre

How the Left, here and abroad, is trying to shut down debate —  from Islam and Israel to global warming and gay marriage

By Mark Steyn

These days, pretty much every story is really the same story:

  • In Galway, at the National University of Ireland, a speaker who attempts to argue against the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) programme against Israel is shouted down with cries of ‘Fucking Zionist, fucking pricks… Get the fuck off our campus.’
  • In California, Mozilla’s chief executive is forced to resign because he once made a political donation in support of the pre-revisionist definition of marriage. 
  • At Westminster, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee declares that the BBC should seek ‘special clearance’ before it interviews climate sceptics, such as fringe wacko extremists like former Chancellor Nigel Lawson. 
  • In Massachusetts, Brandeis University withdraws its offer of an honorary degree to a black feminist atheist human rights campaigner from Somalia. 
  • In London, a multitude of liberal journalists and artists responsible for everything from Monty Python to Downton Abbey sign an open letter in favour of the first state restraints on the British press in three and a quarter centuries. 
  • And in Canberra the government is planning to repeal Section 18C — whoa, don’t worry, not all of it, just three or four adjectives; or maybe only two, or whatever it’s down to by now, after what Gay Alcorn in the Age described as the ongoing debate about ‘where to strike the balance between free speech in a democracy and protection against racial abuse in a multicultural society’.

I heard a lot of that kind of talk during my battles with the Canadian ‘human rights’ commissions a few years ago: of course, we all believe in free speech, but it’s a question of how you ‘strike the balance’, where you ‘draw the line’… which all sounds terribly reasonable and Canadian, and apparently Australian, too. But in reality the point of free speech is for the stuff that’s over the line, and strikingly unbalanced. If free speech is only for polite persons of mild temperament within government-policed parameters, it isn’t free at all. So screw that. 

But I don’t really think that many people these days are genuinely interested in ‘striking the balance’; they’ve drawn the line and they’re increasingly unashamed about which side of it they stand. What all the above stories have in common, whether nominally about Israel, gay marriage, climate change, Islam, or even freedom of the press, is that one side has cheerfully swapped that apocryphal Voltaire quote about disagreeing with what you say but defending to the death your right to say it for the pithier Ring Lardner line: ‘“Shut up,” he explained.’ 

A generation ago, progressive opinion at least felt obliged to pay lip service to the Voltaire shtick. These days, nobody’s asking you to defend yourself to the death: a mildly supportive retweet would do. But even that’s further than most of those in the academy, the arts, the media are prepared to go. As Erin Ching, a student at 60-grand-a-year Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, put it in her college newspaper the other day: ‘What really bothered me is the whole idea that at a liberal arts college we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.’ Yeah, who needs that? There speaks the voice of a generation: celebrate diversity by enforcing conformity. 

The examples above are ever-shrinking Dantean circles of Tolerance: At Galway, the dissenting opinion was silenced by grunting thugs screaming four-letter words. At Mozilla, the chairwoman is far more housetrained: she issued a nice press release all about (per Miss Alcorn) striking a balance between freedom of speech and ‘equality’, and how the best way to ‘support’ a ‘culture’ of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness’ is by firing anyone who dissents from the mandatory groupthink. At the House of Commons they’re moving to the next stage: in an ‘inclusive culture’ ever more comfortable with narrower bounds of public discourse, it seems entirely natural that the next step should be for dissenting voices to require state permission to speak. 

At Brandeis University, we are learning the hierarchy of the new multiculti caste system. In theory, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is everything the identity-group fetishists dig: female, atheist, black, immigrant. If conservative white males were to silence a secular women’s rights campaigner from Somalia, it would be proof of the Republican party’s ‘war on women’, or the encroaching Christian fundamentalist theocracy, or just plain old Andrew Boltian racism breaking free of its redoubt at the Herald Sun to rampage as far as the eye can see. But when the snivelling white male who purports to be president of Brandeis (one Frederick Lawrence) does it out of deference to Islam, Miss Hirsi Ali’s blackness washes off her like a bad dye job on a telly news anchor. White feminist Germaine Greer can speak at Brandeis because, in one of the more whimsical ideological evolutions even by dear old Germaine’s standards, Ms Greer feels that clitoridectomies add to the rich tapestry of ‘cultural identity’: ‘One man’s beautification is another man’s mutilation,’ as she puts it. But black feminist Hirsi Ali, who was on the receiving end of ‘one man’s mutilation’ and lives under death threats because she was boorish enough to complain about it, is too ‘hateful’ to be permitted to speak. In the internal contradictions of multiculturalism, Islam trumps all: race, gender, secularism, everything. So, in the interests of multiculti sensitivity, pampered upper-middle-class trusty-fundy children of entitlement are pronouncing a Somali refugee beyond the pale and signing up to Islamic strictures on the role of women. 

That’s another reason why Gay Alcorn’s fretting over ‘striking the balance’ is so irrelevant. No matter where you strike it, the last unread nonagenarian white supremacist Xeroxing flyers in a shack off the Tanami Track will be way over the line, while, say, Sheikh Sharif Hussein’s lively sermon to an enthusiastic crowd at the Islamic Da’wah Centre of South Australia, calling on Allah to kill every last Buddhist and Hindu, will be safely inside it. One man’s decapitation is another man’s cultural validation, as Germaine would say. 

