The Denial Factory

25 Jan

The denial of facts that can easily be verified produces a strange, light-headed feeling among those who have to listen. Psychologically, when what we see with our own eyes is staunchly denied by others, we struggle with our natural desire to take the word as a measure of something we can believe in. A fog rises in our minds, the world turns grey and meaningless. In other words, while military convoys of weapons cross into the Ukraine from Russia and we listen to stern-faced, adamant Russian politicians assuring us that these are volunteers as opposed to actual Russian servicemen, we find ourselves dispirited and tired. When language fails, when we cannot even trust in the word, we tend to reach for our weapons. Mendacity is a precursor to violence, and most humans have an understanding of that.

Using semantics to deny facts is nothing new: it is true, certainly, that before Russia sends its soldiers into Ukraine they have to sign a temporary waiver of their formal inclusion in the Russian army. But this does not make them volunteers: saying so is “a lie of omission.” In actual fact, a good deal of financial pressure is brought to bear on these young men, many of whom do not want to fight in the Ukraine or come back in boxes for the sake of Kremlin policy. The lie of omission is also a plain lie, because if “volunteers” are strong-armed into volunteering, or if “volunteers” are actively sought out and equipped by the Russian state, then the claim of their independence loses its meaning. Those who die in the Ukraine are buried quietly, and their families are told not to speak of it, on pain of having their compensation payments cut.

All the facts about the Russian campaign in Ukraine are clear, although Western media is still reluctant to call a spade a spade. After all, journalistic standards demand that one must report on what each side is saying.

Russia feels the Ukraine belongs to it. Russia, though itself established not once but twice by 20th century revolutionary events, now suddenly asserts that the Orange Revolution has no political validity, even though it has been cemented by properly held democratic elections. Well, in that case Russia is not valid either. Nor is America, France, or Italy. Putin, who seems terrified of Western values, is financing far-right political parties in the EU. He is doing this to undermine our painfully built-up legal systems and constitutions, to support the emergence of xenophobic and dysfunctional governance in the European heartland. We allow him to do this because we do not have legal frameworks in place to stop him supporting the National Front in France, The Independence Party in the UK, and similar organisations elsewhere.

While the war goes on, the EU and Russia continue to negotiate for peace and Russia issues statements declaring its support for the Minsk agreement: it’s imperative, Lavrov tells us, that the Ukraine stops “indiscriminate shelling” of civilian areas in Donetsk. This may sound good, but at the same time the Russian foreign ministry yesterday prevented a UN Security Council statement condemning last night’s rocket attacks on Mariupol that left at least 30 civilians dead. Truth must have some objectivity, or it fragments into madness and confusion.

Russia blocks UN statement

Well, the Russian denial factory is working very nicely. The Internet is awash with confused young Europeans and Americans attacking America and Europe for “conspiring” to get their hands on Ukraine. This surely overlooks the fact that Ukraine wishes to turn itself into a liberal democracy leaning towards Western values? Certainly the West has its failings, but I simply don’t understand why Europe should be considered so much worse than Russia, China or other powers.
Russia chose to fight the Ukraine rather than doing its utmost to create closer ties with a country it knows so well. Surely even conspiracy theorists can see that a lawless Russian state creating phoney wars in Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltic republics, and possibly other countries too before long, is not a good thing?

Officially at least, Russia is still a democracy, and so it ought to be possible for Putin to accept some level of social debate. Not so. As I write, the Nordic Council of Ministers in St Petersburg, who for years have maintained an office in that city to promote cultural interaction in Russia, support NGO’s and establish networks to support the emergence of democracy, have found themselves challenged by the Russian courts to declare themselves as an alien group, a “political organisation” subject to greater controls. What this means, in practice, is a reduction in all sorts of collaborative projects. Putin and his government is gradually clearing out European influence from his country, because he fears the plain language of self-expression. Anyone who fears the cultural influence of Finland or Sweden must be delusional. Sweden is utterly unaggressive, and utterly focused on peaceful coexistence with its neighbours.

Activities limited at the St. Petersburg office of the Council of Nordic Ministers

As Europeans, I think we have to ask ourselves how it could possibly be a good thing to defer to Russia as it continues bullying its neighbours. Why can’t Russia simply concentrate on developing its society in a peaceful way, reducing its nuclear arsenal and taking part in the international debate as a legally responsible country? Putin should try it. He seems keen on Siberian tigers and wildlife, he’s an outdoors man, he likes riding and fishing and hunting. Well, he could do a lot of good in those areas. He could take part in international efforts to protect the Arctic and cut global warming.

The war in Ukraine is nothing but a regressive project dreamed up by a man who seems to have run out of ideas. War and territorial gain are ancient ideas, a language in themselves. No amount of linguistic manipulation can hide its true meaning.

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