Patrik Baab has won outright. The ruling of the Schleswig-Holstein Administrative Court in his favor is now legally binding.
So now it’s official: Patrik Baab did nothing, with his trip to eastern Ukraine, that would justify ending his teaching position at Kiel University. The ruling of the Schleswig-Holstein Administrative Court of April 25 of this year is now legally binding. This is because Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (CAU) has allowed the deadline for appealing to the Higher Administrative Court to expire.
After a lot of chest-beating, in the end, CAU did not dare come out of hiding. Its decision to kick journalist Baab out may have been a kowtow to the political situation and especially to the foreign policy course of the German government—but this decision was never legally tenable.
Freedom of the Press Before Political Pandering
The reasoning of the Schleswig-Holstein Administrative Court explicitly emphasized “the freedom of science according to Article 5 (3) sentence 1, GG (Grundgesetz—German Basic Law) and the freedom of the press according to Article 5 (1) sentence 2, var. 1 GG, which the plaintiff [i.e., Baab] is entitled to invoke. The scope of protection of the freedom of the press guarantees,” the court explained in detail, “in its subjective-legal dimension, the rights of freedom against the state for persons and organizations active in the field of the press; in addition, in its objective-legal meaning, it guarantees the institution of the independence of the press.”
Freedom of the press, it goes on to say, “includes, with respect to printed matter, all conduct that serves to obtain, prepare and disseminate opinions and facts for the public… Holders of freedom of the press are also entitled to a subjective right of defense against indirect infringements.” The court expressly emphasized that Baab’s trip to eastern Ukraine at the time of the referenda also falls under this protection, as he was researching for a book and acting as a journalist.
This argumentation is nothing less than a strengthening of the freedom of the press in Germany. It has an impact on other journalists and publicists in the country who see themselves exposed to the reach of politics and academia. The ruling also says that freedom of the press is more important than the anticipatory obedience of various educational institutions that think they have to throw themselves at the mercy of ideologizing politics. Therefore, we are also dealing here with a rejection of ingratiation.
Kiel University as a War Party
Patrik Baab was a journalism lecturer in Kiel. There he taught research, critical questioning—in short: He showed what freedom of the press can achieve—and this at a university that has now received more or less official confirmation that it has not only failed to appreciate that very freedom of the press, but has torpedoed it. A fatal report card for the teaching institution. Can we hope that journalists trained there will have grasped, in the course of their studies, what the qualities of freedom of the press actually mean?
The administrative file on this incident, which is now available, is peppered with one-dimensional classifications of the Baab trip. The university protagonists quoted in it made themselves a war party in the matter. In effect, there is no mention of investigative openness as a value in itself—nor is there a brief interjection that journalists (should) go where it hurts.
But that’s exactly what Baab has done. Basically, he has shown his students—in exemplary fashion—what journalistic work means: not being satisfied with what other professional colleagues have already written, remaining suspicious, displaying skepticism and getting a picture of the scene for yourself. His employers, Kiel University, however, have now emphatically demonstrated that these values are not necessarily required at all—journalists who apply them tend to appear to be a nuisance, and they’d rather be shown the door.
The aforementioned administrative file mentions several names of professors who were in lively exchange when Baab’s trip became known via t-online—a news portal, known for its campaigns against intellectuals critical of the German government, and belonging to an advertising group that receives a large part of its orders from exactly this government. Again and again, the accusation was made that Baab had the wrong attitude—and therefore he must be unsuitable as a lecturer. The fact that he did not get on with the job, i.e., with a completely strict condemnation of Russia, thus led to the charge that he also refrained from factual analysis. This is a reproach throughout. Yet Baab has condemned the Russian invasion several times—his condemnation, however, also does not paralyze his journalistic ethos.
After the court decision, which the CAU did not even object to, apparently knowing that it had overreached considerably, the question now arises: Who will take responsibility for this democratic and constitutional failure? Who will justify the fact that funds allocated by the public were wasted for such an act of political pandering?
For example, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at Kiel University, Christian Martin, who was heavily involved in Baab’s dismissal and who teaches comparative governance and politics? Shouldn’t one expect more sensitivity to publicity from a teacher in this subject, i.e., a sense of how journalism is done and where not to get in its way? After all, this case is no trifle; here, a university has proven that it is willing to sacrifice freedom of the press just to puff itself up as being politically correct. The danger of teaching attitude rather than expertise does not seem so small—especially when people like Baab are thrown out the door.
Roberto J. De Lapuente is a journalist who writes from Germany. He is the author of Rechts gewinnt, weil Links versagt [The Right Wins because the Left Fails]. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Overton Magazin.
Featured: The Seal of Kiel University, with the motto: “Pax optima rerum” (“Peace is the best thing”).
How do you make a good propaganda film? How do you expose it before it wins a truth-telling award and embarrasses the prize-givers—before they discover it’s a pseudo-documentary that has been nominated for an “Oscar”—before the white envelopes are opened before millions of people on Oscar night, March 12th?
Of course, the film won, as Americans are easy to deceive, by films as well as by governments.
“Navalny” is a slick production full of easily-documented fabrications, disinformation, with lots of clever visuals to distract and manipulate viewers. It is about Russian political activist Alexei Navalny, who according to the respected Levada Institute has shown 2% support in Russia. But he and the film have a great deal of backing in Washington and London.
The three people credited as the production’s authors are Canadian Daniel Roher; he admits he has never visited Russia nor speaks Russian. Bulgarian Christo Grozev of Bellingcat; this is an organization openly hostile to Russia which acknowledges financing by governments of the U.S, UK and Europe, including by the National Endowment for Democracy, which took up the CIA’s funding role when that was exposed. In this video, U.S. officials admit its role as a NATO asset. And Russian Maria Pevchikh; she has worked for Navalny’s organization but has lived mostly outside Russia since 2006 and in 2019 obtained a British passport. Here’s a video about her curious connections to the UK government, a job in the UK parliament and insider information that Navalny would then [how did he know it] reveal about Russians accused of corruption. Another Navalny connection to the UK is his associate Vladimir Ashurkov’s role as an asset of the Integrity Initiative, an operation of the British MI6. CNN and Der Spiegel, which have put their names on the findings, acknowledge they joined an investigation by the group Bellingcat. This challenges the film’s credibility as an independent production.
The film’s hero, Alexei Navalny, has strong Washington ties. Navalny was a 2009-2010 fellow of the Open Society Foundations financed by George Soros, which supported a network of opposition NGOs in Russia before being banned in 2015. Then in 2010, he graduated from the Yale World Fellows which was called the White House Fellows under Bill Clinton’s presidency and is now the Yale Greenberg World Fellowship, after the donor, who got naming rights. The first program director of the Yale fellowship was Dan Esty, energy and environmental policy adviser for the 2008 Obama campaign.
When Navalny returned from the U.S. to Russia he continued the “nationalist” ie. racist anti-migrant activities he had started in 2007, when he was a founder of the National Russian Liberation Movement (NAROD). When NAROD was announced in 2008, it included the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), a far-right, nationalist and racist organization. In addition to opposing illegal immigration, the DPNI targeted Russians from ethnic, religious, and sexual minority backgrounds. It provided assistance to Nazi skinheads implicated in attacks on foreigners, representatives of sexual minorities, anti-fascists and adherents of “non-traditional religions.” In a speech, the founder said, “We will free Europe! Russia will be white!” And “We are the real power, not those who are hiding in this Torah!”
In this video, Navalny compares ethnic minorities to cockroaches, and says that using a swatter or a shoe against them was no good. Note the faces on the left and the garb of the threatening man on the right. The words under the photo say HOMOSAPIENS. And under that BEZPREDELIUS.
A Russian analyst said: The word is a combination of two words: “bez”, which means without and “predel” which means limit. The ending “ius” is added to the word “bezpredel” (“беспредел”) to make it sound like a Latin word. Google translates it as “lawlessness,” but the use comes from criminal jargon and meant actions that were not allowed by the unwritten criminal code of conduct in correctional institutions. In early days the meaning of this word was “actions that go beyond all written and unwritten laws.”
And that is how Navalny describes the men in the photo. The analyst said, “The three people in the photo look very familiar. They are Chechens,” from the Caucuses. Navalny says, “In such cases [dealing with such insects] I recommend a handgun.” See the video on YouTube.
The “new political nationalism,” Navalny said at the time, “should become the core of Russia’s political system.” Such public activities and statements apparently didn’t prevent invitations by the Open Society and Yale.
Navalny’s NAROD stopped operating in 2011, the year the Supreme Court of Russia declared its partner DPNI an extremist organization and banned it. Navalny said NAROD “organizationally failed” but formulated a “very correct platform.” His education about “democracy” in the U.S. apparently didn’t change his racism.
Director Roher says in the film that, “he was known for having flirted with the extreme right.” “Flirted?” It looked like a pretty solid marriage! Roher says he has to ask Navalny about his “early days” when “he walked side by side with some pretty nasty nationalists and racists. Had he moved beyond that? Had he actually become a reverse dark knight?”
Navalny apparently rejects the proffered knighthood. He responds: “Well, in the normal world, in the normal, political system, of course, I would never be within the same political party with them. But we are creating coalition, broader coalition to fight their regime…And I consider it’s my political superpower, I can talk to everyone. Anyway, well, they are citizen of Russian Federation.” Sounds rather mild compared to the enthusiasm of his public statements for NAROD. Roher ran some other videos of Navalny’s past, but somehow missed the cockroach one. Or any details of what the far right was doing to the people they reviled.
(American “liberals” cheering Navalny and the film should see the video. Would they “cancel” him? Or do virulent racists who attack Putin get a pass?)
When Navalny returned to Russia, he also started an anti-corruption campaign, which admittedly was more on Washington’s agenda than the racism. It was endorsed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Navalny allied with exiled oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky; he had been jailed for ten years for documented tax evasion using offshore shell company transfer pricing to launder profits of oil company Yukos, which he obtained through the infamous corrupt loans for shares deal in the Boris Yeltsin years.
However, a few years earlier, Navalny had had his own criminal fraud problem, along with his brother Oleg.
In 2008, when the state-owned Russian Post decided to end collecting parcels from clients’ distribution centers, Oleg Navalny, persuaded several companies to shift to the privately owned Chief Subscription Agency (GPA), not revealing it was a company he, Alexei and their parents had just set up in tax haven Cyprus. Later, Yves Rocher Vostok, part of the French cosmetics firm, sued that they were deprived of free choice and weren’t told GPA was using subcontractors which charged around half as much as they paid GPA and that the Navalny cutout kept the difference as profit. A court gave Alexei a suspended sentence of 3 ½ years and his brother a prison sentence of the same term.
The European Court on Human Rights found, “By all accounts, GPA was set up for profit-making purposes and the applicants thus pursued the same goal as any other founder of a commercial entity.” So, in spite of questionable insider tricks, the European court deemed it no crime, because that is how business is done. But it was still an ethics problem for the “fighter against corruption,” because some people think that making money off such insider dealing is unethical.