Ms Greer has reached that Circle of Tolerance wherein the turkeys line up to volunteer for an early Eid. The Leveson Inquiry declaration of support signed by all those London luvvies like Emma Thompson, Tom Stoppard, Maggie Smith, Bob Geldof and Ian McKellen is the stage that comes after that House of Commons Science and Technology Committee — when the most creative spirits in our society all suddenly say: ‘Ooh, yes, please, state regulation, bring it on!’ Many of the eminent thespians who signed this letter started their careers in an era when every play performed in the West End had to be approved by the Queen’s Lord Chamberlain. Presented with a script that contained three ‘fucks’ and an explicit reference to anal sex, he’d inform the producer that he would be permitted two ‘crikeys’ and a hint of heavy petting. In 1968, he lost his censorship powers, and the previously banned Hair, of all anodyne trifles, could finally be seen on the London stage: this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius. Only four and a half decades after the censor’s departure, British liberals are panting for the reimposition of censorship under a new ‘Royal Charter’. 

This is the aging of the dawn of Aquarius: new blasphemy laws for progressive pieties. In the New Statesman, Sarah Ditum seemed befuddled that the ‘No Platform’ movement — a vigorous effort to deny public platforms to the British National party and the English Defence League — has mysteriously advanced from silencing ‘violent fascists’ to silencing all kinds of other people, like a Guardian feminist who ventured some insufficiently affirming observations about trans-women and is now unfit for polite society. But, once you get a taste for shutting people up, it’s hard to stop. Why bother winning the debate when it’s easier to close it down? 

Nick Lowles defined the ‘No Platform’ philosophy as ‘the position where we refuse to allow fascists an opportunity to act like normal political parties’. But free speech is essential to a free society because, when you deny people ‘an opportunity to act like normal political parties’, there’s nothing left for them to do but punch your lights out. Free speech, wrote the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson last week, ‘buttresses the political system’s legitimacy. It helps losers, in the struggle for public opinion and electoral success, to accept their fates. It helps keep them loyal to the system, even though it has disappointed them. They will accept the outcomes, because they believe they’ve had a fair opportunity to express and advance their views. There’s always the next election. Free speech underpins our larger concept of freedom.’ 

Just so. A fortnight ago I was in Quebec for a provincial election in which the ruling separatist party went down to its worst defeat in almost half a century. This was a democratic contest fought between parties that don’t even agree on what country they’re in. In Ottawa for most of the 1990s the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition was a chap who barely acknowledged either the head of state or the state she’s head of. Which is as it should be. Because, if a Quebec separatist or an Australian republican can’t challenge the constitutional order through public advocacy, the only alternative is to put on a black ski-mask and skulk around after dark blowing stuff up. 

I’m opposed to the notion of official ideology — not just fascism, Communism and Baathism, but the fluffier ones, too, like ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘climate change’ and ‘marriage equality’. Because the more topics you rule out of discussion — immigration, Islam, ‘gender fluidity’ — the more you delegitimise the political system. As your cynical political consultant sees it, a commitment to abolish Section 18C is more trouble than it’s worth: you’ll just spends weeks getting damned as cobwebbed racists seeking to impose a bigots’ charter when you could be moving the meter with swing voters by announcing a federal programmne of transgendered bathroom construction. But, beyond the shrunken horizons of spinmeisters, the inability to roll back something like 18C says something profound about where we’re headed: a world where real, primal, universal rights — like freedom of expression — come a distant second to the new tribalism of identity-group rights. 

Oh, don’t worry. There’ll still be plenty of ‘offending, insulting or humiliating’ in such a world, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the Mozilla CEO and Zionists and climate deniers and feminist ‘cis-women’ not quite au courant with transphobia can all tell you. And then comes the final, eerie silence. Young Erin Ching at Swarthmore College has grasped the essential idea: it is not merely that, as the Big Climate enforcers say, ‘the science is settled’, but so is everything else, from abortion to gay marriage. So what’s to talk about? Universities are no longer institutions of inquiry but ‘safe spaces’ where delicate flowers of diversity of race, sex, orientation, ‘gender fluidity’ and everything else except diversity of thought have to be protected from exposure to any unsafe ideas. 

As it happens, the biggest ‘safe space’ on the planet is the Muslim world. For a millennium, Islamic scholars have insisted, as firmly as a climate scientist or an American sophomore, that there’s nothing to debate. And what happened? As the United Nations Human Development Programme’s famous 2002 report blandly noted, more books are translated in Spain in a single year than have been translated into Arabic in the last 1,000 years. Free speech and a dynamic, innovative society are intimately connected: a culture that can’t bear a dissenting word on race or religion or gender fluidity or carbon offsets is a society that will cease to innovate, and then stagnate, and then decline, very fast. 

As American universities, British playwrights and Australian judges once understood, the ‘safe space’ is where cultures go to die.

Related Reading:

17 April 2014

An Amazing Odyssey: First Colour Postcards Of The 'New World' Showcase Life In The US At The End Of The 19th Century (Photo Essay)

By Sarah Gordon 

These postcards are the first colour photographs taken of the New World, capturing the majesty of the American landscape, from buzzing city scenes to the dramatic Grand Canyon.

The Big Apple: Mulberry Street, the main thoroughfare in Manhattan, is brought to life with the photochrom process, showing the varying ethnicity of New Yorkers and a glimpse at their everyday lives

The Big Apple: Mulberry Street, the main thoroughfare in Manhattan, is brought to life with the photochrom process, showing the varying ethnicity of New Yorkers and a glimpse at their everyday lives

Dating back to the late 19th century and early 20th century, they have been released from a private collection especially to celebrate travel through the US in a book entitled An American Odyssey. 

