Basmanov, dost Thou know
Wherein our strength lies? Not in the army, no!
Nor Polish aid, but in opinion — yes!
In popular opinion!
Boris Godunov (1825), Scene XXIII
Only the lazy will not speak of the information warfare nowadays. Yet the best description of the current state of the Russian media scene was given by Boris Nemtsov [translator’s note: the original text was written before the murder of Nemtsov]. He called it simply ‘terrorism of the information age’. The current Russian government is acting fastidiously, adjusting its tactics and unleashing fresh resources all the time. This war is not so much different from the WW2, except for the new technologies of mass destruction it uses.
Russia has been waging the war against Ukraine for decades since our country got independence. Now this war is growing increasingly cynical. We continue to lose our ground and the countermeasures are insufficient. To be precise: sometimes the countermeasures are blatantly absent. And, most significantly, the Digital Anti-terrorist Operation has not been started yet.
We are defending ourselves in this war by sporadic statements, made by politicians, intellectuals and journalists via Facebook or the TV. Recently, TV is becoming growingly difficult to reach as our government is becoming growingly distasteful of the freedom of speech. The Ukrainian side of the conflict is represented predominantly by volunteers and activists. Using the military parallel: it is like defending your country with shotguns against tanks, aviation and guided missiles. The disbalance is evident while a lot of our ‘compatriots’ continue to fight this war on the enemy’s side.
Of all the material casualties, two are the crucial ones: 1) annexation of Crimea, 2) War in Donbas, which is now turning into a humanitarian disaster for the region. We should admit that annexation of Crimea is an outstanding example of the Russian supremacy in the information warfare. It is a case study for the future propaganda and PsyOp textbooks. It is evident, that without adequate information warfare response it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to win Crimea back.
Not only did we lose the territory. We have huge losses in media and cyberspace. Vast ‘regions’ of the collective consciousness are conquered by the Russian parallel antiworlds and we are doing nothing to reclaim them. These defeats are the primary ones. They are the true reason of all the consequent losses. If we do not reclaim the minds of the people in the occupied territories, we will never reclaim the soil these people are living on.
Why is Putin the Modern Frankenstein?
There is a ‘formula’ of which I don’t know the author. It says: ½ truth + ½ truth = LIE. The brilliance of this formula is the reflection on how the high quality lies are created. Such lies are fail-safe and amazingly fast to strike their roots in the people’s minds. They are way more effective comparing to all the ‘crucified boys’ and ‘murdered bullfinches’. The amazing power of these ‘advanced’ lies is based on their statement. They are not just another portion of crazy Kremlin’s warmongering. We are dealing with a skilfully build mosaic of a partially truthful premises. These impregnations of truth are easy to recognize and they are a bridge between a lie and a reality. Think of it like playing puzzles: you make a big picture, using elements of a different color and of a different look and feel.
In Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley the protagonist creates a grotesque yet sentient creature which refuses to obey the orders of its creator and takes a revenge on him for its ugliness. Frankenstein is a miracle of transplantation, created using the fragments of the real human bodies. Yet, the purpose of this transplantation experiment is not to save somebody’s life, but to create a new being with extraordinary qualities and capabilities.
Something similar happened to the Russian media scene as well. The Kremlin’s propaganda machine is not only creating information projectiles targeting the mind. It created a parallel universe, which is inhabited by millions of people. There is nothing new in it — history knows a lot of illusional universes that were created long before TV and Internet. Yet something is different. This new universe is expanding like no illusional universe before. It started living a life of its own. Like a monster, which stopped obeying Dr. Frankenstein, this teratoid reality stopped obeying its chief architect — Mr. Putin.
Millions of Russians are living in this reality. Thousands of people from the Ukrainian Donbas are also submerged in it, primarily within the territory, that is currently controlled by the DPR/LPR mock ‘republics’. The difference between the effects the new parallel reality has on the people living in Russia, compared to the people living in Donbas, is that Russians have their ‘everyday’ reality (kitchen — kindergarten — office — pub), while Ukrainians living in Donbas have the illusional and the everyday reality converged into surrealistic antitheatre. Using military parallels, they are within the impact site of the media WMD and are experiencing media shell shock.
There is a statistical proof of information warfare’s ability to kill. It is based on a story of Rwandan Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, a radio station that was one of the key instruments in stirring 1994 genocide in Rwanda. David Yanagizawa-Drott of Harvard Kennedy School proved that in areas, which were out of Mille Collines’ coverage, the amount of murder convicts was 62 — 69% less. This is a notorious example of a mass media responsibility for causing deaths of a hundreds of thousands of people. There is a good publication by Russian liberal website Slon.ru for the further reading on parrallels between Rwandan genocide and modern Russia.