Although the plaintiff Yves Rocher was part of a French company, which sued for damages in France, Western media depicted the trial as a sham instigated by President Vladimir Putin and didn’t report the full details of the case. Navalny’s violation of his conviction parole by failing to return to Russia as soon as he had recovered his health in Germany were the grounds for his arrest on January 17, 2021, and his subsequent court sentence to prison, where he remains. U.S. court rules for parole violations would not be different.
Navalny also became a player in America’s Russiagate operation. He published a video in 2018 claiming that Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska acted as a messenger between President Donald Trump’s ex-campaign chief Paul Manafort and a top Kremlin foreign policy official. The Trump-Russia stories have all been proved false, including this one. However, Navalny has not corrected his anti-Trump video. This confirms not only his standard for truthfulness in documentary work, but also what allies he has made in the U.S.
But Washington’s boy was not so popular in Russia. During the Russian regional election campaign of 2020, Navalny was making regular trips out of Moscow to promote his anti-corruption organization. He claimed popular support, though according to the Levada Poll, he was drawing no more than 2% among Russians countrywide – less in the regions, more among the young in Moscow.
On August 20th, winding up a campaign in southeastern Siberia, Navalny got on the regularly scheduled flight from Tomsk to Moscow and fell ill. On the pilot’s decision, the aircraft made an unscheduled landing in Omsk, and Navalny was taken to a city hospital. The emergency ward staff treated his symptoms and stabilized his condition. A medical evacuation aircraft arrived from Germany the next day after Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, received Kremlin permission for his treatment in Germany, and he was flown from Omsk to Berlin August 22, with his wife accompanying him on the flight.
Navalny has had a history of medical conditions known to reflect the sudden reduction in blood sugar and cholinesterase levels – diabetes and allergies leading to anaphylactic shock. This information, which had been reported in Russia and by Navalny sources well before the Tomsk incident, was not make public after his arrival in Germany. Indeed, Pevchikh told the BCC Navalny did not have diabetes. For someone without diabetes, Navalny’s glucose level would have been dangerous. However, according to IntelliNews, published in Berlin, “Navalny said himself that he suffered from diabetes in 2019.”
The earliest claims that Russian intelligence agents had poisoned Navalny were made by CNN, which said they were based on a Bellingcat investigation. The CNN articles, December 14 and 21, 2020, scripted the essence of what the film produced the following year and released in 2022.
The film starts with Navalny returning to Russia after several months in Germany and then goes to flashbacks.
In one of the flashbacks Navalny makes an admission whose honesty is worth noting. He is complaining that he has gone to Novosibirsk in Siberia to make a movie about local corruption. He says, “I expected a lot of people who’d try to prevent our filming, confiscate our cameras or just break our cameras or try to beat us. I expected that sort of things and I was very surprised, like, “Why is nobody here?” “Why is there kind of…” I even have this strange feeling like, like a lack of respect. Like, seriously? I’m here and where is my police?” This is evidence from Navalny himself that he was far less important than he, the western press, and the filmmakers claim he was. It casts doubt from the beginning of the Navalny film that the president of Russia was out to get him and sent hitmen to Tomsk.
But let’s get to the fabrications at the heart of the film. There’s a long section about how Christo Grozev, identified as working for Bellingcat, buys travel and contact data on the Darknet to find the names and phone numbers of Federal Security Service (FSB) agents who had been traveling on planes to Siberia in August of 2020. There is no way to verify that the charts and faces substantiate what Grozev and Bellingcat say they prove, at least not at any standard required in any prosecution service or court in the U.S. In fact, CNN reported December 14, 2020, “CNN cannot confirm with certainty that it was the unit based at Akademika Vargi Street that poisoned Navalny with Novichok on the night of August 19.”
The Great Phone Call Hoax
The real test of the veracity of the film, the “smoking gun” to which everything is leading, is the great telephone call hoax.
Those who made the film have understood the psychology of manipulating audiences. Slowly you bring them into a secret scam to be played on the bad guys. In this one, it starts with Navalny putting on a body mike. Why? He is not going somewhere to secretly record someone. Only his own team is in the room. The real recording microphone is off camera, where the film audience can’t see it.
But the body mike is a special effect, it’s a dramatist’s stage trick. Click the arrow. Navalny speaks to the camera: “Now I’m totally feel like I’m an undercover agent, with the wired up.” Does the audience know they are the butt of a theatrical joke?
Navalny calls three “FSB” agents. This is a setup for a veracity diversion, a factoid – that’s a seeming truth disguising a fake. We can be sure of this now, because he says to each of them, “I am Navalny; why do you want to kill me?” And the fake people hang up. What is the point of that? It’s to convince the audience of Navalny’s film production that the FSB was being telephoned. The voices are not real, they sound the same – either computer generated or acted by a professional mimic.
But then there’s his pièce de résistance, the interview with “the scientist” whom Grozev tells Navalny to call, because he will be more likely to talk than the regular FSB agents.
Navalny declares (as translated), “Konstantin Borisovich, hello my name is Ustinov Maxim Sergeyevich. I am Nikolay Platonovich’s assistant.” He says, “I need ten minutes of your time …will probably ask you later for a report …but I am now making a report for Nikolay Platonovich … what went wrong with us in Tomsk…why did the Navalny operation fail?”
According to Bellingcat, (the real) Kudryavtsev worked at the Ministry of Defense biological security research center and is a specialist in chemical and biological weapons. Supposedly not so stupid.
The talkative “Konstantin” says, “I would rate the job as well done. We did it just as planned, the way we rehearsed it many times. But when the flight made an emergency landing the situation changed, not in our favor….The medics on the ground acted right away. They injected him with an antidote of some sort. So it seems the dose was underestimated. Our calculations were good, we even applied extra.”
Navalny was questioned by the Berlin Staatsanwaltschaft (District Attorney) on December 17, 2020. Did he tell them about the phone call to Konstantin Kudryavtsev, which allegedly took place on December 14?
The office confirmed the interrogation, but when I sent a link to Navalny’s claims about the December 14th “call” three days earlier, a spokesman said they could not comment further.
There are key clues to the film’s fabrications. They deal with dates and timing which are not subject to dispute: the dangers of Novichok, the date of “Kudryavstev’s” “cleaning” in Omsk, and the date of the phone calls.
First about the “poisoning.”
Yulia Navalnaya says in the film, “After a week I was unexpectedly called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” As the Navalny group arrived August 22, that would have been about August 29th. “They said we have discovered that your husband was poisoned with an agent from the Novichok group.”
It was not the Charité lab that found this. The German Government announced not one week but two weeks after the group’s arrival that a laboratory of the German Armed Forces had identified a nerve agent from the Novichok group in blood samples collected after the patient’s admission to Charité. Link is to the Lancet report.
Unlike the civilian doctors, who had not found Novichok, the military lab would not release details of its tests. There was no toxicology report, no name of the expert in charge of the testing and of the interpretation of the results, no name and formula of the chemical compound of the “Novichok group.” The Germans refused to send any medical or toxicological evidence they claimed to substantiate the attempted homicide to Moscow prosecutors investigating the crime. From then on, by hearsay and without evidence, the story became the West’s “Putin poisoned Navalny.”
Second, Navalny’s underpants. Navalny, his wife Yulia, his assistant Pevchikh, his press spokesman, others in his group, and the reporters publishing what they were told had been claiming until that moment that the instrument of the Novichok, the poison vector, had been a tea cup at the airport café, then a water bottle in the Tomsk hotel room.
Pevchikh, she repeatedly told the press, had filmed the removal of the hotel room water bottles, taken them secretly to Omsk, then loaded them on the medevac flight to Berlin in the luggage of one of the medevac crew, and delivered them from the German ambulance into the Berlin hospital by hand. But then, after four months had elapsed, the story became underpants.
A CNN clip not in the film claims the poison was put on the underpants “across the seams” at the button flap, but in what form – powder, aerosolized spray, or gel? Was the FSB counting on Navalny not to notice or feel moisture as he dressed? Was the poison then in direct contact with his body?
On the plane, Navalny fell ill, and the pilot diverted to Omsk, where he was transferred to a hospital. The calculated lethality of the dose should have been fatal after symptom onset. However, the first symptoms appeared only after several hours, and they remained non-lethal for at least one more hour between Navalny going to the toilet cabin on his flight and his reaching Omsk hospital.
The Timing of Kudryavtsev’s Trip and “Cleaning”
CNN declares that “Kudryavtsev” flies from Moscow to Omsk on August 25, five days after the event, to take possession of Navalny’s clothes and “clean” them. It displays a visual of a flight from Moscow. But the FSB would have known of the diversion to Omsk August 20th. Would it have waited five days to send an agent there?
Were the underpants still considered dangerous? Did hospital workers who undressed Navalny get sick? Many people were exposed to Navalny and his deadly underpants, but not one has been reported to have fallen ill. The passengers who attended him in the plane and who flew on to Moscow have not reported medical problems. (For how Novichok affects people, see data from a university research scientist and a Food and Chemical Toxicology paper.)
The film “Kudryavtsev” voice says, “When we arrived [in Omsk], they gave [the underpants] to us, the local Omsk guys brought [them] with the police.” Did any police fall ill?
“Kudryavstev” says, “When we finished working on them everything was clean.” He explains that solutions were applied, “so that there were no traces left on the clothes.” CNN, in its video, has “Kudryavtsev” saying that he also cleaned Navalny’s pants, not mentioned in the film. Navalny is shown in Berlin holding the underpants. Did the Omsk police ship the “decontaminated” item to Germany?
There are more Problems with this Story
There is conflicting information about whether Navalny’s underpants remained in Omsk.
Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh posted a tweet August 20, 2020 with the text: “Julia took Alexei’s things with her. She said that she did not allow them to be confiscated.” However, The Guardian reported September 21 that Navalny “demanded that Moscow return his clothes.” At any rate, the Charité Hospital said it did not test the water bottles or clothing.
Most important is the date of the phone call.
Ronald Thomas West, who identifies as a U.S. Special Forces veteran working in Europe, writes, with irony:
There is conflicting information about whether Navalny’s underpants remained in Omsk.
Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh posted a tweet August 20, 2020 with the text: “Julia took Alexei’s things with her. She said that she did not allow them to be confiscated.” However, The Guardian reported September 21 that Navalny “demanded that Moscow return his clothes.” At any rate, the Charité Hospital said it did not test the water bottles or clothing.
Most important is the date of the phone call.
Ronald Thomas West, who identifies as a U.S. Special Forces veteran working in Europe, writes, with irony:
West says, “ The poisoning happened on 20 August, the ‘hoax call’ is made on 14 December, and released by Bellingcat on 21 December. Now, wait a minute. The context of the call, a desperate demand for answers of what went wrong (Navalny didn’t die) for a report to higher up authority, is something you would expect within the first 48 hours, not nearly three months later. By the time this call was made, that dust should have settled and been vacuumed up by Russia’s intelligence services, everyone would have been debriefed by this time, including the target of the hoax call.”