The photographs were taken between 1888 and 1924 and were made into postcards celebrating cities, landscapes and everyday life across the country.

Traditions: Members of the Seminole Tribe in Florida - whose history dates back to the early 1500s - are depicted in the dugout canoes in their elegant dress

Traditions: Members of the Seminole Tribe in Florida - whose history dates back to the early 1500s - are depicted in the dugout canoes in their elegant dress

Many of the images are produced using a photochrom process, taking black and white negatives and filling them with colour by transferring them onto lithographic printing stones.

Another process used was phostint, a way of tinting black and white and sepia images which was used by companies - including what was then known as the London Daily Mail - to print colour postcards of important events, such as scenes from the First World War.

These spectacular postcards are from a private collection amassed by graphic designer, photographer, and collector Marc Walter. He specialises in vintage travel photographs and has one of the world's largest collections.

Rainbow effect: The Grand Canyon is shown in all its glory with greens, rich reds and purples depicted by the photochrom technique

Rainbow effect: The Grand Canyon is shown in all its glory with greens, rich reds and purples depicted by the photochrom technique

On track: Transport is a dominant theme throughout the images, showing America at the cutting edge of technology

On track: Transport is a dominant theme throughout the images, showing America at the cutting edge of technology

Laundry day: This unusual picture shows a Monday in New York City, when the streets were filled with clean washing being aired among the buildings

Laundry day: This unusual picture shows a Monday in New York City, when the streets were filled with clean washing being aired among the buildings

These particular images were produced by the Detroit Photographic Company at the turn of the century, combining landscapes with human interest images for city dwellers, immigrants and even gold rushers and the last Wild West cowboys.

The 612-page hardback book, published by Taschen, is a celebration of America and is considered a journey through its later 19th and early 20th-century landscapes and will go on sale for £135.

Photos include a busy city scene on the busy thoroughfare of Mulberry Street in New York, while another contrasts dramatically, capturing the rural life of a Seminole Indian family sailing in their dugout canoes in Florida.

Gold rush town: A glorious panorama shows the Californian city of San Francisco when it was still a relatively small settlement

Gold rush town: A glorious panorama shows the Californian city of San Francisco when it was still a relatively small settlement

Southern life: A magnolia plantation is shown in bloom on the edge of the Ashley River in Charleston with a local woman stood looking out over the water

Southern life: A magnolia plantation is shown in bloom on the edge of the Ashley River in Charleston with a local woman stood looking out over the water

Feats of engineering: The Gerogetown Loop over Clear Creek Canyon in Colorado was hugely important to the nearby gold and silver mines at the start of the 20th century

Feats of engineering: The Gerogetown Loop over Clear Creek Canyon in Colorado was hugely important to the nearby gold and silver mines at the start of the 20th century

Magnolia Plantation, on the Ashely River in Charleston, is brought to life with the application of colour to the image, while the Grand Canyon is also shown shimmering with colour.

Transport is also a leading theme in the postcards, featuring spectacular train journeys crossing Clear Creek Canyon, on Georgetown Loop in Colorado and the Mount Lowe Railway, on the circular bridge in California.

An American Odyssey

An American Odyssey

Tourists can still ride on the Georgetown Loop railways, experiencing what life was like during the gold rush era, when everyone was trying to make their fortune. 

And spectacular National Parks such as the Grand Canyon still draw crowds, with millions of visitors every year.

SoRo:  More...


War on Women Alert: Liberals Attack Female Fighting Misogyny

Hirsi Ali criticizes and breaks from Islam.

By Kirsten Powers
War on women alert: One of the most forceful fighters against misogyny in the modern era is under attack. 

Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been a vocal critic of women's oppression under Islamic law. She's blasted arranged marriage, legally sanctioned domestic violence, genital mutilation, and the killing of adulteresses and rape victims. Despite being a supporter of abortion rights, an atheist, and an advocate of gay and women's rights, she is despised by many who claim to be defenders of women's rights. Over the years, they have worked to delegitimize her in the hopes that she will be silenced.

The latest effort was a successful campaign to pressure Brandeis University into withdrawing its offer of an honorary degree. Her offense? Expressing the wrong opinions. 

Daily violence 

Hirsi Ali was raised Muslim. As a 5-year-old, she was forced into genital mutilation. At one point, she was beaten by a religious teacher until a rib broke.

At 22, she fled a forced marriage for the Netherlands where she became a member of Parliament. While there, she made a movie critical of Islam's treatment of women with her friend Theo Van Gogh. For this, he was murdered by an Islamic fanatic. The killer stabbed a note into his chest addressed to Hirsi Ali. It promised her death.

Yet she continues to speak out. "It may be naive, stupid, irrational, but I'm doing this because I think that if I do, there'll be less honor killings, fewer little girls undergoing female genital mutilation like I did," Hirsi Ali told The Washington Post in 2007. In her best seller, Infidel, she recalled her time in Saudi Arabia, where she could hear the cries of neighborhood women being (legally) beaten by their husbands. But this life experience is no match for the "expertise" of liberal Westerners who seem to believe the problem is that Hirsi Ali just doesn't know how to keep her mouth shut. 

