Ukraine and Western media: The death of free thoughtMar 7, 2023
Wars are started by political forces. They are promoted by propagandists, fought by soldiers and it is always the ordinary people that suffer. Wars are almost never about principle and almost always about profit in one form or another. The war in Ukraine, like all other wars has been sold to us as a struggle between the forces of good and evil. A simple message is repeated and in Goebel’s world, a lie, if big enough and if repeated loudly enough will be believed.
The propaganda war in Ukraine has been fought with tenacity. President Biden’s recent trip to Kyiv and his tub-thumping, deserved to be looked at with some concern, but the media seemed happy to accept, unquestioningly, his simplistic rhetoric.
‘What’s at stake is freedom.’ He didn’t need to elaborate. Freedom and democracy, are words that have taken on an almost mystical quality. The war, Biden assured his enraptured audience, is a battle between democracy and autocracy. ‘Appetites of the autocrat cannot be appeased. They must be opposed.’ Russia may well be an autocracy. Putin is undoubtedly a profoundly unsavoury character, but this does not mean that Zelensky is Putin’s polar opposite, or that Ukraine is a model for us all. What was going on in Ukraine from 2014 until the war deserved criticism but was defended at every step by the United States.
How the USA disports itself on the world stage has brought tragedy, misery and death to millions.
It is hardly necessary to cite the long list of regimes that the Americans have toppled, the wars that they have engaged in, the interference, the bullying and coercion that has been the hallmark of US foreign policy. The US president speaks of a battle for democracy. He can get away with such talk only when the propaganda machine is so all-pervasive.
John Pilger once interviewed one of Hitler’s chief propagandists, the film-maker Leni Riefenstahl. She told him that the ‘patriotic messages’ of her films were dependent not on ‘orders from above’ but on what she called the ‘submissive void’ of the German public. This is enormously significant. After a time, we simply lose the capacity to question. Harold Pinter eloquently pointed out that ‘the brainwashing is so thorough; we are programmed to swallow a pack of lies. If we don’t recognise propaganda, we may accept it as normal and believe it. That’s the submissive void.’
Biden’s infantile remark in response to China’s proposal for a settlement to the Ukrainian war that ‘Putin is applauding it, so how could it be any good? I’m not being facetious. I’m being deadly earnest’ deserved to be met with global derision, but it passed with barely a comment. The propagandists’ work has been done. There is no longer any shading on the canvas. There is simply black and white.
Propaganda is one thing. Total failure or refusal to present news is quite another. Ukraine, since 2014 and the Maidan uprising, has been guilty of serial abuses of democratic norms although Biden ensures us that it is all about democracy and freedom. Western media and most of the ‘left’ across the world have willingly turned a blind eye to actions that ought to be condemned. There has been, despite protestations to the contrary, an accommodation to some of the worst of fascists in Ukraine.
The Azov Battalion had long been acknowledged as being neo nazi. It became something of an embarrassment for Ukraine’s financiers. They are still nazis but are now portrayed as a patriotic movement. WWII nazi collaborator and willing toiler in the mass murder of Ukrainian jews, Stepan Bandera, is remembered in Ukraine as a hero. He has monuments in his honour and his birthday is officially celebrated. Very democratic.
In 2015 the ‘decommunisation’ bill was passed. This outlaws any symbol or reference to the period when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and includes any socialist, communist or Marxist reference, symbol flag or insignia. Very democratic.
All left wing, socialist and communist political parties have been banned. The largest of these, the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) had, at the time of its banning, 144,000 members. When it was last allowed to stand in an election it received 2.6 million votes, or 13 per cent of the total vote. Two leaders of the youth movement of the KPU were arrested and faced a possible life sentence for organising a demonstration against the war. They are now under house arrest. Oddly enough, there have been no bans imposed on any fascist or neo nazi organisation.
In 2014, the KPU responded to the secessionist movement in Donbas and Luhansk by calling for a peaceful solution to the civil war. This was deemed to be an effectively treasonous utterance. Thousands died as a result of shelling of the regions by Ukrainian forces. None of this matters any more. It is a fight for freedom and democracy. Biden said so.
Ukraine has a history of a vibrant trade union movement. This has been crushed. Legislation was passed in 2022 that stripped away virtually all trade union rights. The argument is of course that all must unite to prosecute the war. Many fear that if Ukraine wins the war, the rights of the working people to organise will remain threatened.
It has not only been political organisations, or rather left-wing political organisations that have felt the power of Ukrainian ‘democracy.’ Religious organisations that were seen to have too much of a Russian flavour about them have been banned.
What should be most worrying about all this is not simply that a government can behave so poorly. Many have done so and will do so. The worrying thing is that there have been so few voices raised against the lies and deceptions being enacted on a daily basis. There are virtually no voices in the mainstream media that are prepared to speak out. They cannot. The propaganda machine that they serve has made such reporting impossible. Most of the left have simply reported versions of the official truth and given their support to the official line.
Those who speak out are reviled and sidelined. Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘submissive void’ has all but stopped free thought.
It is time to think, speak and refuse to submit.
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