Harry Potter and Russian Propaganda

© Juan Medina
The life of a Westerner today is fraught with peril: doping Russian athletes steal their medals, Russian hackers hack their emails, and polite Russian soldiers are always looking for a chance to invade and annex something.

But even those Westerners who are not athletes and who don’t use email still feel helpless, because they have this horrifying Russian Propaganda coming at them from every side and chasing them every step of the way, even in their sleep. 

In the West, everybody, even little children, know that there is such a thing as Russian Propaganda. They know Russian Propaganda is worse than heroin and crack. They know one dose changes you forever, turning a handsome intellectual into a degenerate drunkard with bad teeth. The only thing they did not know up until recently was how to resist Russian Propaganda – and whether it is even possible. Kind of like nobody knew how to resist He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named – until Harry Potter figured out a way. 

In this case, it is the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and the Legatum Institute who stepped up to the role of Harry Potter, publishing a joint report on how to resist Russian Propaganda. Western civilization can breathe a sigh of relief. The solution they provide is simple, effective and democratic. 

First, media should be punished for poor journalism. There will be a special commission deciding what is good journalism and what is bad journalism. Second, there have to be special counter-propaganda mechanisms to counter Russian Lies. Third, there should be watchdogs exposing inappropriate media. They even provide a specific example, Transparency International (oops). Fourth, it is necessary to set up a special group of psychologists, historians, sociologists and media specialists who will persuade those who fought for Germany in WWII that they never actually supported the Nazis. Fifth, they propose a targeted campaign in social media to rescue those who have fallen victim to Russian Propaganda. Sixth, Western bloggers should unite against the bloggers of Mordor (i.e. Russia). 

Also, they suggest generating Russian-language content, reorienting media to take into account the interests of the audience (?!), educating people to recognize Russian paid trolls among those leaving comments online, and boycotting the media disseminating Russian Propaganda. 

Well, the plan looks solid. I am not even going to get into the matter of how this squares with freedom of speech, freedom of thought and other values avowed by Western civilization. I mean, forget about Russia; Russia is a lost cause. But those guys, they’ve got free elections, responsible politicians and all that stuff. Whatever, let’s just imagine for a second that they really do. 

So, I just want to ask: who it is that the authors of this report intend to oppose? Russia Today and Sputnik? But all the Western media already oppose them. They don’t need any further motivation. There are hundreds of Western television networks versus Russia Today, which is all alone, and if Russia Today broadcasts Russian Propaganda, I don’t get it why people in the West buy this propaganda instead of pure democratic truth – and to such an extent that people in the West have to be rescued from it. 

So, I guess what they really mean is that they need to resist something bigger than just RT. Take bloggers, for example. Remember those “paid trolls”? Let’s say they do exist, and like some people tell us, their goal is to defend the Putin regime by opposing potential civil protest in social media. But that’s just the Russian language. The reason Russian blogosphere is so well-developed is because it is Russian. Do Western experts plan to confront Russian bloggers on their territory? Oh, I’d love to see that, I swear. In fact, I’d join the fun myself. 

The idea to create a “Russian-language content factory” is in the same category. Any Russian person working for such a factory will be automatically dismissed as a traitor in Russia. Any non-Russian person will be ridiculed as an outsider who does not know a thing about Russia. 

Do you know what these brilliant recommendations remind me of? It’s just like when a Russian MP suggests creating a Russian version of Hollywood to promote Russian values around the world. It makes perfect sense: look, Russians watch American movies, and they are full of American flags, American way of life, American rules. We should first ban US movies and second, make our own movies and play them in America. You know, movies with Russian flags, Russian way of life and Russian rules. 

I mean, it makes sense, right? And yet somehow it doesn’t work this way. There are a few minor problems. For instance, Americans don’t watch foreign films. Or, if a foreigner makes a really good film, Americans make a US version of it and watch the US version instead. There are exceptions but only a few. 

And then there is another problem: for quite a long time, Russians have been unable to produce a good blockbuster. The problem is, the film industry in Russia is not about making money; it’s a sophisticated mechanism for pocketing government subsidies. The business part of the movie-making process is over by the time you start to shoot the movie, because you have already received the necessary funds from the government. And if you ban American movies in Russia, movie theaters will shut down, because nobody wants to watch Russian films. And if there are no movie theaters, where will you screen the rare Russian movies that people do want to see? 

The people who offer their recommendations on fighting Russian Propaganda make the same mistake, ignoring small details. For example, they forget that there are 300 million Russian-speakers in the world at the most, whereas half of the world’s population speaks English. So, it is ridiculous to say Russian Propaganda (again, let’s assume that such a thing does exist) poses a serious threat. I don’t believe that people at CEPA and the Legatum Institute are idiots. So, if they are not idiots and yet they write this kind of stuff, perhaps they pursue the same goal as our hypothetical MP – namely, milking the government. 

But since all Western politicians can see is Russian hackers, Russian intelligence officers running around with urine samples and Russian Propaganda, personally, I feel there is nothing wrong with conning these paranoid gentlemen out of some cash. 

So, I guess we should show a bit of understanding as we read through this report by CEPA and the Legatum Institute. Especially considering that it is so hilarious. 

Maxim Kononenko, 45, is a journalist, an author and a pioneer of the Russian Internet. He is the founder of the vladimir.vladimirovich.ru project.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.