Double standards 

In reviewing her book, Nomad, Nicholas Kristof lamented that, "Hirsi Ali denounces Islam with a ferocity that I find strident. … Her memoir suggests that she never quite outgrew her rebellious teenager phase." Yes, if only she would be more demure in describing her own oppression. Guardian columnist Emma Brockes complained that in criticizing Islam, Hirsi Ali "is startlingly direct" and is "deliberately, almost narcissistically provocative."

Yet, when author Anne Rice announced she had "quit Christianity" because it was anti-gay, anti-feminist and anti-science, Brockes only wanted to know "what took her so long?" Speaking of "startlingly direct," Rice said, "(I) began to really study (Catholicism) and I found that it was not an honorable religion, that it was not honest."

So, condemning the Catholic Church and Christianity broad-brush is heroic. But a woman who breaks with and criticizes Islam is a mouthy, immature narcissist who must be silenced. Got it.

SoRo: Hirsi-Ali is beauty, brains, and bravery personified.  She truly is a modern-day heroine.

Putin's Propaganda Campaign

But when the mild-mannered 60-year-old tried to discuss Russia’s annexation of Crimea in class, things almost got out of hand. “My students swore at me and said I wasn’t telling the truth,” he says. “Then they said I didn’t love Russia or the Russian people, and told me to leave the country.”

Mr Dolutsky has long been a thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin’s government. Ten years ago the government pulled his history textbook from the curriculum for its critical description of President Putin and its inclusion of unpalatable facts about Soviet history. Today he teaches in a private school, headed by a friend from his university days, which allows Mr Dolutsky to continue to talk about the Soviet Union’s occupation of the Baltic states, discuss whether Russia committed genocide in Chechnya and label Mr Putin’s changes to the political system a coup d’état. 

But Moscow’s annexation of Crimea has set off rapid and drastic changes that threaten to submerge such outposts of dissent. In a speech marking the consummation of Russia’s union with the Black Sea peninsula on March 18, Mr Putin lashed out against a “fifth column” of “national traitors” enlisted by the west to subvert Russia. He vowed to respond forcefully. 

His warning – especially his choice of phrases widely used by nationalist dictatorships as well as Russia’s own former Communist regime – has resonated strongly with Russians. They have been taken as a rallying cry among those aggrieved by Russia’s diminished power to build a prouder, stronger and more authoritarian state. For Mr Putin’s liberal critics, it is a worrying sign that the rest of the country’s imperfect democratic institutions are under severe threat. 

In a column that set the tone for both commentaries and blogposts, the conservative journalist Ulyana Skoibeda raved two weeks ago that after the return of Crimea “I no longer live in a conquered country”. In a long lament that reflects the feelings frequently expressed by ordinary Russians, she described the past 23 years as humiliating. Ms Skoibeda said her life had been dominated by western norms, and she had had to suffer through the chaos and deprivation unleashed by the democratic and economic experiments of the 1990s. 

Standing proudly against the entire world had revived the essence of the Soviet Union, she wrote. “It is not Crimea that has returned. We have returned. Home. To the USSR."

Since the Crimea annexation, there have been frequent moves that symbolise a Soviet revival. 

In March Mr Putin announced the re-establishment of “Prepared for Labour and Defence”, a Soviet-era system under which students, officials and workers took part in nationwide sports competitions. The same week, the government said it would restore the Stalin-era All-Russian Exhibition Centre to its former glory. 

This month the trade ministry set up a council for the “innovative development of Russian industry”, manned exclusively by former ministers who presided over different industrial sectors in the Soviet Union. 

Some observers discount such moves as symbolic concessions to widespread nostalgia among a public that feels the new Russia lacks a strong national identity. 

A number of food producers, for instance, have opted for retro packaging designs emblazoned with Soviet symbols, taking advantage of consumers’ conviction that food quality control was stricter in the Soviet Union. 

But the recent changes go far beyond nostalgia. Nationalism is now a powerful component of the Soviet revival. Critics fear that it has distinctly sinister overtones. 

“I would argue that for years we have been seeing what you could call the Nazification of the elite,” says Igor Yakovenko, former head of the Russian Journalists’ Association, pointing to the installation of Putin loyalists in key posts in academia and the media. 

Supporters of Mr Putin dismiss references to fascism and claims of undermining democracy as exaggerations. Pointing to the fact that the communist politician Anatoly Lokot defeated the candidate of Mr Putin’s United Russia party in mayoral elections in Novosibirsk, Russia’s third most populous city, last week, a Kremlin adviser says Mr Putin will continue what he called a liberalisation of the political system. 

Earlier signs of this were the election of the opposition candidate Yevgeny Roizman as mayor of Ekaterinburg and that the opposition leader Alexei Navalny was allowed to run for Moscow mayor last year. 

However, some Kremlin loyalists agree that Mr Putin is tightening his grip. “He is convinced that the west will behave the same way in Russia as in Ukraine and ultimately try to unseat him,” says Sergei Markov, a political consultant close to the Kremlin. 

“Therefore all resources, not just regular politicians but also [non-government organisations], some media and crucial players, must be consolidated.” Mr Markov says that to ensure mass support for Mr Putin, the formation of a new ideology is under way. “What exactly it will be is not clear yet, but it could be close to [France’s Marine] Le Pen. It could be close to the Freedom party of Austria,” he says. 

This month a representative of Mr Putin’s regime in the US signalled there could be more revisionist steps. Andranik Migranyan, the head of the US-based Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, a Putin-backed think-tank, published a commentary in which he rejected criticism of the Crimea annexation that compared it with Germany’s aggressive moves against its neighbours in the 1930s. 