The radio presenters of the Mille Collines are now serving their terms, convicted by UNICTR. Do we all understand that TV is way more effective than radio? There is a lot to think about…
Russia is extensively using modern psytech like neuro-linguistic programming combined with blatant unprecedented lie. The psychological complications, associated with intoxication from disinformation toxins are very long term and can survive even the roughest chemotherapy. That is why understanding the DNA of this war is very important. The alternative reality it creates cannot be transformed back, folded up or even localized. It cannot be neutralized, dignified or ‘smoked out’ as well. And the toxicity of this lie already exceeds the toxicity level of a conventional WMD by an order of magnitude. This explains why Mr. Putin has become a victim of a situation he created himself. And now he simply cannot take the turning.
Putin cannot launch a full-scale war against Ukraine because of the risk of further sanctions, insufficient military resources, financial crisis and a variety of other reasons, both: objective and subjective. Yet he cannot stop. The propaganda monster he created pushes him into further madness. This monster is thirsty for the fresh blood and it will accept no compromises. To disobey the monster is a suicide (probably, not only for Putin as a politician, but for Putin as a human being as well) — the monster will take revenge on its creator in the most filthy manner. To obey the monster is a route to insanity and a resulting despair can lead to ugly outcomes, up to using nuclear weapons against a ‘brother’ nation.
Victim’s Trauma v. Aggressor’s Trauma
Theory of collective or historical traumas is now gaining popularity in modern social psychology of large groups. It is based on assumption that besides individual consciousness and subconscious there is a collective consciousness and subconscious of a large group of individuals. This collective conscious and subconscious give rise to collective trauma, collective pride and collective shame. Recently this topic started being researched by a popular non-fiction as well. For the further reading please see these articles in Russian language: Historical trauma as a Cultural Feature by Ilya Kukulin and How the Victors are Judged by Mikhail Yampolskiy. The collective psychology of the modern Russia, underlying its current policy, can be explained by the collective trauma of the breakup of the Russian Empire. This trauma is compensated by the attempts to restore the empire (a concept of ‘the Russian World’), ‘raising up from the knees’, conspiracy theories, etc.
It is wrong to think that only victims are susceptible to a collective trauma. While a lot of research was conducted on this topic, by no means are all of the aspects of collective trauma clear. Very few research was done on what is happening to the collective consciousness of an aggressor nation and on how is such experience traumatising it? Probably, the only substantial research up until now was done on Germany’s experience after the WW2. Yet Germany ended that war as a victim and a disastrous loser. It might be wrong to research an issue of aggressor’s trauma unilaterally, as the roles of aggressor and victim are typically interwoven and interchangeable like in Karpman drama triangle.
If we examine Russia’s example, we will see a lot of traumas, caused by Russia’s own aggressiveness. A cases, in which Russian society is simultaneously a victim and a perpetrator.
First of all: Russia (and the Soviet Union to which it is a successor) was a nation that was destroying its bloom for more than 50 years. In fact, we are talking about self-inflicted intellectual and moral genocide.
It all started with the Red Terror of 1920-ies, the Russian Civil War and the first wave of emigration (that included many scientists and intelligentsia). Then was Stalin’s terror of 1930-ies and Holodomor — an ugly crime against humanity, an artificially created famine. Then WW2 started, taking lives of the Russia’s true and best citizens. The way Russian government treated Russians that were prisoners or war in Nazi Germany, is quite illustrative as well. After WW2 Russia experienced deportation of an entire ethnic communities (Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Volga Germans and many others). Besides physical annihilation, a lot of Russian intelligentsia fled the country, saving their lives and future.
It all might have started earlier than in 1917 and has deep historical roots. Expansionist foreign policy was a crucial feature of the Russian history for the recent five centuries. It is worthy continuation of a tradition, established by Mongol Golden Horde. Entire Russian modern history is a story of a conquest of new lands, that were then incorporated into vast imperial territory. During the recent two centuries Russian Empire ‘processed’ Central Ukraine, Crimea (after annihilating Crimean Khanate), Georgia (end of XVIII — early XIX centuries). Then it waged Caucasian War against local people for almost a century.
The second element of an aggressor’s trauma is the way Russian government is treating its own people. Ordinary Russians were traditionally slaves to their own state — the institute of serfdom in Russia lasted until 1861 and then resurrected in a form of the Soviet kolkhoz. Russian treatment of its intellectual elite was also very similar to a serfdom: let us recall the tragic fate of Pushkin, Lermontov, Griboedov and many others. The fortune of many Russian scientists and entrepreneurs was of no big difference to the one of the Russian intellectuals. Nikolai Leskov aptly described it in his novel The Tale of Cross-eyed Lefty from Tula and the Steel Flea. Mikhail Lomonosov was a lucky exception, to be then turned into an icon by the Russian propaganda. A story of the Decemberists is another vivid demonstration of such an attitude. Although here we should mention to the Tsar’s merit, that other monarchies did the same to their revolutionaries of that age.