The Trojan Horse
Maya Daisy Hawke, the film’s co-editor, makes an unusual admission on her website. She said “It’s the best thing I ever worked on; the highlight of my career,” and adds, “Navalny was a Trojan horse.” I emailed her and asked what she meant, pointing out that Merriam-Webster defines trojan horse as “someone or something intended to defeat or subvert from within usually by deceptive means.” She walked it back and said, “They were hastily chosen words on a personal social media post.” She declined further comment and told me to contact the film’s publicist. I did. Charlie Olsky of Cineticmedia also declined to answer questions.
The film supports an analysis of the Russian public that is fallacious.
An unidentified woman says, “What to do with Navalny presents a conundrum for the Kremlin, let him go and risk looking weak, or lock him up, knowing it could turn him into a political martyr.” A U.S. broadcast reporter says, “Unexpectedly, Vladimir Putin has a genuine challenger. More than any other opposition figure in Russia, Alexei Navalny gets ordinary people out to protest.”
However, Eric Kraus, a French financial strategist working in Moscow since 1997, explains, “Mr. Navalny was always a minor factor in Russia. He had a hard-core supporter base — Western-aspiring young people in Moscow and St. Petersburg — the ‘Facebook Generation.’ He was never much loved out in the sticks and could never have polled beyond 7% nationwide, even before the war. Ordinary Russians now increasingly see the West as the enemy. Navalny is seen as the agent of forces seeking to break or constrain Russia. Now, he would get closer to 2%.” (Kraus has been cited as an expert by western media.)
Kraus said, “He is the supreme political opportunist. In Moscow, speaking in English to an audience of Western fund managers and journalists, it is the squeaky clean, liberal Navalny. Full of free markets, diversity, and social justice. Hearing him a few months later out in Siberia, speaking in Russian, one encounters an entirely different animal – fiercely nationalistic, angry and somewhat racist – there, his slogan is “kick out the thieves” but especially “Russia for the ethnic Russians,” anyone without Slavic blood, especially immigrants from the Caucuses, are second-class citizens.” NAROD may be gone, but it’s still in Navalny’s heart. Unlike what Roher says, his “current days” seem pretty much like the “early days” of his cockroach film.
Finally, if readers can take any more drama, I ended up in the center of one!
As a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, I was invited to a November 9, 2022 “Navalny” screening by CNN at 30 Hudson Yards in Manhattan. The post-film moderator was Timothy Frye, professor of post-Soviet foreign policy at Columbia University; the speakers were the filmmakers. I recorded them. Frye asked about “the one scene where Navalny is talking and getting the fellow to, you know, tricking him into speaking.”
Filmmaker Roher explained the political purpose: “And then the war started and what I understood was that this film became not just a film but we were now on a mission to remind the world that Vladimir Putin is not Russia and Russia is not Vladimir Putin and is Navalny.”
In the talk-back, I asked a question. “My name is Lucy Komisar, and I’m an investigative journalist. I want to delve more into the Kudryavtsev story. Mr. Navalny was questioned by the prosecutor in Berlin on December 17th. And three days earlier was the phone call with Kudryavtsev. Did he tell the prosecutor about the phone call which I assume they would have to check the authenticity of, and what did they determine about him? He claims on the phone call he examined these things on August 25 …. But on August 20….” (In fact,“Kudryavtsev” didn’t give the August 25th date, Bellingcat did.)
Interruption by Prof. Frye: “This is all on the issue and nobody else. Which is that after we stop in 10 minutes. There will be drinks. Okay, that’s….”
LK: “The point is the press secretary said Alexei’s things were taken by Yulia before that, and she didn’t allow them to be seized. So how could they have been examined by this man after they were already taken away? And finally, the Berlin doctor said they didn’t detect any poisoning in Navalny’s blood, but two weeks later it was the German Armed Forces laboratory that said, yes.
So, all these things I think are contradictory and I would like to know the facts of why these contradictions exist.”
Christo Grozev: “Almost none of this was actually correct and including the sequence of events. I mean this was reactive and FSB officer on screen on recording that I made on my phone confessing to all of that.”
LK: “You said it’s him, but we don’t know it’s him.”
Grozev: “Well, I think the rest of the world knows and now okay. Be nice to know who you work for because….”
LK: “Oh, is this gonna be a [Joe] McCarthy question now?”
And at the end, Prof. Frye: “Well, thank you, Tim, Maria, Christo and Daniel. Thanks also to CNN HBO Max Warner Brothers Pictures … .”
He invited us all to drinks at Milos, a trendy restaurant in the complex. I went to the reception and asked Roher if I could interview him. He screamed at me, Noooo! And accused me of working for the Russians.
Then on the 17th I got an email from Nancy Bodurtha, Council on Foreign Relations Meetings and Membership Vice President. She had received complaints about my “conduct” at the screening. She threatened that I could be dropped from membership.
She said: “I have received numerous complaints concerning your conduct at CFR’s November 9 documentary screening and discussion of Navalny. As stated in the member handbook, CFR is committed to maintaining a civil and respectful environment. All members are expected to exhibit the highest levels of courtesy and respect toward speakers, moderators, staff, guests, and one another. As a nonpartisan organization committed to hosting a wide range of viewpoints and perspectives to be debated and discussed freely, it is essential that the Council foster an inclusive and welcoming environment free from verbal, written, or physical harassment of any kind.
Per the Council’s By-Laws, a member may be dropped or suspended from membership for any conduct that is prejudicial to the best interests, reputation, and proper functioning of the Council.
Please be advised that further misconduct may result in suspension with the possibility of the termination of your membership as determined by the board of directors.”
“Dear Ms. Bodurtha
Regarding “numerous complaints concerning your conduct at CFR’s November 9 documentary screening and discussion of Navalny” which you cite, please send me copies of the complaints, including who sent them. I’m sure you agree that a Council member has the right to specifics on such an attack. If a person seeks anonymity, that raises questions about the truthfulness of their charges.
Did you investigate the complaints? If not, why not? If so, what were your findings?
Do you know what I said at the meeting? Like many journalists, when I ask a question of public figures in a public place, I record the interchange to make sure I can quote correctly.
[Here I repeated the recorded Q&A.]
What part of my question do you find objectionable? What as a journalist did I not have a right to ask? How was this harassment? Does courtesy and civility mean one cannot challenge what a film or speaker says?
Does allowing a wide range of viewpoints end when the challenge is to a view a Council staff member may not support? Were my statements deemed so dangerous that you voice a threat to throw me out of the Council? Who signed off on the decision to send me your notice?
After the film, I attended a reception where I encountered the filmmaker Daniel Roher and asked if I could interview him. In the presence of many people, he screamed at me, No! and said I was working for the Russians. Pretty much what Christo Grozev suggested. This persuades me that the “numerous complaints” came from Roher and his collaborators.
I look forward to you telling me who made the complaints, what they said, if you investigated their truthfulness and what in the above citation you find objectionable.
I don’t like attempts at intimidation. Neither should the Council. Nor would the Board. If I was not intimidated by killer racists in the early 60s, when I spent a year as editor of the Mississippi Free Press, I will hardly be intimidated now.
This persuades me I must write an article about the film and mention the “complaints” and your threat, which I dismiss as part of the cancel culture and deeply harmful to our society. Accordingly, let’s be clear that this exchange is on the record.
Her response was
“Lucy: I acknowledge receipt of your response to my email and reiterate the Council’s expectation that members exhibit the highest levels of courtesy and respect toward speakers, moderators, staff, guests, and one another. Best, Nancy”
Navalny, Bellingcat, and the filmmakers have made a documentary about the FSB creating not a professional hit, but a plan for immeasurable chaos, with high odds of failure and exposure to the public. The only professionalism is the filmmakers’ strike against their targets: the western media, the film’s audience, and maybe voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Linked to by Johnson’s Russia List, ACURA (American Committee on US Russia Accord), Naked Capitalism, Occupy the Future / Alternative Banking, and the Member Wall of the Council on Foreign Relations.
And the winner is…..envelope to the deep state and its asset Bellingcat, with a shout out to Victoria Nuland and her acolyte Antony Blinken,plus the mainstream and soi-disant independent media for turning a blind eye to the film’s fabrications.
This film, feeding Russophobia, primes Americans to support Washington’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine even with the danger of nuclear annihilation. That golden Oscar should be draped in black.
This article has been attacked by Bellingcat, the US-UK deep state asset. That is an endorsement!
Note new book The Navalny Case: Conspiracy to serve foreign policy by Jacques Baud, colonel of Swiss intelligence in charge of intelligence on the Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War.
Lucy Komisar is a well-known investigative journalist. This article appears through her kind courtesy, from her website.
On September 25, 2022, I was standing at the window in my room on the 5th floor of the Park Inn hotel in Donetsk. I watched as an artillery shell hit an apartment building. 800 meters away from me, part of the facade came crashing down. At about the same time, I got a text message from T-Online. The editor, Lars Wienand, wanted to know if I was an election observer at the referenda in the Russian-occupied territories. I was on one of several research trips to Ukraine and Russia. I clarified that I belonged to a journalist group. Apparently, he only asked pro forma. Because my denial did not interest him at all.
What came next is a moral picture of self-proclaimed quality journalism and foremost academic culture. I therefore must tell you about myself. But, in fact, this is really all about you. About your freedom of opinion and information, about your freedom of research and teaching. It’s about Article 5 of the German Basic Law. It is about how, in the service of propaganda, desk jockeys try to censor public opinion, to politically cleanse academic life and to destroy livelihoods; and in this way make an example, to force anticipatory obedience by creating fear—in you.
While my associate and I were trying to escape militias, snipers, artillery shells and mines in the Donbass, desk-jockey editors in Germany were launching a journalistic attack. I was made into an election observer at Putin’s sham referendums, an apologist for the Kremlin, a journalist on a political errand. As a result, the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel and the Hochschule für Medien, Kommunikation und Wirtschaft (HMKW) in Berlin cancelled my lectureships. They fell for a hoax that has been fabricated in such a way that someone has to fall for it. Such denunciation campaigns, for which T-Online is well-known, only work when others join in. No one checked. This points to the kowtowing of academic elites to propaganda.
Here are the facts:
In Luhansk and Donetsk, I attended two press conferences at the request of the local authorities. I also did this during research in the Kosovo War in 1999 and in Afghanistan in 2002—both wars of aggression, by the way, that were also illegal under international law. There were no mandates from the UN Security Council.
Nevertheless, I accompanied German soldiers on their missions, took part in military briefings and press conferences, spoke there myself, explained my research assignment and reported on my experiences. This is nothing unusual, if only because all those involved need to exchange information, for example, about where mines had not yet been cleared or where dispersed free fighters were on the move. Anyone who, like me, has been in a minefield (near Orahovac) or under fire (near Prizren) knows the importance of such coordination. Thus, I was “embedded” in the KFOR. No one would have thought of accusing me of this or even of claiming that I could not report independently, that I would even spread KFOR propaganda or justify a war of aggression in violation of international law.