“One must distinguish between Hitler before 1939 and Hitler after 1939,” he wrote. “The thing is that Hitler collected [German] lands. If he had become famous only for uniting without a drop of blood Germany with Austria, Sudetenland and Memel, in fact completing what Bismarck failed to do, and if he had stopped there, then he would have remained a politician of the highest class.” 

Mr Migranyan’s argument appears to echo remarks made by Mr Putin on March 18. The president said the collapse of the Soviet Union had left the Russian people as one of the world’s largest separated nations. 

As Mr Dolutsky experienced as early as 2003, the Russian president is intent on tinkering with the history curriculum. Since last year there has been an initiative to replace a broad range of textbooks with just two or three that follow a unified concept. Among the details that are certain not to appear in the new textbooks are atrocities committed by the Red Army in eastern Europe, questions about how Russia won some of its territory, and a detailed history of Ukraine other than as part of Russia. 

“The main point is that pupils must never question that our country is always right,” says Nikita Petrov, a historian at Memorial, an organisation that specialises in Soviet-era repression. “That means that all around us will have one map of history, and we will have a completely different one. And the contradiction between Russia and the outside world only deepens because nobody is trying to overcome it.” 

The government is not prepared to stop at history textbooks. A member of the United Russia party said this week a similar unified concept such as the one adopted for the history curriculum was also necessary for literature and language textbooks. 

Mr Putin, addressing the group of historians he commissioned to work on the new books, said a unified approach to teaching history “does not mean one state-defined, official, ideologised line of thought”. But he dismissed some existing books as “ideological rubbish” that sought to belittle the Soviet people. 

The government is also working on a set of cultural policy guidelines, a project that has already sent shudders through Russia’s liberal intelligentsia. 

The paper stresses the “rejection of the principles of multiculturalism and tolerance. The preservation of a unified cultural code calls for the rejection of state support for cultural projects that impose value norms alien to [our] society”. 

It also postulates that “liberal western” concepts that suggest a universal path of development must be rejected and that, in extreme cases, government must protect Russian society from the negative impact of inappropriate cultural products.

Even members of the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, have been attending political schooling sessions. There they are guided to adhere to “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality”, the three main values propagated by Count Sergei Uvarov, a 19th-century Russian statesman. “They are establishing a kind of hereditary line right from Uvarov to Stalin and then Putin,” says a person who took part in one of the sessions. 

In line with such ideas, and true to Mr Putin’s warning about subversive forces, some modern artists and critics of his policies are feeling a renewed push of repression. 

Late last month the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, or MGIMO, evicted Andrei Zubov, a renowned historian, for his comparison of the annexation of Crimea with Hitler’s 1938 grab of Sudetenland. MGIMO, the university where the foreign ministry trains most of Russia’s diplomats, denounced Mr Zubov’s criticism as “amoral”, a term that could block the professor’s employment elsewhere in Russia. 

The university was later forced to reinstate him after the eviction was found to be unlawful. 

But it is not just academics who are under pressure. Loyalists of the president have set up a website where users can propose people to be denounced as “traitors”. The list already features 21 politicians, artists and journalists, topped by Mr Navalny. 

“Many people clearly understand that if the annexation of Crimea is accepted, then the real fascist state will emerge here and not in Kiev,” says Mr Zubov, in a reference to Russian propaganda accusations that the new Ukrainian authorities are fascist. 

“There will be a partly free economy, state companies, partly open borders, but primacy of one ideology and an aggressive foreign policy,” he warns. “This will not be a revival of the Soviet Union but a revival of fascist statehood in its purest state, in the Mussolini sense. There will not be racial policies and no Holocaust. But there will be a basic principle: the state is everything.” 

While the Ukraine crisis has triggered this latest mutation of Russia’s political system, Mr Putin’s critics argue it has been long in the making. 

Some spaces for free thought remain. When Mr Dolutsky goes to class, he still carries his own history textbook, written in 1991. It carries marks in all the colours of the rainbow as reminders of where to ask questions and where to use other materials, and some in black – the marks left by Mr Putin’s censors 11 years ago. 

But the teacher says his job has become far more difficult. “Twenty years ago, my students were looking to me for the truth. I was supposed to tell them that imperialism was decaying but in fact socialism was rotting away right in front of our eyes, so there was no need to prove to them that we were living badly. Now, they need to be enlightened, but they don’t want to be.” 

Censorship: Authorities close in on the web 

The Russian government is determined to control the internet as part of its quest to tighten the noose around free speech. 

Under legislation that took effect on February 1, the internet regulator can block websites carrying content that is deemed “extremist” or suspected of inciting mass disturbances – merely on the orders of the procurator-general’s office. The authorities are making good use of their new powers. As of April 13, the procurator-general’s office had ordered 107 such blockages, at least 80 of which targeted pages with political content. 

“The internet in Russia is becoming a very different place,” says Sergei Buntman, deputy editor of the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy. Its website was taken down and only went online again after it stopped hosting a blog by opposition leader Alexei Navalny. 

After President Vladimir Putin brought almost all traditional media either directly under state ownership or into a position where they could be indirectly controlled, online news sites, blogs and social media had become the main source of information and debate for his critics. 