Telling is the fact that Russian mentality is strongly resistant to any reforms and history gives us enough examples. Let us recall the murder of Alexander II the Liberator — one of the few reformers among the Russian tzars. Or do you recall the murder of Stolypin, whose reforms could have led Russia to become one of the top European democracies of the early XX century?
Lawlessness is a crucial feature of the Russian mentality. Russian mind desperately lacks any respect for the law and order. And it has almost clinical imperception of any kind of democracy. This was one of the reasons, why the Decemberists failed in their effort to create a constitutional monarchy in which the Law had to be a supreme authority. Instead Authority became the law. Typically it was assisted by deception, treachery or, simply, a LIE. This thinking is still rooted in Russia’s public consciousness.
Back in early XX century such thinking led to bolshevism, which was a quintessence of all the preceding social trends of the Russian Empire, blended with the lust for illegitimacy and transforming these evils to a level of a social disease. Bolshevik Russia was quite the same troubled society which the Nazi Germany was.
Erich Fromm, famous German philosopher and one of the researchers of the nazi psychology and the psychology of totalitarian regimes in general, published a book titled Healthy Society in 1955. Here is a quote:
“The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that man may become robots”.
We tend to blame authorities for everything while we forget that all the lawlessness happens because of our connivance. “Each nation has the government it deserves,” Joseph de Maistre wrote two centuries ago. Society that allowed monstrous crimes to happen without repenting, renouncing and condemning them cannot be considered healthy. It cannot be healthy per se.
Here I am discussing the society itself, not just the political regime. Did someone write those five million tip-offs during Stalin’s repressions? Did someone see the people being taken out of their beds and shot in the head late at night? Killing millions of smart, talented and conscientious people is beheading of the nation. It is also a sin and a crime, which survivors and perpetrators will bear in their collective consciousness.
Awareness of your crime and your personal involvement with it is a grave mental burden. It is almost unbearable. There are only two routes to salvation. First route is to concede the crime, make self-evaluation, take responsibility by condemning what you did and then repent. Yet this route is very difficult — it creates huge psychological tension which is then combined with the guilt trips and the fear of shame one should inevitably come through before being jubilantly liberated.
The second route is dismissal, finding explanations, building the new convenient worldview and inventing the purpose justifying the crime. These solutions seemingly help coping with the guilt and shame, yet what really happens is that guilt and shame are pushed into collective subconscious. They will cause hunger for the new arguments and crimes to justify an artificial posttraumatic worldview and support the distorted social values it is based upon. And this hunger will arouse an appetite for new blood.
Now, at the times of the revanche of Stalinism, we recollect the the awfullest stories. Yet we fail to explain why it endured for so long? We don’t like to recall Nazi-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was instrumental in enabling the WW2. Nazi Germany was an Evil Empire back in 1930-ies, yet Soviet propaganda depicted it as a friendly nation. We had to wait until June 1941 to realize what kind of monster our ‘friend’ was.
The paradox is: Stalinist Russia was no better than Hitler’s Germany. In fact it was worse — Stalin murdered millions of his compatriots while even Hitler did not go so far. Yet, while Nazi crimes were condemned by the International community and Germany itself, the crimes of Stalin were left to float free. German society managed to overcome its social illness by repenting its sins after the WW2, while the Soviet Russia did not repent and even strengthened its totalitarian stance.
Hitler’s invasion of the USSR in June 1941 helped to exonerate bolshevism as an ideology. It became the national idea of an Allied state, founder of the United Nations and ‘liberator’ of Europe from Nazism. Defeating the ‘Brown Plague’ was the key item on the global agenda. It justified the harms and dangers of the communism. Success is never blamed and Blame it all on the war were the taglines under which the disease proceeded from acute to the inveterate (hopefully, not the terminal) phase. The defeat in the Cold War and the disintegration of the USSR did not cause the repentance, to the Russians that defeat was something like the defeat in WW1 was to the Germans.
And like in the post-WW1 Germany the defeat caused the hard-core revanchist ideology to emerge. Russians are the primary victims of the media war that was started because of the need to nourish Russian imperial ambitions. They became a victim of the new social experiment by Mr. Putin.
The most critical casualty of the information warfare is irreversible transformation of a public conscience of a whole country.
Not only did the information war cause brainwashing of the Russian society. It caused relapse of an old disease that stroke Russian society almost a century ago. To be precise: it rendered the disease from the inveterate phase back to acute. We can call it different names: bolshevism, stalinism, imperial syndrome, Russian nazism, orthodox Christian fascism, etc. These names are not the features. In fact, they are just symptoms of the same disease, somehow rooted in the antipodal ideologies: militant atheism and militant orthodox Christianity, communism and fashism. Extremes usually meet.