My stay in Donetsk demonstrated yet again how dangerous such research is: our hotel was shelled with heavy artillery from Marinka, while a 155-millimeter shell just missed the Park Inn and my room on the 5th floor. Our local associate and driver Yevgeny was killed six weeks later by HIMARS rocket fire.
Exchanging information, including that concerning the mood of the population, is virtually a matter of survival in a war zone. That’s why I also talked to Russians. As a journalist, I am constantly talking to people who have different origins or different opinions. That is the core of my work. It’s not about having something in common with them, but that’s how information is researched. Moreover, no one would have thought of accusing Peter Scholl-Latour, for example, who was the first to film from the Viet Cong side, in the 1973 Vietnam War, of spreading communist propaganda. Reporter Martha Gellhorn survived eight wars (Spain 1937; Finland 1939; China 1941; Italian front 1943; Normandy invasion 1944; Vietnam War 1966; Six Day War 1967; civil war in El Salvador from 1980). She was also “embedded” in the U.S. Armed Forces (at the rank of captain) during World War II. No one ever thought of accusing her of one-sided reporting.
Reporting from a war and crisis zone is absolutely impossible without contact with the people involved—even if they have blood on their hands.
One more thing: This war in Ukraine will end at the negotiating table—or we’ll all be blown up. One can get used to the idea of negotiating with Russians. I have been talking to people from Russia for 25 years. Among them are government employees as well as opposition members. I have friends on both sides of the front, in Russia and in Ukraine. For more than 20 years, I have been bringing back films from Russia that critically examine grievances in Putin’s state. The Swiss Infosperber and the Canadian The Postil Magazine have taken the trouble to link these contributions so that everyone can see them. My research in Russia has brought me two unpleasant encounters with the FSB domestic intelligence service. Once we narrowly escaped arrest. There are witnesses to these events.
It is quite brazen when desk jockeys in universities or editors of online media, who have no idea about the conditions in war and crisis zones and have hardly attracted attention with their own independent research results, accuse me, who has stuck my neck out for independent reporting, of propaganda. They should first of all listen carefully so that their own heads are not crammed with propaganda.
At the beginning of the press conference, I made it clear that I was not speaking as an election observer, but as a journalist doing research for a book project. This was correctly translated into Russian by Sergey Filbert. We were both properly accredited. The planning of the trip had begun in the spring of 2022, when there was no talk of referenda. The date was communicated to us only three days before, in Moscow. The research trip was paid for by ourselves; we did not receive any offers of bribes. We were able to move completely independently in the war zone. The local military authorities did not impose any conditions.
During the press conference, I explained that this referendum did not meet the requirements for a free and secret-ballot election. However, I also explained that the results reflect the mood of the population. After all, the Donbass has been shelled by the Ukrainian army since 2014, and there have been more than 14,000 deaths, according to UN figures. For this reason, the population came into opposition to the government in Kiev. All this was too much for the journalistic satraps of the power elites: the truth about the Donbass must not reach German living rooms—that would undermine the propaganda narratives.
T-Online portrayed me as an election observer, although I clearly stated that I was not an election observer. The portal insinuated that I was indifferent to Putin’s war of aggression. I took legal action against this. Russian media may have called me an election observer, but it would have been T-Online’s job to check the factuality of this. Media is a filter pretending to be a clear window. In journalism, it’s not enough to sit at a desk and stare at a computer. Because on the Internet, you can only find what someone else has uploaded—according to their own selection and their own interests. Anyone who knows that is looking for a reference source in the real world.
It would have been easy to find out. A call to the Civil Chamber of the Russian Federation, which is competent according to the Constitution, would have sufficed; the contact details can be found on their website. Something like, “Could you send me a list of your election observers?” Don’t worry. German is a very popular foreign language in Russia; English can also help in a pinch. Presumably, the Civil Chamber media center would have referred to its website. There you will find a press release dated September 29, 2022, about a hearing before the Civil Chamber in Moscow with all election observers. I was not a participant in the hearing, nor am I named in the press release. Time needed for such? Maybe 15 minutes. Those who are afraid to talk to Russians could have entered my name into a search engine. They would have come across my website, or the portal Vimeo. My reports from Russia can be viewed on these sites. The effort involved? Perhaps 10 minutes. But T-Online forged ahead without any such source in the real world and thus violated its duty of care. The principle of craftsmanship: Audiatur et altera pars—which is why I researched on both sides of the front—was also put aside. The number of clicks is more important than clean craftsmanship. All this shows that it was obviously not about research, but about denunciation. Because such denunciation campaigns generate clicks and increase advertising revenues.
This made it all the more urgent for T-Online to call the universities mentioned. Helge Buttgereit’s account probably hits the nail on the head: “The T-Online journalist learned of Mr. Baab’s presence on site, researched his background and made a press inquiry to the Berlin University of Media, Communication and Business (HMKW). “Do you know what your lecturer is doing there? At the mock referendums? He’s legitimizing them! Do you think that’s good?” That’s how it might have been. It doesn’t matter how exactly, because according to its own statement, the university was on the phone with the delinquent, who was made one by his mere presence in the wrong place at the wrong time. And then a statement was hastily published on the homepage. The gist: We condemn and distance ourselves (HMKW, 26.9.22). Meanwhile, the article appeared on the net. Author Wienand could now add the accomplishment of his mission right away; online many things can be changed and enhanced quickly.”
The call from HMKW was indeed not long in coming. We were on the edge of the gray zone and had just escaped direct fire. The line was full of static. All I heard was, “We will sharply separate ourselves from you… What you are seeing on the ground is bogus objectivity!” That the shells that just flew around our heads were only fired for appearances—I would not have thought of that. Someone who at best has newspaper knowledge wants to know the truth in the war zone by remote diagnosis from a distance of 2,100 kilometers. That would be a challenge even for experts on Eastern Europe. But the chancellor of HMKW, Roland Freytag, is not an expert on Eastern Europe; his area is psychology. In his field, such a thing is called “projection.”
In the HMKW press release, I was accused of having legitimized the “sham referenda” and of having made myself the fig leaf of the aggressors. It was incompatible with the basic principles of HMKW to employ me further. But if research on the ground legitimizes the local rulers, then the press is no longer allowed to check the propaganda of the warring parties against reality and is limited to spreading their propaganda lies. For only on the spot is something possible that cannot be done at the desk—and nor in editorial offices or academies—a reality check. [Walter Lippmann observes: “The newspaper covers a lot of events that are beyond our world of experience… Apart from the interested party, seldom is anyone able to verify the accuracy of a report.”]
So, what Freytag says and does, how the CAU behaves, is an attack on press freedom and an attempt at indirect censorship. Quite apart from the fact that journalists would then also no longer be allowed to report on abuses or violations of the law in Russia, as I have done. This means that these universities support the disinformation of a war party and thus become a war party themselves. They are thus violating Article 5 of the German Basic Law and the freedom of opinion, research and teaching enshrined in the Basic Law.
HMKW Chancellor Roland Freytag was an obedient GDR citizen, a fellow traveler of the SED system. Then came the time of change, and he changed roles. Now he strongly advocated democracy and invoked the new freedoms. That’s how he got to the top as a turncoat. He was one of the speakers at the big demonstration on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz on November 4, 1989, which heralded the beginning of the end of the SED state.
A turncoat from the GDR like Roland Freytag wanted to explain to me (who has demonstrably been resistant in different systems), and from a distance—the reality that I was currently researching on the ground. This behavior belongs in the textbook of anticipatory obedience. For here we are dealing not only with an uninformed know-it-all, but with the primacy of propaganda, albeit Western propaganda. Professor Freytag obviously learned a lot in the SED state—above all, to swim with the tide. The attitude is: If the prevailing opinion does not fit reality—all the worse for reality.
Kiel University also immediately terminated my teaching contract. In contrast to HMKW, however, the teaching contract had already been written out. This made it possible to take legal action. The notice was given in an expedited procedure, because there was imminent danger. Therefore, the hearing required by administrative law was waived. Christian Albrechts University saw its reputation at risk because I assumed the role of an election observer in the Donbass, or at least gave that impression. Again, no proper examination of the false allegation. The dean of the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, Professor Christian Martin, wrote, according to the administrative file before the court, “I also don’t know what there is great to look at in Donbass.” That is the rejection of any form of science. Because its findings are measured against reality. Again, it was obviously not about proper examination, but about protecting oneself in panic from supposedly bad press, and hastily submitting to the prevailing climate of opinion. This shows that it was not about knowledge, but about commitment—commitment to a war party, Ukraine and NATO. This has nothing to do with science.
When it comes to the reputation of Kiel University, it is worth taking a look at the past. For the heroism of the faculty in defending democracy and peace was kept within narrow limits from the beginning of the 20th century. Before and during the First World War, hurrah-patriotism and anti-democratic-monarchist sentiments prevailed. The “meaning of sacrificial death for the fatherland” was explained to the youth. During the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch in 1920, armed Freikorps were formed at Kiel University, who wanted to crush the Weimar Republic and engaged in firefights with the defenders of democracy in Muhliusstrasse and Bergstrasse. When the National Socialist era dawned in 1933, professors and students at Kiel University did not want to stand on the sidelines. They went into battle against the intrusion of “Western liberalist and democratic ideas,” in order to create a “new unity out of blood;” and on May 3, 1933, they confessed to the Kiel student body: “The study of history takes its innermost justification only from its service to the present”—the National Socialist one, of course. From 1933 on, liberal, social democratic or Jewish scholars were expelled—at least 38 out of 222, according to other accounts even half. (See the work of Ralph Uhlig and Hans Christian Petersen, “Expertisen für die Praxis. Das Kieler Institut für Weltwirtschaft 1933 bis 1945,” in Christoph Cornelissen].
Joachim Krause, a political scientist from Kiel, who has since retired, justified the war of aggression waged by a U.S.-led coalition against Iraq in 2003, which violated international law, saying that it was a matter of “protecting the system of collective security against a state that… quite deliberately sets out to undermine this system… in order to gain leeway from it for the renewed production of weapons of mass destruction…” Except that these weapons of mass destruction have never been found and corresponding claims have turned out to be lies. I am not aware that he was deprived of his professorship for this. Here one sees how CAU measures with a double standard. Kiel University may have many reasons to worry about its reputation; I am probably the least of them. Roberto de LaPuente writes: “If journalist Patrik Baab had spoken of Germans’ ‘escalation phobia,’ he might still be doing his teaching job at Kiel University today. However, he was doing journalism: That is the worst reproach one can face today.” This is how journalism becomes an offense. The freedom of research and teaching is replaced by political correctness. In this way, CAU itself takes sides in the propaganda war.
It becomes completely dubious when the university involves uninvolved parties. It refused to rent a room in the guest house to my American friend Professor Robert E. Harkavy, unlike in previous years, and justified this by saying that my lawsuit against CAU was not helpful in the matter. [“You might have heard that the institute/the university is in a legal dispute with Patrik. That does not make things easier.” Email from Wilhelm Knelangen to Robert E. Harkavy on January 18, 2023, 7:18.]