Although this space is shrinking, experts say it is unlikely to disappear. “Russia is worlds apart from China, which identified the ‘threat’ posed by the internet upfront and made sure the internet that developed there was domesticised from the beginning,” says Steven Wilson, who teaches Russian politics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 

Apart from theGreat Firewall”, which helps block unwanted foreign-based content, China also has a vast quantity of homegrown internet services and web applications that mimic their global counterparts but help censor content on Beijing’s orders. “Blocking is easy but you can’t just build an ecosystem like this from scratch,” says Mr Wilson. 

Russian experts believe that it would be politically unwise or even impossible for Moscow to suddenly impose a heavy censorship regime with systemic, large-scale permanent blocking because the public has grown used to a largely open space over the past 20 years. 

The authorities are much more likely to apply pressure selectively. Apart from the new blocking rights, Russian law also gives a wide range of security services almost unfettered access to online communications data. 

Despite those restrictions, the internet could still serve as a powerful tool capable of undermining Mr Putin’s regime – if someone tried. 

“The web played an important role in the colour revolutions and the Arab spring because there was a spark in the first place. I don’t see that spark in Russia yet,” says Mr Wilson.

Russian to CNN: Country’s Propaganda Even More Hysterical Than in Soviet Era

By Washington Free Beacon Staff 

Leon Aron, the director of Russian Studies for the American Enterprise Institute, said Wednesday on CNN’s The Lead that the sheer hysteria of today’s anti-Western propaganda out of Russia exceeds anything he saw from the Soviet era.

One recent example from demonstrated the absurd lengths to which state TV will go. Three Russian TV channels showed the same interview but portrayed the man in it differently each time, calling him in turn a German spy, a repentant extremist and a pediatric surgeon beaten by neo-Nazis.

“I was there in 1968, a teenager in Moscow, and I don’t recall the level of propaganda reaching this amount of frenzy and brazenness and hysteria,” Aron said. “For example, nobody used a term for forced sexual intercourse to describe U.S. policies. [Vladimir] Putin did in his speech on March 18.” 

Even though many Russians are aware of the pro-Kremlin policy of state television in the country, the propaganda meant to elevate Putin as a powerful leader is still effective, Aron said. All of Putin’s attempts to look macho may amuse people in the West, but he cares little about their opinions.

“It doesn’t matter that you laugh, and by the way, that’s the difference with the Soviet leaders,” he said. “They cared very much whether the West laughed at them. Putin doesn’t care. He cares about his political base, and the idea is here’s our guy. He’s strong, he’s macho, he knows how to do things, and he is the image of a new Russia.”  

Journalists struggle to disseminate the truth about recent events.

By Jillian Kay Melchior 

Ivan Yakovina, a Russian foreign correspondent, sat across from me in a Cupid-themed bar not far from Kiev’s Independence Square, downing mugs of beer and complaining about the evils of Putin’s propaganda — in other words, expressing the views that recently cost him his job.

“[Galina Timchenko], our editor-in-chief, was there [in Moscow], and she was told, ‘Keep [your reporters] calm or take them away from Ukraine. . . . [The demonstrations in Kiev] should look like a complete mess: dirt, blood, destruction, mud,’” Yakovina says, adding that the publication was instructed to rely mostly on the stories from Russia’s state-run media instead of original reporting. “She was a very heroic woman, resisting against this for months.

“Reporting the truth in a time of lying is a crime in itself,” Yakovina said in perfectly fluent English, one of several languages he speaks. He lives in Lviv, the only city in Ukraine that is remotely tolerable, he insists. Despite his general dislike for the country, he and several of his colleagues at the popular Russian news site wrote truthfully about recent events there, which didn’t go over well in Moscow, Yakovina says. 

Propaganda has played a central role as the situation has escalated in Ukraine. Disseminated by Russia and, until recently, the Yanukovych regime, misinformation has undermined the efforts of the Maidan reformers and also contributed significantly to the destabilization of Ukraine’s eastern regions. 

The control of information is part of Putin’s strategy to rebuild post-Soviet Russia through aggression, writes Roman Zvarcyh, a legal adviser and deputy campaign manager to Ukrainian presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko, in an e-mail. “The annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the subsequent military subterfuge that we are now witnessing in the eastern provinces of Ukraine is the culmination of an information war that Moscow has been aggressively promoting since the events of the Orange Revolution in 2004,” Zvarcyh says. “The general thrust of this propaganda campaign is to undermine any sense of Ukrainian national identity, particularly in those regions that were historically victimized by successive waves of Russification.” 

Yakovina tells me that during the demonstrations in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Russia promoted the idea that many of the protesters were extremists, fascists, and Nazi sympathizers. “I’ve never seen an ultra-nationalist or a fascist [in the Maidan protests],” Yakovina says. “It’s BS. . . . It simply wasn’t true. They don’t want to be a part of some corrupt, evil system, which was the Yanukovich [regime].” 

My interviews with Ukrainians who participated in the Maidan protests suggest the same; all of those I’ve spoken with say they demonstrated for rule of law and an end to dictatorship and corruption, and that they resorted to violence only as a means of self-defense, after Yanukovych’s troops began brutalizing and murdering protesters. 


Nevertheless, under Putin, the Russian media have used topics that resonate, carrying special political, moral, or emotional meaning, to manipulate public opinion. For example, his repression of gays resonates with many who oppose homosexuality. In Russia, he appeals to nationalism; in East Ukraine, he makes sure the message is widely disseminated that the protesters at the Maidan were fascist or anti-Semitic, which plays on the East’s painful history. At both borders, he claims that the Ukrainian government is discriminating against those who speak Russian — an absurd claim, given its prevalent usage in even Kiev. 