The modern relapse is cruel and is different from the stalinist phase of the disease by the noticeable fascistization of the Russian public consciousness. As Leo Shlosberg put it: “modern Russia is a country that is perfectly ready for the fashism”.
From the Penitence to the Healing
The healing of the disease is only possible via deep and unconditional penitence. It is impossible without admitting collective responsibility for everything that occurred during the last century (or even more). It is quite a difficult task: the nation will have to go through the enormous shame and accept the burden of atrocious guilt. Yet, if a society does not want this — then the only way to escape from the shame and guilt is to deny the truth, repaint the reality and decorate it with distorted moral values using projective identification mechanism.
There were two penitence attempts in the history of USSR: one at the times of Khrushchev’s Thaw, another at the times of Gorbachev’s perestroika. Yet both attempts were halted at the very initial stage and the relapse started instead. In 1950-ies Stalin, Beria and Yezhov were made the whipping boys. Can you imagine Hitler was the only culprit of the Nurnberg trials? That is why The 20th Congress of the Communist Party did not become Nurnberg for the communism, and indeed it could not. Nevertheless, it had huge historical significance (exoneration and liberation of the thousands of innocent people). Still, it was an incomplete therapy and it left a metastasis.
Perestroika did not bring out the true penitence as well, despite the false hopes it nourished. Partial penitence does not lead to mental liberation. It is like a cancer that was not removed completely — a seemingly healthy and recovering body might be spread over with the tumorous cells and result in a condition that is way more serious. If a weed is not rooted away, it will grow again and damage the crops.
Parallel reality Kremlin created is a perfect psychological defence of an aggressor’s traumatized consciousness. It is a handy risque from the need of penitence, taking responsibility, experiencing guilt and other motions of conscience. The shame, caused by looking for an excuse for the committed crimes, can be suppressed with the ‘pride for the forefathers who fought’ [in WW2], ‘raising from the knees’, ‘grandeur of the Russian World’ and other patriotic lingo, aimed at extinguishing any dissenting reality out of the parallel antiworld. The monster does not tolerate any inconvenient truth.
Germany had lived through this, although it was not a piece of cake. The process did not end up in Nurnberg and lasted for the several decades. It is a paradox, but Germany’s defeat and the national tragedy it brought helped to cure the German society in the very end. Does Russia also need such a grave defeat to walk through the purgatory? Recapping the events of the last several months — unfortunately, this solution looks quite plausible.
* * *
How to prevent the escalation of the crisis and the nuclear catastrophe? How to stop iFrankenstein? It is really possible? We should direct people’s minds to understand that media are the true culprits of the tragedy. Their propaganda is a military crime. We can cure the abscessed collective consciousness. We can transform parallel reality, which is a key enabler of the mass murder.
These tasks are no less important, than supplying arms, reforming the economy and fighting corruption. Best Ukrainian and Global scientists and politicians should set their wits to work on solving this social puzzle. Saying ‘it is not the time’ or hiding behind ‘there are more important tasks in our current agenda’ is a tittle-tattle. Without well-structured public communications policy reforming Ukraine will be resource-intensive burden is not a Sisyphean toil. Pondering around with an excuse based on the lack of budget is criminally misleading. Lack of public communications strategy will cost us thousand times more.
Ministry of Information of Ukraine was created recently. Thankfully, there is finally a ministry with the Department of Media and Cybersecurity. It might look like the ball got rolling, but the Ministry of Information does not get involved with the psychology of the media and cyberspace. It looks like they haven’t yet realized the existence of the parallel realities. Also interesting is the fact that organizations like the Department of the Media and Cybersecurity existed before. We have the Department of Information Policy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Cybersecurity of the State Security Service of Ukraine and this department was created in 2011. What did they do until now?
The information warfare is used against Ukraine already for 15 months or more. There must be countermeasures. Lies should be continually fought with, the parallel malicious reality should be destroyed. Yet we should not fall for the trick and use the same weapons.
Lie is best cured with the truth. Good news is: lie is perishable. Shit will hit the fan sooner or later.
Truth causes lie to decay naturally. Like botox lie permanently needs fresh TV shows, movie clips, ‘people’s testimonies’ and other media injections. Truth, to the contrary, has no ‘sell by’ date. Moreover, aging makes its taste more delicious, like a good vine or cognac.
The truth will win and it will destroy the monster. Sorrow makes us wise. The colossal lies bring about colossal catastrophes. And like the death of the Roman Empire by lies and venery gave birth to the New Europe, a New Ukraine will upspring from the botox antiworld.
Original publication by Pavel Gornostay, Psy.D. Translated by Gennadiy Kornev.