What does Robert Harkavy, a scientist who has been associated with this university since 1982, have to do with my lawsuit? The foreign press spoke of a return of National Socialist “Sippenhaft.” Such things endanger the reputation of CAU, not my research in the Donbass.
Harald Welzer and Richard David Precht speak of the “ethics of mind surplus”: “And the morality presented with power and vehemence springs by no means from the firm stance one supposedly takes, but one moralizes opportunism.” It is a matter of swimming along in the current of prevailing opinion. Pierre Bourdieu has described the habitus behind this as “respectful conformism.” Respect, of course, for the supposedly powerful. When it comes to appropriate campaign journalism, T-Online has the knack for provoking hasty reactions by way of fear of bad press. That is one side. The other side is the complete absence of clean craftsmanship and moral courage on the part of those called upon. The alacrity with which they make themselves accomplices in the campaign is actually laughable. One believes oneself safe in the protection of the power elites. This is the opportunism of intellectuals.
This cancel culture has nothing to do with a democratic public sphere. After all, democracy means allowing even those positions to have their say in the arena of the public sphere that one does not like. But in the meantime, many academics and journalists are carriers and promoters of identity-politics thinking. It aims at putting specific social groups in the center and enforcing a higher recognition of such groups. Cultural, ethnic, social, or sexual characteristics are used. This politicization of identity is directed against the universalism of the Enlightenment. It is thus a central discourse characteristic of the Counter-Enlightenment. The assumption that different cultures can arrive at knowledge through different paths and claim special rights for themselves is historically seen as a precursor to racial thinking and national superiority. In this perspective, freedom no longer means being argumentatively convincing in the arena of debate, but rather professing one’s allegiance to a group, demonstrating a certain attitude. All those who do not submit to the collective process thus lose their claim to validity. Thus, identity politics approaches are directly connectable to fascist figures of thought. The historian Götz Aly: “National Socialism was also an identitarian movement!”
When press organs present denunciation campaigns instead of facts; when leading university members launch an attack on the freedom of the press and thus on the freedom of opinion and information; when professors smash the freedom of research and teaching without necessity—rights with constitutional rank, mind you—then one can confidently speak of anti-democratic thinking. It does not spread in circles of the intellectually disadvantaged. Rather, intellectuals—or what is left of them, academics—make themselves the drivers of anti-democratic thinking. T-Online is stepping out of the role of reporter, just as those responsible at CAU have stepped out of the role of academic discourse participant. They have become political-ideological actors in the process of opinion control and mind control, and thus self-appointed censors with the goal of narrowing the public debate space to the state-desired area, indeed to the soup plate horizon of their own huckster’s soul.
“Major press outlets also bear responsibility. Rather than seeking to contextualize events properly for their readers, the media have trumpeted the government’s preferred narrative. Whatever its motivations, the mainstream media have implemented, and continue to implement, a regime of propaganda that misinforms the public and can only be perceived by Russia as an affront to the national character of its people. Online providers of information are doing much the same. In fact, as the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and First Amendment lawyer Glenn Greenwald has shown, massive censorship of dissenting views is now occurring at many levels of society in both the United States and Europa. Although it is difficult to look at the horrific images coming out of Ukraine without revulsion and anger, succumbing to blind emotion and embracing the dominant Western narrative is a dangerous error. It empowers the worst forces in Washington, including the nexus of bureaucratic power and commercial interest… This narrative also enables the most Russophobic and militaristic of European leaders, as well as those with the least guts to stand up to misguided American policies. The narrative clouds the minds of American and European citizens, leading to jingoism and war-mongering” (Benjamin Abelow).
From Anne Morelli one can read how this war hysteria is promoted by propaganda—also, and especially, by the propaganda used by NATO:
The Kremlin is to blame for everything. After all, it has invaded a weaker neighboring country. We don’t really want war.
It is an “unprovoked” war of aggression. The enemy is solely responsible for this war.
Putin is a fascist, a butcher. The enemy has the face of the devil—or at least of a villain.
In Ukraine, what is being fought for is “western values” or “freedom.” The real interests are disguised with honorable, higher goals.
The enemy intentionally commits heinous war crimes—as in Bucha. When our people make mistakes, it’s stupid.
We have hardly any losses, but the enemy has enormous losses. We hear this on both sides now, the actual numbers are secret.
We fight for a good cause—the enemy must learn to lose; we are morally in the right after all.
Whoever questions our propaganda is a Putin-stooge, a lumpen-pacifist, a submission-pacifist, a right-wing cross-front agitator, the Fifth Column of Moscow.
I got dragged into this propaganda narrative. Because one thing must not happen under any circumstances—that the truth about this war become known. Therefore, the reporter on the ground must be made out to be a fig leaf of the aggressors and supporter of a war of aggression. The goal then becomes to undermine his credibility through denunciation and political purges. For under no circumstances should one’s own outrages, one’s own shared responsibility, one’s own interests and the suffering of others be allowed to reach German living rooms. This would enable people to do what propaganda undermines—the reality check. Instead of war fever, there would then be disillusionment. Propaganda works particularly well when people themselves have no knowledge.
Part of the propaganda narrative is to omit essential historical facts in connection with this war, or at least to push them into the background. Here, without claiming to be exhaustive, are the most important:
NATO’s eastward expansion to Russia’s borders despite promises to the contrary;
The Maidan Coup and the masterminds around Victoria Nuland responsible for it;
Then-Vice President Joe Biden’s bragging about how he used financial blackmail to force the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor who was investigating a corruption scandal involving an energy company with the then Vice-President’s son, Hunter Biden on its board;
Ukraine’s biological weapons production facilities;
The neo-Nazi Azov Battalion and similar organizations;
President Zelensky’s self-enrichment and secret foreign assets;
Human rights abuses in Ukraine;
Zelensky’s laws restricting freedom of expression and banning political parties;
The blocking of a peace agreement all ready for signature, negotiated between the warring parties in Istanbul in March—for which there are at least six sources, two of which were involved in the negotiation process.
[“According to multiple former senior U.S. officials we spoke with, in April 2022, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators appeared to have tentatively agreed on the outlines of a negotiated interim settlement: Russia would withdraw to its position on February 23, when it controlled part of the Donbas region and all of Crimea, and in exchange, Ukraine would promise not to seek NATO membership and instead receive security guarantees from a number of countries”—Fiona Reed and Angela Stent. “I have one claim. I claim there was a good chance of reaching a ceasefire”—Naftali Bennett. “The Grinding War in Ukraine Could Have Ended a Long Time Ago”—Branko Marcetic. More broadly on the Ukrainian conflict—Harald Kujat].
In light of this, Noam Chomsky laments the collapse of the democratic debating space: “Perhaps parts of the intellectual class are so deeply immersed in the propaganda system that they cannot even perceive the absurdity of what they are saying. Either way, it’s a drastic reminder that the arena of rational discourse is collapsing precisely where there should be hope that it will be defended.” In academic circles, that is.
Denunciation cascades, triggered by academic and media networks, in league with influencers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., have one goal in the end: to shatter the economic livelihood of the targeted individuals. So, this is not about democratic discussion, but the opposite: preventing democratic discourse about structural violence. The critics of NATO propaganda are to be deprived of their livelihood. This is not about individual cases. Rather, an example is to be made. The goal is to force anticipatory obedience by generating fear. This is essentially initiated by states or supranational organizations such as the EU, but also by state-sponsored institutions. But the drivers are the eco-libertarian and militaristic-conservative academic milieus.
The overarching characteristic of all these cases is that university decision-makers believe themselves to be under the protection of the executive branch and therefore act with the arrogance of borrowed power. The result is a conglomeration of academic soul-sellers who are either beholden to transatlantic organizations or U.S. foundations, or who spread their narratives in anticipatory obedience. The actors themselves, according to Upton Sinclair, do not notice: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
It is no coincidence that at least at one university, it was precisely those who consider themselves committed to transatlantic networks, such as the German Marshall Fund, who actively pursued my expulsion. This shows where the real masterminds of censorship and denunciation sit. By this, it is by no means meant that the operators receive instructions from Langley. Rather, the alacrity of their actions proves that they see themselves in a kind of debt to be discharged. After all, it’s all about invitations to conferences, scholarships, research trips and the approval of research projects. David Michaels, former director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, calls such scientists “science-for-sale specialists”—scientists who can be bought for money. This does not necessarily mean direct payments. They believe that it is better for one’s career to act as a legitimacy canvasser for American interests.
The entanglements of Kiel professor Werner Kaltefleiter in intelligence machinations of the BND and CIA during the Cold War have been elaborated by Katja Backhaus. According to press reports, CAU received 2.7 million euros from the German Ministry of Defense and NATO between 2005 and 2012, most of which went to Professor Joachim Krause’s Kiel Institute for Security Policy (ISPK). These funds went primarily to a counterinsurgency project in Afghanistan. The project partner at the time was Victoria Nuland’s Center for a New American Security, which has set itself the task of protecting American interests and is partly paid for by the arms company Northrop Grumman. Krause also belongs to the Integrity Initiative, a program of the British Institute for Statecraft, which is close to NATO and British intelligence services. Officially, it is supposed to expose Russian disinformation, but it is actually about NATO propaganda. The Integrity Initiative’s German Cluster in 2019 included political scientist Hannes Adomeit, now deceased, his friend Joachim Krause, former MI6 agent Harold Elletson, and Marie-Luise Beck of the Center for Liberal Modernity. Critics call Krause a “NATO janitor.” No wonder he accuses the German people of an “escalation phobia” in the Ukraine war. Of course, my research does not fit into such war propaganda, so it must be sanctioned.
T-Online yet again. The portal also acted as a denunciation portal against Professor Ulrike Guérot and Professor Gabriele Krone-Schmalz and put together press campaigns aimed at triggering a political purge and destroying the economic livelihood of these two targeted professors. Then I found out that the State Protection Department in the Federal Ministry of the Interior also keeps a file on me—as an alleged election observer. This kind of thing usually happens on orders from above. So, one may ask whether the office of the Minister of the Interior itself orchestrates such denunciation campaigns. And secret services do what they are there for: Chinese whispers. Here, one has to ask whether journalists also cooperate with intelligence services and do the dirty work for the BND, for example, as the federal government openly stated in its answer to a parliamentary question in the German Bundestag. The same applies to university employees.
In this way, a censorship and denunciation cartel is being created as if by magic, which is supported by US foundations and NATO apron organizations. The Pentagon alone employs 27,000 PR specialists with an annual budget of five billion dollars, whose goal is to influence the media with targeted messages, with experts for interviews or footage for television. During NATO’s war against Serbia in 1999—it’s not only the Russians who wage wars of aggression in violation of international law—31 PR agencies ensured that public opinion was brought into line: the Serbs were portrayed as the bad guys, the Muslim Bosnians as their victims. As a result of such manipulation, virtually no one understands what was actually going on in Yugoslavia.
