Ukrainian Jewish Heritage: The Seduction of Propaganda – Part 2

As we discussed before in a previous segment, a recent conference held in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Lviv in early June analyzed the lethal impact of destructive propaganda on community relations. The conference was organized and hosted by the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter Initiative.

Entitled “The Seduction of Propaganda: Mass Violence in Ukraine in the 20th and 21st Centuries,” the conference outlined how propaganda used by totalitarian regimes provoked and legitimized violence against three peoples: the Jews in Hitler’s Holocaust, the Ukrainians during Stalin’s Holodomor, or Terror Famine, and the Crimean Tatars in their deportation.

The conference not only addressed the historical context of propaganda, but also revealed malignant themes being used in the current Russian disinformation campaign against Ukraine.

Dehumanization and demonization are classic propaganda techniques that have been recycled.  Dr. Ihor Schupak, the director of the Tkuma Ukrainian Institute for Holocaust Studies in Dnipropetrovsk, revealed how today’s Russian propaganda against Ukrainians recalls the exact same strategy and format used by the Nazis.

Ukrainians have been depicted as rats, and as aggressors. The implication here is that aggressive vermin need to be exterminated.

Subtle as well as blatant anti-Semitic themes have also been used in Russian propaganda, with an appeal to conspiracy theories. The Ukrainian national symbol of the trident has been merged into a Jewish menorah.  Newspapers in Russian-occupied Donetsk have run material accusing Jews, as well as Americans, of fighting on the ground in the Donbas war.

Conference speakers pointed out Russian propaganda against Ukraine does not need to be consistent. In conjunction with hinting at Jewish conspiracies, Russian media has created a very noisy campaign aimed at its own domestic as well as international audiences accusing Ukraine of being fascist.

Absurdly crude imagery has been used. For example, Russian propagandists have depicted Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk as the Nazi henchman Himmler.

Canadian professor Marta Dyczok from London, Ontario’s Western University noted propaganda is seductive, works on emotion, and appeals to deeper levels of consciousness. Russian propaganda has tapped the emotional connections of many Russians with the sacrifices of the Second World War in attempts to mobilize sentiment against Ukraine.

The writer and media expert Peter Pomerantsev from the United Kingdom, a former producer who has worked within the surreal hall of mirrors that is Russian television, pointed out Russian propaganda is highly tactical.  Information, and disinformation, is used to intimidate, sabotage, divide, and conquer. They say what is needed at that moment.

Pomerantsev warned audiences could be highly vulnerable to these Russian propaganda onslaughts. People may have a choice of media sources and not believe Russian claims. But they may also not believe any other sources. And they may be drawn to emotional delivery.

Russian propagandists play on audience cynicism and try to take advantage of any skepticism towards Ukraine. Pomerantsev warned the conference that if we cannot agree on reality we cannot create effective policy. We cannot build a society if we cannot agree on basic facts.

Despite these challenges, Pomerantsev believes post-Maidan Ukraine is a miracle.  And when faced with Russian propaganda, don’t repeat it, ignore it, and move forward.

The war in Ukraine has shown how the 21st century is the age of disinformation. Disinformation must be fought with education. And truth is critical for democracy.

This has been Ukrainian Jewish Heritage on Nash Holos Ukrainian Roots Radio. From San Francisco, I’m Peter Bejger. Until next time, shalom!

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