Monday, July 18, 2016

"Quotable: Darczewska and Zochowski on “Russophobia in the Kremlin’s strategy,”

image (not from article) from

Sunday, July 17th 2016
The Polish scholars Jolanta Darczewska and Piotr Żochowski focused on an underlying theme in Russia’s propaganda – traditional concepts of “Russophobia,” with its connections to chauvinism, conflicts of values, shaping, isolationism, stigmatizing, intolerance, rhetoric, and domestic mobilization.

Their analysis – “Russophobia in the Kremlin’s strategy: A Weapon of Mass Destruction” – appeared in the Points of View series published by the Centre for Eastern Studies (Ośrodek Studiów Wschodnich im. Marka Karpia – OSW) in Warsaw in October, 2015.  Here is the front summary of the paper’s theses:

• The historically deep-rooted term ‘Russophobia’, which was first disseminated in the mid-nineteenth century, was intended to support the Russian imperial and civilisational discourse of the time. Even then, the Russian Empire was presented as being in opposition to a ‘degenerate’ Europe and as the heir to the traditional values of a ‘decaying world’. From the start it was a politically ambiguous discourse: on one hand, it encompassed the zone of the Russian Empire’s domination of Central and Southern Europe (Pan-Slavism), while on the other it promoted a vision of a different world (‘the Empire of the East’), representing the Orthodox-imperial tradition of Byzantium and the legacy of Genghis Khan, i.e. a different hierarchy of values. This discourse was unable to neutralise the West’s criticism of the tsarist regime’s policy of expansion, which led Russia to adopt an attitude of haughty isolationism.

• Throughout history, the fight against Russophobia has been used to implement various policy objectives both within and beyond the Russian state: to discipline the rebellious peoples of the Russian Empire; to combat ‘global Zionism’; to consolidate society; and also as an argument against the enlargement of NATO and the EU, etc. However, the strategic objective was always clear above and beyond these tactical goals: Russophobia invariably symbolised the rivalry of two cultural and civilisational models, as well as the conflict between two systems of values, those of the East and those of the West. The fight against Russophobia justified this schematic division of the world; and, by stigmatising those individuals and states which were deemed ‘ideologically alien’, it mobilised Russian society in the face of these alleged threats.

• The Russian authorities of today attach great importance to the development of political technologies and those which are derivative of them: namely, information technologies. These serve to legitimise and realise the state’s domestic and foreign policy objectives. In recent years, their importance has grown and their nature has changed, from defensive to offensive. Moderating these messages – which portray an image of Russia and the world around it which is desirable from the authorities’ point of view – is regarded as an effective and perspective way of shaping collective consciousness.

• That which is called ‘state propaganda’ is actually a form of planned and long-term special operation, which employs techniques of manipulating information and elements of ‘manually controlling’ the general public. Set in a deterministic context of rivalry with the Western world, such propaganda requires the constant recreation or updating of the previous image of the ‘enemy’. The ‘Russophobe’ well suits the image of the ideological enemy; this approach makes it possible to devise categorical, extremely emotional and stimulating opinions.

• This new strategy of the fight against Russophobia brings dangerous trends with it. First of all, it treats Russophobia as a form of intolerance towards ethnic Russians, the Russian-speaking ethnic group and the Russian state which is equivalent to anti-Semitism, and treats the struggle against this phenomenon as an instrument which can be universally applied. The concept of ‘domestic Russophobia’ has expanded to cover Ukraine and Belarus, equating the Belarusian and Ukrainian national questions with a ‘civilisational’ question (Ukrainians and Belarusians are not considered separate nations, but are actually part of the ‘Russian world’). As developed on a strictly domestic Russian basis, this approach is directed against supporters of the democratisation and liberalisation of Russia. This means that the state considers critics of the regime as enemies, and works to publicly stigmatise and isolate them. On the other hand, attacking Russophobes serves as a way of immunising Russian society against doubts about the Kremlin’s policy.

• Building up an image of Russophobic countries is also instrumental in shaping a neo-imperial political identity among the citizens of the Russian Federation, mobilising them in the face of real or alleged threats, and also serves as a form of restoring psychological comfort to them in the face of the failure of the Kremlin’s actions (as in Ukraine, for example). The mythologised stereotype of Russophobic countries also remains a crowning argument and a simple explanation for the ongoing tensions in relations between Russia and the West.

• The fight against Russophobia, which today is growing into a universal phenomenon, is a manifestation of the negative programme of Russian policy throughout history. Until today, a positive programme (attractive, ideologically inspiring) has never been formulated by Russia. As a result, it has turned towards its imperial past and the traditional arguments of force.

• Informational activities based on the Russophobic stereotype are a breeding ground for Russian chauvinism, which in a multi-ethnic country can have opposite consequences to those intended. Externally – when seen as a way of communication between Russia and individual countries, forcing them to adjust their critical stance towards the Kremlin’s policy, and based on attributing hostile intentions, negative traits and values to their opponents – such actions represent a negation of dialogue by their very nature. They foreshadow an increase in the level of aggressiveness in Russian political rhetoric, the further self-isolation of Russia and – as in the days of the tsarist regime and the Soviet Union – the demonstration of an attitude of haughty isolationism.

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