Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Got eggs? Ukraine's "Battle for History"...

I'm sure you have already seen/heard about this incident in Ukraine: sad and ridiculous at the same time. The reasons for the deal, as well as the opposition to it, seem to be more than just reasonable. But it all depends on the perspective. And, as always, that is where things get problematic.

I will not even try getting into the various issues involved. (See an interesting analysis here.)  What I wanted to point out, however, is the following short documentary that ran - at least 3-4 times - on Russia Today, on Monday.


"Battle for History," indeed...

...just a day before the events in the Rada. Did Russia see this coming? If so, was this a "preemptive attack"?

Well-conceived, I should say. Did it work? It certainly did.

If one looks at the issue as a "battle", providing such a context for the most recent events arguably gave the Russian (and the pro-Russian Ukrainian) side an advantage over (or at least, an equal footing with) the Ukrainian "nationalists". Watching the video segment on the post-ratification street rally, it's not difficult to draw the parallels: the same red-and-black flags, the same rhetoric...

Good public diplomacy?

Just a couple of days ago we had a discussion in class on whether "setting the record straight" with foreign publics can actually make for good public diplomacy (the specific case referred to the "Letter to the Editor" from Venezuela's Ambassador to the U.S. "clarifying" the various issues raised in the press about Venezuela). This might not be the most effective PD tool in general (talk of ethos in persuasion!); and yet, at least it gives a chance to get your explanation/version "out there", especially when the general media coverage is mostly negative and/or one-sided (whatever the reasons).

In the case of Ukraine, Russia could certainly anticipate such a reaction, if not on Tuesday, then any time throughout the week. (Although the "nationalist" MPs might have exceeded all of their expectations: the eggs made for a real good show!) Hence, the strategic timing of the documentary, explaining all the potential "misconceptions" that Western audiences might have regarding the history involved. (A tiny little problem here, however, is the number of people in RT's "audience".)

Nevertheless, a good try.

RT overdid it again, though, with its coverage of the actual events in Kiev. The analysis article read:

The idea [of the agreement] is so simple, and contains so many mutually advantageous features, that it is understandable why the Yushchenko presidency could not stay afloat: it was trying to swim against the current of what are arguably the only realistic parameters for not only successful Ukrainian-Russian relations, but Ukraine’s very economic survival.   [...]

According to Yanukovich, Ukraine will seek a comprehensive economic partnership with the European Union. This statement proves that the Ukrainian leader is truly working on behalf of the Ukrainian people, and not simply for a narrow political agenda."

Hm... Apparently, they haven't got the message yet.

As for history, here's a good quote from Open Democracy:

History is politics in all countries. But in countries which have been through the traumas suffered by Russia and Eastern Europe in the past century, it is unrealistic to hope that they will soon be able to write what the rest of us would regard as "objective" history."

But is there any objective history? Anywhere?

Some food for thought...

[Related: here's a link to a funny, controversial, and not-so-politically-correct blog post on the Ukrainian language. Too bad politics can't be all about jokes...]



  1. I think what those MPs did is pathetic and vulgar, to put it mildly. It clearly shows that they are dumb, regardless whether that "bright" idea to use eggs dawned upon them or they were manipulated into that provocation. Who in his or her right mind will take those clowns seriously (even if applauding them for some political reasons)?
    I think only those who do not want the simple truth out pretend not to see that it all boils down in Ukraine to usual things of resources and power (which helps one get close to those resources and to decision-making as to how those resources are used or, rather, misused).
    In that respect, "nationalists," pro-Russia activists, Bandera sympathizers, etc., etc. are the same. There is no need even to slightly scratch the surface.
    As regards history, of course there is no such thing as "objective" history, by definition.
    Like Orwell said, "who controls the past, controls the future."
    By the way, "objective" history can also be a useful device in PD (which to me seems better understood as "Propaganda Direct" rather than "Public Diplomacy").

  2. @Aramadz: Merci!

    @Vlad: I do agree. What I found most interesting, was the desperate cries from Timoshenko, who suddenly woke up to realize she misses her former "partners" and might be willing to work with them as long as they stand united in opposition (would that AT ALL be possible, again?). SO PATHETIC! "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" approach, and the artificial hyping-up of the issue, especially in their case, did not work + they've already lost their credibility over the past five years.. So I just really hope the general population stays reasonable, and does not give in to such manipulations.

    As for "PD": there is a difference between what it is theoretically, and how it's done on ground :)

  3. Good work done and a wonderful piece to read. Title is exquisitely right!!!

  4. I loved this! Yes, I realize it's ridiculous, but over-the-top political theatrics are a guilty pleasure. What can I say? I *do* think controlling the narrative is an essential part of PD. If only the Ukrainians had directed their egg-lobbing energies toward framing this decision in a positive context.

  5. you're SO right Laura... unfortunately, the issue has come to SUCH a ridiculous point, that all "framing" the opposition can handle is "eggs and smoke bombs". that in itself is telling, i guess... and 2042 is too far away, so all this might as well be in vain :))