“They’re using the darkest sides of simple people’s souls, and they’ve been very successful,” Yakovina says. “People [in Russia and eastern Ukraine] are eating whatever they give them. Any [country] with a good propaganda machine can make their people believe any f***ing thing.” 

That sentiment is echoed by Vadym Hudyma, a popular Ukrainian social-media activist who supported the Maidan protests. He says that people in eastern Ukraine, which is more industrial and poorer, get their news from TV and print publications, which are mostly Russian-dominated. 

“It’s been three months of huge propaganda from [Russia], and so of course when the supposed ‘right-wingers’ come to power, [Eastern Ukrainians] were really, truly scared,” Hudyma says. “For months, they had heard these are bad guys, they are fascists, they are going to kill us.” Even so, as I wrote yesterday, credible Ukrainian sociologists have recently reported that the majority of citizens in the south and east oppose Russian military intervention and annexation.

Recently, the information wars have centered around the extent to which Russian troops are behind the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine. An April 2014 statement from the Russian government claimed that “these are speculations that rest on imprecise information, according to President Putin.”

That stretches credibility to the breaking point, as attentive observers know. In the past few days, both general secretary of NATO Anders Rassmussen and American U.N. ambassador Samantha Powers have spoken to the press about the strong evidence of Russian backing behind the violent separatists in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, guns popping up in the conflicted eastern regions are the same types used by the Russian army, Ukraine’s acting foreign minister has said. And reports abound of plainclothes Russian troops (“little green men,” as the Ukrainians have taken to calling them) in the cities that are experiencing turmoil.

Yakovina says Putin tried the same strategy of outright falsehood during the crises in Syria and Libya, tailoring a message to fit the international press. “They call it ‘our point of view,’ so if you don’t like these blatant lies, you are against freedom of speech, or they say you are being paid by someone,” he explains. 

But drawing international attention to the real situation in Ukraine is difficult, says Kateryna Venzhyk, editor-in-chief of, an online business magazine. Venzhyk recently managed to garner some attention through a carefully orchestrated publicity campaign that involved racy T-shirts urging Ukrainian women to withhold sex from Russian men. 

“On one side, it’s Russian propaganda, and on the other side, it’s [recently been] media owned by Yanukovych and his ‘family,’” Venzhyk says. “You can have Russian propaganda, and you can have [corrupt] Ukrainian propaganda, but you can’t have the truth.” 

The repressive Yanukovych administration tried to control the media over the past three years using the government, Venzhyk explains. She says officials threatened to revoke news licenses, impose higher taxes, or evict publications from their offices whenever they wrote journalism critical of the regime. “You can’t go to court with this,” she says, “because that’s ‘family,’ too.” 

Hanna Hrabarska, a young journalist and social-media activist who works with the Hudyma on a pro-Ukrainian social-media campaign, says that during the Yanukovych days she had a minder who followed her everywhere. One day, he contacted her and started telling her creepy details: He not only knew where she lived, he had noticed her new glasses, she said. “It’s not special,” she tells me casually. “Every journalist had someone following them [then].” 

Freedom of the press in Ukraine has significantly improved since Yanukovych was defenestrated, but the years of restrictions weren’t without consequence. Many Ukrainians don’t know which media they can trust. Meanwhile, the news reports supplied directly by Russia’s state-owned media are pervasive.

Yakovina, the Russian journalist, says that, although Russia has engaged in propaganda campaigns for decades, in the past ten years, “it became an absolutely arrogant lie. They don’t even care about it looking like truth. They just want to make people . . . absolutely mis-oriented, so they don’t know anything truthful. It’s scary — it’s like 1984. They just lie, not because they want to achieve anything – that’s just been how it works. . . . The final idea, I think, is just to build this imaginary world that would have history, myth, ideology, religion — all based in lies. An absolutely imaginary political life. Anything that is real is considered dangerous, un-Russian, disturbing, prevented. . . . It’s dangerous and suspicious, and they want to eliminate it.”

 Putin’s Crimea Propaganda Machine

To justify its invasion of Crimea, the Kremlin and state-run media went into full fabrication mode this weekend. Here are the lies that Russia is telling its viewers back home.

By Oleg Shynkarenko

Russia invaded Ukraine over the weekend, justifying its incursion by claming it needed to protect Crimea’s ethnic Russian population from supposed neo-Nazi extremists.  This was pure propaganda, of course—Vladmir Putin has been keen to annex land that used to be part of Russia, as he did in Georgia in 2008, and seems to think that the Ukrainian army will and should immediately surrender to the Russian one.

Still, Putin needed a story to spin, no matter how full of holes, and thus the neo-Nazi claims. But as it turns out, Crimea’s streets are not exactly paved with extremists—a fact that has proven troublesome for Russian state TV channels looking to find token far-right bogeymen. They’ve had to resort to tricks to get the right characters for Russian audiences—making much, for instance, of Sachko Bilyi, a buffoon who visited a local parliament with his AK-47 machine gun. No one in Ukraine thinks much of Bilyi, other than that he’s a clown, but Russian TV is now claiming that squads made up of thousands of Bilyis are terrorizing Ukraine’s civilians and intimidating MPs.