None of this works with coercion; it works only with consent. This active participation shows the susceptibility of the academic elites to anti-democratic thinking. When anti-democratic thinking is then combined with racial thinking, we are on the threshold of fascist figures of thought. Political scientist Florence Gaub on April 12, 2022, on the talk show, Markus Lanz: “We must not forget, even if Russians look European, that they are not Europeans—right now in the cultural sense—who have a different approach to violence, who have a different approach to death.” Such phrases open the door to racism. Ukrainian author Serhij Zhadan calls Russians a “horde,” “animals,” “filth”: “Burn in hell, you pigs.” This is the language of fascism. For this, Zhadan received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.
Conformism becomes a weapon: As in the case of Ulrike Guérot, who was dismissed from the University of Bonn, and Gabriele Krone-Schmalz, who is subject to massive attacks, the aim is censorship and acts of political cleansing that are unworthy of a democracy. In the process, the campaigns also aim to destroy the livelihoods of the targeted individuals. This alone documents their anti-democratic character. The smashing of democracy is preceded by the smashing of the democratic public sphere. The media and universities play a decisive role in this transformation, because they make themselves the bearers of counter-enlightenment and influence the transformation of democratic consciousness. T-Online and many other media, as well as the University of Kiel and HMKW in Berlin, have made themselves the warring party in the propaganda battle without need. This has consequences that extend beyond their direct sphere of influence. They are contributing to the poisoning of the social climate and are thus sawing away at the foundations of democracy.
Scolding colleagues is not usually my style, but it is appropriate here. I summarize: 1. Very bad craftsmanship: no verification by second source in the real world. 2. Political denunciation because of economic calculation. 3.Obliviousness to history and ignorance, both of one’s own and of Ukraine’s history. 4. Opportunism: succumbing to propaganda unchecked. 5. Anticipatory obedience: making oneself a tool of propaganda. 6. Anti-democratic thinking and acting. The result is a sum of dangerous stupidity that is capable of dragging this country into the abyss once again.
Some people speak here of the intellectuals’ refusal to work. But that is not the case. It is a matter of business. Those who work with their heads, sell their heads to the highest bidder. They are paid for their ideas, with which they organize the cultural hegemony of the power elites and their rule.
We are sitting in the bus from the Chonhar border crossing to Simferopol, the capital of Crimea. Only now does the tension fall away. I lean my head against the window and nodded off. In dream images, the fear that I had locked away at the bottom of my soul in the war zone catch up to me. Shelling, mines, arrests swirl in tangled scraps and perform a witches’ sabbath in my half-sleep. Only gradually do I realize that another St. Vitus dance awaits me on my return: that of journalistic contract writers, “a well-organized gang of literary rustlers,” as Heinrich Heine put it, “who go about their business in the Bohemian forests of our daily press.” A sentence by Zygmunt Bauman comes to my mind: “Not wanting to see, not wanting to look, and thus suppressing the possibilities of another coexistence with less suffering, is part of suffering and contributes to its perpetuation.” Another hour to Simferopol. As the bus rocks, I ponder the misery of intellectuals.
Featured: Join the Navy. Poster by Richard Fayerweather Babcock (1887-1954), published in 1917.
We will not be laying bare any arcane mystery by pointing out that, since the essential quality of modern democracy is the legitimization of government by means of suffrage, power emanates from the persuasion of the voter, so that he who convinces wins. Once this obviousness has been established, we face, on the one hand, the challenge of analyzing what is most important in the democratic system, i.e., how consensus (i.e., majority) is achieved; which makes it possible to convert a given party’s preference into law. Once this has been done, it remains to be seen which individuals and groups are best adapted to this political ecosystem. Finally, and based on this examination, it is up to us to determine whether or not the design of the current democratic system encourages the most capable and virtuous to exercise power, or whether, 2500 years later, Diogenes’s assertion that lying is the currency of politics is correct.
Let us now take a step-by-step approach. Although given our relative delay in adopting the Anglo-Saxon model of liberal democracy, it is easy to fall into the Adamism of thinking that our political system has its own determining characteristics, which can drag us into the melancholy of frustration. It is enough to review the theoretical frameworks developed in the interwar period of the 20th century by Jewish-American intellectuals, such as Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays, to see that their works became manuals for achieving and maintaining power through the ballot box.
Thus, concepts such as “public opinion” and “public relations,” which were coined by these authors, have become part of the lexicon of politics as euphemisms for “propaganda” and “manipulation of the masses.” Underlying these notions is the admission that since modern societies are increasingly complex, the maximum simplification of political discourse is essential—the infantilization of slogans—so that the complex can be explained to the population as if it were simple; and so that when the time comes to cast the vote, the voter does so convinced not only of doing so freely, but with a knowledge of the facts that emanates from understanding reality, thanks to the interpretation of it that has been transmitted by the politician, for whom the voter votes in the name of “those who constitute the invisible government that holds true power” (Bernays, 1928).
Lippman himself—author of the neologism “stereotype”—recognized that the metaphor of Plato’s shadow play in the cave was a faithful reflection of this state of affairs. This comparison being correct per se, the representation of the governed as mere spectators is insufficient, because it neglects the fact that members of society also participate actively, and often enthusiastically, in shaping the shadows that they then mistake for reality. This can be easily seen by getting on board any means of public transport, and seeing how mobile device users have become the product being sold, living in the absolute present; thus fulfilling to the letter that Marxian aphorism on the fetishism of commodities, according to which, when manufacturers create an object for the subject, they also create a subject for the object.
Perhaps the Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco was best able to allegorize the situation of modern society in his 1958 play Rhinoceros, in which his protagonists are immersed in a sudden and absurd change that makes communication between them impossible; which ultimately becomes a voluntary act of conformism through a metamorphosis of the intellect which pushes them to repeat the ideas and slogans they hear, without bothering to reflect on their moral meaning and logical consequences. Ionesco shows us how difficult it is to live outside a given ideological framework, because to step outside it forces one to confront the complexity of the facts in the raw, without the fig leaf of synthetic certainties contained in ideology. Hence, in the underworld of virtual relationships, individuals tend to become rhinoceroses, reacting aggressively to any information that does not confirm or reinforce their mental frameworks, and is therefore perceived as a threat.
The paradox is that despite the illusory individualism of digital escapism, as in Ionesco’s play, people stop focusing on themselves, to immerse themselves in social distractions that make them lose personal focus, thus leaving them vulnerable to being manipulated without even being aware of it, thus joining a herd that is easy prey for those who influence the stories people receive about what is happening around them in a way that benefits the interests of the manipulator, through the formation of “public opinion” and the promotion of “public relations,” sewn into our lives with so few and transparent seams that we do not even notice the propaganda and censorship that weaves their stories together.
We wondered at the beginning of this essay if the current democratic system encourages the best to lead us. This does not seem to be the case—on the contrary. We often see that, in the absence of motivating proposals, political candidates resort to discrediting their opponents, with the sole purpose of making the opponent even less attractive than themselves in the eyes of the voter, generating vicious circles in which voter apathy encourages politicians to increase polarity and manipulation of the electorate, with all the means that the system itself puts at their disposal. Consequently, it does not seem that all this has a greater virtuality than to produce the perverse effect of favoring a negative natural selection; that of those aspiring politicians immune to opprobrium. Thus, far from encouraging the best to stand out, our system of manufacturing consent gives a competitive advantage to those who move better in cynicism and lies, making the lamp of Diogenes as necessary now as it was then.
Santiago Mondejar Flores is a consultant, lecturer and columnist on geopolitics and international political economy.This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.
Featured: “The Parable of the Blind,” by Sebastiaen Vrancx, ca. 17th century.
This article, by Anne Morelli, is here translated for the first time complete. It is based on her monograph, Principes élémentaires de propagande de guerre (utilisables en cas de guerre froide, chaude ou tiède)—The Basic Principles of War Propaganda (For Use in Case of War, cold, hot, or warm), which was first published in 2001 and then revised and republished in 2010 to include the war in Afghanistan and Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech.
Morelli’s ten principles, or “commandments” are often accredited to Lord Arthur Ponsonby. Rather, Morelli summarized Ponsonby’s work,Falsehood in War-Timeto formulate them.
The current Russian-Ukrainian conflict is just the latest iteration of the immense reach of war propaganda to fashion consent, in the form of ready sacrifice of blood and treasure.
Nearly a century ago, a British diplomat who had observed firsthand the creation of anti-German information in British government offices described these counterfeiting procedures at work during the First World War. This book by Arthur Ponsonby explained the basic mechanisms of wartime propaganda. However, these principles are not about the First World War—they were applied in all open conflicts, and also in the Cold War. They form the basis of the information war which is essential, more so today than in yesteryears, to win public opinion to a cause.
Ponsonby’s Ten Commandments
The principles identified by Ponsonby can be easily stated as ten “commandments.” I will state them here, and we will see for each of them to what extent they have been applied by NATO’s propaganda services.
We do not want war
The other side is solely responsible for the war
The enemy has the face of the devil (or in the order of “ugly”)
The real aims of the war must be masked under noble causes
The enemy knowingly commits atrocities. If we commit blunders, they are unintentional
We suffer very few losses. The enemy’s losses are enormous
Our cause is sacred
Artists and intellectuals support our cause
The enemy uses illegal weapons
Those who question our propaganda are traitors
1. We Do Not Want War
Arthur Ponsonby had early noticed that the statesmen of all countries, before declaring war or at the very moment of this declaration, always solemnly assured as a preliminary that they did not want war. War and its procession of horrors are rarely popular a priori, and it is therefore fashionable to present oneself as peace-loving.
During the war against Yugoslavia, we heard NATO leaders claim to be pacifists. If all the heads of state and government are motivated by a similar desire for peace, one can of course wonder innocently why, sometimes (often), wars break out all the same. But the second principle of war propaganda immediately answers this objection: for we have been forced to wage war; the opposing side began it; we are obliged to react, as self-defense, or to honor our international commitments.
2. The Other Side is Solely Responsible for the War
Ponsonby noted this paradox of the First World War, which can also be found in many previous wars: each side claimed to have been forced to declare war to prevent the other from setting the planet on fire. Each government would loudly declare the aporia that sometimes war is necessary to end wars. That time it would be the last war, “der des der” [last of the last].
The most relentless warmongers therefore try to pass themselves off as lambs and shift the guilt of the conflict onto their enemy. They usually succeed in persuading public opinion (and perhaps in persuading themselves) that they are in a state of self-defense.
I will not attempt to probe the purity of either side’s intentions. I am not trying to find out who is lying or telling the truth. My only purpose is to illustrate the principles of propaganda, unanimously used, and in the case of this second principle (“it is the other who wanted the war”), it is obvious that it has been applied many times during the NATO war against Yugoslavia.
On that occasion, European governments, slightly embarrassed by public opinion to be dragged into a conflict about which European parliaments had not been consulted, despite the constitutional obligation, in several countries, that such consultation take place, widely used in their propaganda the argument of the obligation in which the European countries found themselves to join the war.
Thus, in 1999, Christian Lambert, head of the cabinet of the Belgian Minister of Defense, replied to students who asked him why Belgium participated in the bombing of Yugoslavia, that it was an obligation for our country, by virtue of its membership in NATO. This answer was totally classical at that time, but did not correspond to reality. There would have been an obligation for European countries to participate in the war, if a NATO state had been attacked, but this was obviously not the case in the Yugoslavian war.
