How to ex­plain Ukraine's bash­ing?

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Philippe de Lara, Paris

Philippe de Lara`s af­ter­thoughts on Babchenko's case

Why is Ukraine’s bash­ing so wide­spread these days in Western me­dia and pub­lic opin­ion? I claim that this is the main ques­tion raised by the re­ac­tions to the Babchenko case. What­ever the re­main­ing dark zones, the case is un­der scru­tiny and freely in­ves­ti­gated.It has raised­mixed re­ac­tions among Ukraini­ans and friends of Ukraine. On one side, re­lief and joy: Babchenko’s as­sas­si­na­tion has been foiled, per­pe­tra­tors caught, and even pride: SBU showed (at last, some would add) great skills and ef­fi­ciency in man­ag­ing this op­er­a­tion. But there are also con­cerns on the other side: was this stag­ing nec­es­sary to pro­tect Babchenko and to trace the spon­sors of the at­tempted mur­der? Could not of­fi­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion be more con­vinc­ing and bet­ter or­ga­nized? M. Lut­senko’s abil­ity to be­have pub­licly as a Gen­eral Pros­e­cu­tor is prover­bial and we are used to clum­si­ness frompres­i­dency’s and govern­ment’s PR — which by the way is not a triv­ial con­cern: com­mu­ni­cat­ing with cit­i­zens in ap­pro­pri­ate ways is in­te­gral to a demo­cratic regime —, but such an op­er­a­tion, in the cur­rent con­text of Rus­sian in­for­ma­tion war­fare, called for bet­ter stan­dards. Dam­ages on Ukraine’s im­age in Western coun­tries are dev­as­tat­ing.So be it. But, even in the worst sce­nar­ios, and with the high­est sever­ity to­wards Ukraine’s of­fi­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion, there is a mas­sive dis­pro­por­tion and in­jus­tice in Western me­dia’s re­ac­tions. Con­fu­sion, bad faith, and prej­u­dice are Ukraine’s lot. Even peo­ple sym­pa­thetic to the Ukrainian cause are im­pressed by this col­lec­tive mis­judg­ment, as if it were Ukraine’ s ex­clu­sive re­spon­si­bil­ity that any in­for­ma­tion com­ing from Kyivhas now be­come sus­pi­cious. Why?

One cause has noth­ing per­sonal (as mafia killers say): it is the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the pub­lic sphere and me­dia ethics due to the un­bear­able im­me­di­acy of in­for­ma­tion, to the mix­ture of credulity and de­fi­ance which re­places crit­i­cal mind,and to the spread­ing of­con­spir­acist views, triv­i­al­ized by Rus­sian ide­ol­ogy and loved by so­cial net­works. The crav­ing for trans­parency is turn­ing democ­racy into an Or­wellian night­mare. Thought less emo­tions and con­form­ist im­i­ta­tion are re­plac­ing en­light­ened judg­ment. One dog barks and the hounds­fol­low blindly: “one can­not lie about a jour­nal­ist’s death” (why jour­nal­ists only?!), the fake news of Babchenko’s mur­der is a “dam­age to the truth”, as The Guardian said.

Then ex­pla­na­tions be­come per­sonal: nearly no­body in the West cared about Arkadi Babchenko’s per­son­al­ity and records, as if “Rus­sian op­po­nent” was a fuzzy, in­signif­i­cant if not sus­pi­cious la­bel. Babchenko is not only a jour­nal­ist but a hero who took un­be­liev­able risks in pub­licly con­fronting the Krem­lin. He was not in­ti­mated by the as­sas­si­na­tion of dozens of Rus­sian jour­nal­ists since Putin took power. His courage and in­tegrity should have been con­sid­ered, and would prob­a­bly have, if he were, say, a Turk­ish in­tel­lec­tual per­se­cuted by Er­do­gan. Even ex­pe­ri­enced colum­nists yielded blind ly to a huge con­fu­sion be­tween a forgery staged for po­lice pur­pose and re­vealed by the au­thor­i­ties within 24 hours, and the per­ma­nent and high scale lies of Rus­sia, in­clud­ing Putin’s unashamed denial on MH17, right on the eve of the Babchenko episode. Rather, this con­junc­tion lead to equate Ukraine and Rus­sia as big liars, and to raise sus­pi­cion on sub­se­quent news about the war and the hostages sit­u­a­tionin Ukraine: “are you sure that Sentsov is re­ally dy­ing, that these hunger strikes are not faked?”

This is of course a con­se­quence of Rus­sian bull­shit pro­pa­ganda, that is a pro­pa­ganda not meant to con­vince, but to dis­ori­ent pub­lic opin­ion, to bury facts un­der piles of fake news and false nar­ra­tives. This is not tran­sient: Ukraine is at the wrong place in the nar­ra­tive. Rea­sons are many, but I think the ul­ti­mate ones are: 1) Euro­peans are re­luc­tant to ad­mit the Rus­sian threat be­cause life is al­ready too painful with Is­lamist ter­ror­ism, mi­gra­tion cri­sis and Trump’s de­fec­tion. Even M. Macron seems to have suc­cumbed to the temp­ta­tion of com­pla­cency with Rus­sia, not to men­tion Ger­many’s ca­pit­u­la­tion on Nord Stream 2. 2) Ukraine ap­pears in this con­text as noth­ing but a thorn in the side of “ap­peased re­la­tions” with Rus­sia. So, let us for­get the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea, the hostages, the war, but let us watch out for the least mis­take or neg­li­gence of Ukraine, just to kill our guilt. Ul­ti­mately, this at­ti­tude is grounded in the as­sump­tion that Ukraine’s very ex­is­tence is nei­ther as­cer­tained nor le­git­i­mate. This could be com­pared with Is­rael’s predica­ment: gross dis­tor­tions in­re­ports on Ha­mas cam­paign


to in­vade “peace­fully” Is­rael and to burn its vil­lages put once more Is­rael in the bad guy role, not be­cause of the level of its re­tal­i­a­tion, but as a log­i­cal con­se­quence of the back­ground be­lief, ex­plicit or not, that Is­rael’s ex­is­tence is a mis­take, that the world fare bet­ter with­out Is­rael. Like­wise, what­ever Ukraine does, right or wrong,will be turned against it.Friends of Ukraine must keep their heads not to fall in the trap. Ukraine must cer­tainly amend it­self and even apol­o­gize for its flaws in re­forms, for in­stance the in­de­pen­dence of Anti-cor­rup­tion courts, but def­i­nitely not for what it does to de­fend it­self and to re­veal Rus­sia’s war on Euro­pean civ­i­liza­tion.

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