The Russian media also reported on “skirmishes” on the streets of Crimea and showed a video about “extremists in Crimea attacking Russian soldiers.” As it turns out, the video was actually made on February 20, when close to 100 protesters, aid workers and journalists were shot by snipers in Kiev. That day, several cameramen filmed the terror on location—one of them standing nearby for a very long time. When his video surfaced on Russian TV, purporting to be from Crimea, it made many suspect that the cameraman was from Russia and that Russian journalists may have had an arrangement with the snipers so that they wouldn’t draw fire.

For additional help manufacturing scenes of outrage, Russian provocateurs in Simferopol organized a nice mise-en-scene for Putin’s propaganda machine. A bus filled with people dressed like paramiliatry fighters, toting machine guns and grenade launchers, were filmed by Russian journliasts. It appeared instantly on the Internet and Russian TV channels, labeled as “The Right Sector from the Western Ukraine attacking peaceful Russian citizens and killing soldiers in Crimea.” But if one looks closely, it is possible to make out several important details: the bus from ‘the Western Ukraine’ in fact has a Crimean license plate number, and the fighters are armed with GM-94 grenade launchers and AK-100 machine guns, which are only used by Russian soldiers. Another question: how did Right Sector extremists manage to get to Simferopol on a big bus after all the roads to Crimea were blocked three days ago by armed police and Russian soldiers? Several jounralists tried to pass through the cordons, but in vain. Apparently only armed fighters and extremists can get permission to go to Crimea. Later, Russian consul general Vyacheslav Svetlichnyi dismissed reports of casulaties amongst Russian citizens and soldiers in Crimea as mere rumor.

Then there was the story about how a local state administration in Kharkiv hoisted a Russian flag instead of a Ukrainian one on the local parliamentary building. The rumor went viral thanks to a 25-year-old blogger in Moscow, nicknamed Mika Ronkainen. “Right now! Kharkiv administration was set free and the Russian flag was hoisted. Guess by whom?” he wrote on his social network account. Later, journalists established that Ronkainen likes to be photographed in Nazi uniforms and takes part in the Putin-supported Russian xenophobic movement “Locals”. Apparently the real story was that several buses of Russian “tourists” were taken to Kharkiv to imitate local populations showing enthusiastic support for Russia. They not only hoisted Russian flags, but reportedly beat Ukrainians who expressed indignation at Russian aggression in Crimea. 

Lines and crowds at border checkpoints are very hard to fake, so Russian TV instead filmed the line next to the border checkpoint with Poland, labeling it as “thousands of Ukrainians running away to Russia from the far right.”

Among the other potent, but false, myths of the Putin propaganda machine: that panicked Ukrainians are fleeing en masse to Russia to escape the new government in Kiev, and that the Ukrainian army is unfit for combat and soldiers are defecting to the Russian side.

As for the former, lines and crowds at border checkpoints are very hard to fake, so Russian TV instead filmed the line next to the border checkpoint with Poland, labeling it as “thousands of Ukrainains running away to Russia from the far right.” (Ukrainian journalists figured out the real location by noticing that a plate on the checkpoint listed the name of the city of Shegyni, which is on the Polish border.)

And as for the Moscow propagandist rumor that Ukrainian soldiers are clamoring to become Russian citizens, the only ones who seem eager to join Russia’s side are the Berkut riot policement, the ones allegedly involved in the mass murder of protesters in Kiev. Russian citizenship for them is the only hope for salvation from criminal prosecution and prison. Meanwhile, even as the Russian media is reporting that “Ukrainian soldiers went over to the Crimean authorities’ side peacefully and without any shots fired…the majority of them will swear allegiance to local authorities,” in the Ukrainian media, one in fact discovers that several Crimean regiments were approached by the Russian army and that they refused to lay down arms. 

No one in Ukraine or in the West doubts that the Russian invasion was provoked by anything other than Putin’s desire to reestablish the USSR 2.0. But every invader wants to look like a liberator, and in order to do so, Putin needs his scary extremists, his scared Ukrainians and his Crimean soldiers welcoming him with open arms. Meanwhile, the question now is: what will Putin do with his army in Ukraine? We can only hope the Russians shoot down their own myths and delusions, and not the local population.

 Putin's Propaganda Exposed

By Jim Hoft

In the propaganda war raging over Ukraine’s revolution, Putin played up claims of neo-Nazi involvement in the protests.

“We’ve seen lots of people, you know, with those signs — armbands with swastikas.”

The pro-Russian Global Research Center accused the opposition of including neo-Nazi thugs. They even included a photo with their report (above).

Unfortunately, they forgot to scrub the neo-Nazi with the “I am Russian” hoodie.

Via East of Brussels:

More from Hoft and East of Brussels...

PUTIN WAR PROPAGANDA EXPOSED: Same Pro-Russian 'Actress' Used in FIVE Different Ukrainian Reports


Putin’s War propaganda exposed.

A pro-Russian actress was included in five different Ukrainian reports.

She even wore the same hat in two of the reports! 

The “actress” has played roles in news clips in Kiev, Kharkiv, Odessa.  She has played as a soldier’s mother and an anti-Maiden (pro-Russian) activist.

In another propaganda piece - Russian news claimed a violent protest occurred in Crimea when the photo was taken days before in Kiev.

@rfcnf Щас нарисуют типа этого )

— Andrew Niukin (@niukin) March 3, 2014

UPDATE: The Daily Mail has more on the pro-Russian actress.

Russia's State Department is engaging in round-the-clock propaganda...