During this same war, the principle of “he started it” was in fact very widely applied by Western propaganda, and in particular in a form that Ponsonby had already pointed out: the enemy despises and underestimates our strength; we will no longer be able to remain on the sidelines; we will have to show him our strength.
Western propaganda in 1999 thus stressed that the Yugoslavs defied NATO and pushed it to respond with violence. Thus, the Brussels daily Le Soir wrote on January 18, 1999: “NATO finds itself challenged by astonishing cynicism. Will the world’s leading armed power be able to justify its wait-and-see attitude for long?”
NATO also claimed that it was reacting to a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” by the Serbs against the Albanians in Kosovo. With the passage of time, however, the international experts of the OSCE confirm the opposite thesis: when NATO began bombing Yugoslavia on March 24, Belgrade reacted with a systematic campaign of violence against the Albanian majority in Kosovo. Before March 24, police violence against Kosovo Albanians had been isolated; it was not “ethnic cleansing.”
But in order to convince Western public opinion of the validity of the bombing of Yugoslavia, it was necessary to make people believe that the war was a retaliatory one. It was the enemy who had to bear the full responsibility for the war, and more personally its leader. The war was the fault of Milosevic who, in his intransigence, refused Western proposals for peace in Rambouillet. The Franco-Belgian weekly Le Vif-Express ran this headline: “The dictator of Belgrade has a crushing responsibility in the misfortunes of the Serbian and Albanian people.” The insistence on the person of the leader of the enemy camp is not a coincidence. Ponsonby’s third principle insists on the need to personify the enemy in the person of its leader.
3. The Enemy has the Face of the Devil
It is not possible to hate a whole people globally. It is therefore effective to concentrate this hatred of the enemy on the opposing leader. The enemy thus has a face, and this face is obviously odious. One did not only wage war against the Krauts, the Japs, but more precisely against the Kaiser, Mussolini, Hitler, Saddam or Milosevic. This odious character always conceals the diversity of the population he leads and where the simple citizen may yield his alter egos.
In order to weaken the opposing cause, it is necessary to present its leaders as incapable, at the very least, and to cast doubt on their reliability and integrity. But, as far as possible, it is necessary to demonize this enemy leader, to present him as a madman, a barbarian, an infernal criminal, a butcher, a disturber of peace, an enemy of humanity, a monster. And the purpose of war is to capture him. In some cases, this portrait of our enemy may seem justified, but we must not lose sight of the fact that this monster is most of the time very approachable before the conflict and even in some cases after.
Since the Second World War, Hitler has been considered such a paradigm of evil, that any enemy leader must be compared to him. This was of course the case with Stalin, Mao or Kim Il Sung; but even more recently, all the “villains in service” have also had to bear the same comparison. It is no different with Milosevic, whom the Italian weekly L’Espresso presented on its cover under the title “Hitler-Sevic,” with one half of the face corresponding to Hitler’s face and the other to Milosevic’s.
Following the same script, and at the same time, Le Vif-Express presented, at the time of the first bombings of Yugoslavia, a very dark cover, displaying the left half of Milosevic’s face and on the right the title “L’effroyable [The Appaling] Milosevic.” Inside the magazine, in text supported by grim and worrying photos of the Yugoslav leader, we learned that Milosevic’s capacity for trouble-making was far from being exhausted. The man who, three years earlier had raised his glass with Chirac and Clinton, during the peace agreements of Bosnia, signed in Paris, was now a neurotic whose two parents and even his maternal uncle had committed suicide, obvious symptoms of a hereditary mental imbalance.
The Vif-Express did not quote any speech, any writing of the master of Belgrade, but simply noted his abnormal mood swings, his explosions of anger, sickly and brutal: When he got angry, his face became twisted. Then, instantly, he could recover his composure. His wife was pushy, ambitious and unbalanced, whose psychological problems dated back to the fact that she was acknowledged late by her father. And the weekly concluded: Slobo and Mira are not a couple; they are a criminal association.
The technique of demonizing the enemy leader is effective and will probably continue to be applied for a long time. The reader and the citizen need clearly identified “good guys” and “bad guys,” and the most simplistic way to do this is to call the “bad guy” a new Hitler. Anyone who might not necessarily defend him, but even doubt that he is the precise incarnation of evil, is immediately disqualified by this comparison.
4. The Real Aims of the War must be Masked under Noble Causes
Ponsonby had noted for the 1914-1918 war that one never spoke, in the official texts of belligerents, of the economic or geopolitical objectives of the conflict. Not a word was said officially about the colonial aspirations, for example, that Great Britain expected and which would be fulfilled by an Allied victory. Officially, on the Anglo-French side, the goals of the First World War were summarized in three points:
to crush militarism
to defend small nations
to prepare the world for democracy
These objectives, which are very honourable, have since been copied almost verbatim on the eve of each conflict, even if they do not fit in with the real objectives.
In the case of NATO’s war against Yugoslavia, we find the same discrepancy between the official and undeclared goals of the conflict. Officially, NATO intervened to preserve the multi-ethnic character of Kosovo, to prevent the mistreatment of minorities, to impose democracy and to put an end to the dictator. It was to defend the sacred cause of human rights. The war did not need to end even to realize that none of these objectives were met; that we were far from a multi-ethnic society; and that violence against minorities is a daily occurrence—but the economic and geopolitical goals of the war, which had never been mentioned, had indeed been achieved.
Thus, without having officially having claimed it, NATO’s sphere of influence had been significantly enlarged in Southeast Europe. The Atlantic Organization thus established itself in Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo, regions that were previously “resistant” to its installation.
Moreover, from an economic point of view, for Yugoslavia, which was “resistant” to the installation of a pure and simple market economy and which still functioned with a large public market, it was “proposed” in Rambouillet that the economy of Kosovo should function according to the principles of the free market and be open to the free circulation of…capital, including that of international origin.
One might innocently ask what connection there can be between the defense of oppressed minorities and the free movement of capital, but the first type of discourse obviously conceals less avowed economic goals. Thus, 12 large American companies, including Ford Motor, General Motors and Honeywell, sponsored the 50th anniversary summit of NATO in Washington, in the spring of 1999. Some thought that this was a totally disinterested move, while others thought that it was a “give and take,” and that the bombing of Yugoslavia, by destroying the country’s socialist economy, made room for the multinationals that had long dreamed of setting up a large construction site and doing good business there.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea announced that the cost of the military operation against Yugoslavia would be more than offset by the longer-term benefits that the markets could realize. From September 3, 1999, the Deutsche Mark became the official currency in Kosovo, and the Zastava car factory in Kragujevac, which I had seen in May destroyed by the NATO strike of April 9, was snapped up by Daewoo in July.
The real aims of the war were perhaps not totally humanitarian, but the main thing was to make people believe that they were, at the time of the launching of the operations, when public opinion doubted the validity of this attack. The public was persuaded that they had to intervene against “bandits”, “criminals”, “assassins.”
This is also one of the basic principles of war propaganda: the war must be presented as a conflict between civilization and barbarism. To do this, it is necessary to persuade the public that the enemy systematically and voluntarily commits atrocities, while our side can only commit involuntary blunders..
5. The Enemy Knowingly Commits Atrocities. If We Commit Blunders, They are Unintentional
Stories of atrocities committed by the enemy are an essential part of war propaganda. This is not to say, of course, that atrocities do not occur during wars. On the contrary, murder, armed robbery, arson, looting and rape seem to be commonplace in all circumstances of war and the practice of all armies, from those of antiquity to the wars of the 20th century. What is specific to war propaganda, however, is to make people believe that only the enemy is accustomed to these acts, while our own army is at the service of the population, even the enemy, and is loved by them. Deviant criminality becomes the symbol of the enemy army, composed essentially of lawless brigands.
During the First World War, the Germans accused the Belgian and French “francs-tireurs” of the worst atrocities who, flouting the laws of war, treacherously attacked German soldiers and deceived them by their ruses, as for example by offering them coffee with strychnine. On the Belgian and Anglo-French side, the rumor that the Germans had systematically cut off the hands of Belgian babies circulated non-stop.
Moreover, the fear of the Belgian population, following these rumors, triggered an unprecedented exodus of refugees. One million three hundred thousand Belgians left their homes at the time of the German invasion in 1914. This exodus of “poor Belgian refugees” and the imaginary episode of Belgian babies with their hands cut off were used to the full extent by Allied propaganda to bring hesitant countries, such as Italy, into its camp.
During the war against Yugoslavia, the propaganda technique was obviously similar. Before the start of the bombing, William Walker circulated the news that the Yugoslav police had massacred civilians in Racak in January 1999, and it was officially announced in the Western media that the Serbs were carrying out systematic ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. The figures quoted at the time spoke of 500,000 victims of “genocide,” most of whom were buried in mass graves. Some commentators even suggested that bodies were burned in former industrial sites, which obviously evoked Nazi crematoria.
It is now known that in Racak, it was KLA troops (and not civilians) who were decimated. French troops finally invalidated the hypothesis of cremations in industrial vats; and, after long and meticulous research, Spanish forensic scientists have estimated the number of people killed in Kosovo at a maximum of 2,500, on both sides and including individual deaths for which no one can be accused.
Even the American weekly Newsweek headlined, after the end of the bombing, “Macabre mathematics: the count of atrocities decreases.” But it didn’t matter at that point because the war was over. The official lies had mobilized public opinion at the right time to gain its approval and we could turn to more serious assessments.
In the autumn of 1999, it was also possible for Western journalists to explain how they had been manipulated by KLA agents to broadcast “bogus” testimonies on television. For example, the journalist Nancy Durham, working for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), whose moving report on the murder of an 8-year-old Albanian girl, with the testimony of her older sister, was shown on more than ten channels—and later it was revealed that she had been deceived by her Albanian informers. But she was refused a correction that demonstrated the lie.
As for the mass graves and concentration camps, the terms seem in retrospect to be inadequate to the reality. In the spring of 1999, there were obviously murders, looting, torture and burning of Albanian houses. But one “forgets” to highlight with the same acuteness the same atrocities committed from the summer onwards on Serbs, Bosnians, Roma and other non-Albanians. Their exodus was passed over in silence, whereas the images of Albanian refugees from Kosovo and their reception abroad had been the subject of entire television programs. This is because the fifth principle of war propaganda is that only the enemy commits atrocities. Our side can only commit “mistakes.”
6. We Suffer very few Losses. The Enemy’s Losses are Enormous
During the Battle of Britain in 1940, the British greatly “overestimated” the number of German planes shot down by British fighter and the D.C.A. The Nazis, on the other hand, tried as long as possible to disguise their defeat on the Eastern Front and proclaimed resounding losses for the Soviets, without mentioning their own losses.
This old tactic was also used in the war against Yugoslavia. The West claimed to have zero losses on its side and inflicted huge military losses on the Yugoslav army. Thus, to justify the usefulness of the strikes, Western propaganda spoke of hundreds of Yugoslav tanks being put out of action. A year after the war, Newsweek was able to admit that only fourteen Yugoslav tanks had been hit by the 1999 air strikes.
7. Our Cause is Sacred
God’s support for a cause is always an important asset, and for as long as religions have existed, we have happily killed each other in the name of God. War propaganda must obviously make public opinion believe that “God is on our side;” or, at the least, ecclesiastics must give their support to the war by declaring it “just.” Let us remember that the good St. Bernard exhorted the knights of Christ to work for Christ by killing infidels. “Got mit uns” was the slogan displayed by the German soldiers of the First World War on their belts. This slogan was answered by the English “God save the King,” while the Cardinal Primate of Belgium, Cardinal Mercier, in his pastoral letter, “Patriotisme et endurance” (Patriotism and Endurance) did not hesitate to proclaim that the Belgian soldiers, dying in the fight against Germany, redeemed their souls and secured a place in heaven.
In the NATO war against Yugoslavia, while some French and American bishops spoke out against the use of force, others justified the bombing. Thus, Archbishop Jacques Delaporte of Cambrai, president of the Justice and Peace Commission of the French episcopate, approved in the pages of Le Monde of the air strikes as an ethically necessary action, while Archbishop Miloslav Vlik of Prague justified NATO’s intervention by relying on the doctrine of the Church: The international community is not only authorized, but also obliged to prevent the murder of the Kosovars and to restore their right to return to their homeland. Such positions obviously legitimized the “regularity” of the use of violence against Yugoslavia in the eyes of Western public opinion.
8. Artists and Intellectuals Support our Cause
During the First World War, with a few rare exceptions, intellectuals massively supported their own side. Each belligerent could largely count on the support of painters, poets, musicians who supported, by initiatives in their field, the cause of their country.
In Great Britain, King Albert’s book brought together the propaganda work of painters and engravers who “launched” the glorious image of King Albert, King Knight. In France, the caricaturists Poulbot and Roubille put their talent at the service of the Fatherland. In Belgium, the artists Ost and Raemaekers specialized in the making of tragic images evoking the martyrdom of Belgian refugees or the heroic image of the Fatherland. In Italy, the poet Gabriele d’Annunzio was the champion of such action. In Germany, in October 1914, 93 intellectuals, including the physicist Max Planck, the Nobel Prize winner and philologist von Willamovitz, the historian G. von Harnack and many professors of Catholic theology, signed a manifesto in support of their country’s cause and the honor of their army, which, according to this manifesto, was the victim of odious slander.
For the NATO war against Yugoslavia, it is no longer a matter of composing beautiful heroic music or making moving drawings. But the caricaturists are largely put to work to justify the war and to depict the “butcher” and his atrocities, while other artists work, camera in hand, to produce edifying documentaries on the refugees, always carefully taken from Albanian ranks, and chosen as much as possible in relation to the public to which they are addressed, such as that beautiful blond child with a nostalgic look, supposed to evoke Albanian victims.
Almost all the French intellectuals followed the official position of their government with articles of support in the press and interviews in the media. Such was the case—obviously—of the “philosopher” Bernard -Henri Lévy, being intervieed throughout the war on various French radio channels and in the newspaper Le Monde to justify the bombardments against Yugoslavia. But many other French “intellectuals” (Pascal Bruckner, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Didier Daeninckx, Jean Daniel, André Glucksmann, Philippe Herzog, the geographer Yves Lacoste) showed the same political servility.
9. The Enemy uses Illegal Weapons
There is nothing like affirming the deceitfulness of the enemy in war propaganda by assuring that he fights with “immoral” and condemnable weapons. Even if the basic idea is absurd—that there is a “noble” way of waging war with “chivalrous” weapons, which is obviously our way, and a barbaric way of waging war with “savage” weapons, which is that of our enemy.
During the First World War, and the controversy is on-going as to who, France or Germany, started to use asphyxiating gases. Each belligerent put off the sad priority of this use onto the enemy, thus assuring that he himself only “copied” the enemy’s weapons by obligation.
On September 1, 1939, during his speech in the Reichstag, announcing the invasion of Poland, Hitler himself stated that he had humanitarian concerns regarding the use of weapons. He would have tried to limit armaments, to suppress certain weapons, to exclude certain methods of warfare that he considered incompatible with the law of nations.
During the Korean War, it was the communist camp that accused the United States of waging germ warfare, which was far from being proven.
During NATO’s war against Yugoslavia, this old principle of war propaganda, noted by Ponsonby, was reused. Indeed, when the Yugoslavs revealed in June 1999 the use by NATO of depleted uranium weapons, with immeasurable human and ecological consequences, it was not necessary to wait long for the response. By August 1999, the Western media claimed that the Yugoslavs had used chemical weapons in Kosovo, thereby transgressing the rules of “civilized” war.
10. Those who Question our Propaganda are Traitors
Ponsonby’s last principle is that those who do not participate in the official propaganda should be ostracized and suspected of intelligence with the enemy.
During the First World War, pacifists of all countries had already learned the hard way that neutrality was not possible in wartime. He who is not with us is against us. Any attempt to question the accounts of the propaganda services was immediately condemned as unpatriotic or, better still, as treason.
During the war against Yugoslavia, the same scenario took place in the West. NATO’s media tactic was to produce daily news that was taken up by the soldier-journalists. Annoying opponents were systematically dismissed, with the exception of a few open forums that were not very well attended, serving as an alibi to show the pluralism of information.
When the “genocide” of the Kosovo Albanians was announced, for example, anyone who expressed doubts about the extent of this phenomenon was called a “revisionist,” a term that carries a lot of weight, since it is generally used to designate those who deny that Nazism organized the systematic extermination of the Jews.
In France, it was the Régis Debray affair that crystallized passions. On his return from Kosovo, Debray contested, in a letter to the President of the Republic Jacques Chirac, the reality of “ethnic cleansing” in Kosovo.
Immediately the media, led by Bernard-Henri Lévy, author of a response entitled “Farewell to Régis Debray,” organized a public lynching. Daniel Schneidermann wrote that Debray “slapped the refugees from a distance;” Pierre Georges called him a “false journalist,” “burdened by his prejudices,” “ridiculously naïve” and said that he had accumulated “elementary errors” and produced “a fragmented and totally questionable account.” Alain Joxe, declared him an “international cretin,” in league with the ideas of Milosevic and an accomplice of the Serbian fascist regime against which the U.C.K. fought “practically without weapons.” At this point, some cleverly recalled that Régis Debray was a former companion of Che Guevara. Regarded now as a revisionist, the accusation of being a red-brown traitor became clear. In times of war, asking questions is heretical.
The weekly magazine L’Evénement never hesitated to publicly denounce, to the opprobrium those that it denounced, “Milosevic’s accomplices,” and whose photos it published. Meshed together in this camp of the “traitors” were the historian Max Gallo, the Abbé Pierre, Monseigneur Gaillot, General Gallois, the film director Carlos Saura, the singer Renaud, the playwright Harold Pinter and the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. For being suspicious of the official propaganda, they were accused by the Parisian weekly of having “chosen to brandish the great Serbian banner,” of having gone over to the enemy.
As we can see from these examples, the ten “commandments” of war propaganda described by Ponsonby have lost none of their relevance in almost a century. Have they been applied intuitively by NATO propaganda officers or by following the grid that we ourselves have followed? It is always risky to think that propaganda is built by systematically staging it, according to a meticulous plan; and one would rather believe that the possibility of improvement has criss-crossed the old Ponsonby principles.
However, one should not forget that the Nato spokesman who orchestrated all the propaganda for the war against Yugoslavia was Jamie Shea, who was not an uneducated military man. A graduate of Lincoln College, Oxford, he looked at the role of intellectuals in the First World War as his final thesis. His academic perseverance was crowned by a socially enviable position as head of NATO’s propaganda services. Thus, it is also safe to assume that Jamie Shea learned, as my Historical Criticism students do every year, the basic principles of war propaganda and carefully and systematically applied them in the propaganda campaign he was asked to orchestrate.
Anne Morelli is a Belgian historian at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB).
Featured image: American propaganda poster by Harry Ryle Hopps, published 1917.
As everyone has been able to see for several months, the Ukrainian conflict is as much a “physical” military conflict as it is an unbridled and paradoxically limited information war, since each side has banned the broadcasting of the opposing media, and can only influence its own opinion.
The latest example is an article published by the British Daily Mailon April 18th, following the (very real) bombings carried out by the Russian army on arms depots in the city of Lviv (Western Ukraine). The article is written by “journalists” Chris Jewers and Will Stewart. The title reads: “Chilling video shows Putin’s Tu-95 nuclear bombers flying near Ukrainian border as Russian rockets kill at least six in Lviv.”
There follows a video allegedly taken near Ukraine with the caption: “Vladimir Putin sent up his strategic bombers in the skies over Western Russia today amid huge pressure on the Kremlin over the sinking of the Moskva flagship in the Black Sea.” Under this video, there are also two archive photos showing the “strategic bombers” in question, one very blurred, the other in close-up.
However, it is not necessary to be a great aeronautical specialist to note that the aircraft in the video are not TU-95s. One can certainly recognize a TU-160 strategic bomber (NATO code “Blackjack”), preceded by an IL78 (NATO code name “Midas)”, a tanker version of the IL76, and accompanied by four fighters, probably Mig 31s.
Moreover, the flight formation adopted by the aircraft does not correspond to a combat mission—but is actually a photo of a fly-past, or more probably of the rehearsal of the fly-past, which took place on May 9th, for the “Victory Day,” commemorating the fall of the Third Reich and the end of the Second World War, as confirmed, if it were even necessary, by a photo taken on May 9, 2009, presenting more or less the same flight formation as in the video in question.
It is therefore very likely that this undated video was not taken near Ukraine either.
It is quite simply incredible to see such “information,” coming a priori from a video found on social media, being relayed thus by Western media. If we give the journalists the benefit of the doubt concerning their knowledge of the aircraft, there are however too many constructed and unfounded assertions in the article itself to believe that an error was made.
Finally, the journalists declare in the heading of the article that Putin had his strategic bombers take off in the West of Russia, close to Ukraine (unconfirmed information), without ever mentioning the fact that since the beginning of January 2022, about 2 to 3 times a week, the Americans send their strategic B-52 bombers, based in the United Kingdom, to fly over the European continent and turn back when they arrive close to the Russian or Belarusian borders. [These flights can be regularly observed].
It is therefore more necessary than ever to be wary of any information served up by one side or the other in this conflict, as the Western media are neither more neutral nor more reliable than those in Russia.
Alain Charret spent a little more than 25 years in the Air Force during which he served in various listening centers in France, but especially in Germany, before the fall of the USSR. He lives in Antibes.
Eric Denécé is a political scientist who is the Director of Centre Français de Recherche sur le Renseignement (CF2R), to which we are grateful for making the English version of this article possible. [Translated from the French by N. Dass).
Featured image: “Detail from “Women of Britain Come into the Factories,” Propaganda Poster, ca. 1940.