Germany Going Down the Tubes, or, Lies Come in All Sizes

Greg Yudin
September 2, 2015
Facebook

Excellent, just excellent. I look and see that Ulyana Skoibeda has published a diary about how terrible life is in Germany [in the mass circulation newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda]. I think, what is this crap? What would Skoibeda know about Germany? I have a look: the entire structure of their propaganda and the stuff of which it is made are visible after three paragraphs.

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Ulyana Skoibeda (center) and friends

The diary’s author is a certain Galina Ivanova, who moved to Germany but is now escaping it in horror at the influx of immigrants and the inaction of Germans. Since the text is executed in the “eyewitness” genre, it has immediately become wildly popular. To drive the point home, Skoibeda has supplied the diary entries with “links to major German media and speeches by officials.” She is thus hinting that every piece of evidence of Europe’s disintegration is backed up with a reference in perfect German. This is not the story of the three-year-old boy, allegedly crucified in Slovyansk by Ukrainian soldiers, but since proven a fake, she seems to say. You won’t nitpick this one to death.

What is great is that if you follow these links and start reading, you will find that almost all of them are total lies. And the lies come in all sizes. Some of the links lead to off-topic stuff like poverty statistics. Or, for example, the diary’s author angrily reports that Muslims have been abusing Germans to such an extent that “in many school cafeterias, pork sausages, salami, and pâté have been banned.” The link leads to a story about a crazy Egyptian family who asked a court to ban pork dishes. This happened in Vienna (which, for Skoibeda’s information, is in Austria) and was laughed off by the local legal community. But does it really take much to scare Russian readers?

Or, for example, there is a tear-jerking story about German pensioners having to dig in trash urns to collect empty bottles. The link is to an item in Die Republikaner in which there is not a single (!) mention of pensioners. The item itself is about how a society in which people are forced to collect bottles (by the way, have you never seen such a society outside of Germany?) should deal with this rather than facilitating the collection of bottles.

And then there is the top of this pop chart, which, of course, consists in the fact that the majority of the links in the text (including the links to newspapers, officials, and various sensational news items) in fact lead to one and the same site, Netzplanet, a collective right-wing blog that went online two years ago. The bloggers there complain about immigrants and scare each other over Islamization. Their Facebook page has already been blocked because its owners were not willing to provide the necessary information about themselves. The site itself is registered to a company in Panama. I won’t go on.

No “Galina Ivanova” really exists, of course. (In any case, it wasn’t she who wrote this text, unless Galina Ivanova is Skoibeda’s real name.) Because at any newspaper, even this one, there are fact checkers, and if Skoibeda really had been sent a “diary with links,” she would have found people with a knowledge of German and verified the information.

But the miserable PR people and degenerates from the security service who were given the task of collecting facts about problems with immigrants in Germany do exist. And they blew it. And now Skoibeda’s byline is attached to an article with a thousand proofs that she lies.

I always recommend the first thing university students do is learn foreign languages. Because you are surrounded by tons of people who intend to mess with your brains, and your own government is engaged in this above all. It is not the gullible who are most easily manipulated, but those who don’t know how to check things. Languages are the best chance of navigating the world on one’s own. It is impossible to know all languages, but if you know one foreign language, and your friend knows another one, the government will find it much harder to put one over on you. That is exactly why our MPs are so keen to ban the study of foreign languages in schools. Then Skoibeda will be able to tell readers that people with dogs’ heads inhabit Europe.

Greg Yudin is a research fellow and lecturer at The Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Trud.ru. Translated by The Russian Reader

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I Don’t Love Rov

Greg Yudin
August 12, 2015
Facebook

Regarding Lavrov’s “spontaneous outburst.”

If you walk along the Arbat in Moscow and go into the souvenir shops, you can find out what new things the Kremlin’s spin doctors have come up with to promote Russia abroad. For Russians, there are t-shirts bearing images of Putin. And for the tourists there are two t-shirts featuring Lavrov. On one, he says [to the then-British foreign] minister David Miliband, “Who are you to fucking lecture me?” The other shows him smoking a cigarette and bears the inscription, “I Love Rov.”
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Basically, they want to turn Lavrov into a rebel and romantic hooligan, a new Chavez. The calculation is clear: much of the world is objectively weary of Euro-American global hegemony (and Europeans and Americans are almost more tired of it than anyone else). So here comes Russia, as represented by Lavrov, and naughtily tells the adults that we don’t need your lectures and basically you should leave us alone. But back of this “Who are you to tell me?” lurks something very familiar, and it’s not Pink Floyd. It’s like when you approach a tipsy lout who has taken a swing at his wife, and he replies, “What the fuck you telling what to do?” Or when a woman asks a guy in the subway to give up his seat for her, and he says, “Who the heck are you?” Or when the big boss is listening to a report and sighs in such a way that everyone in the rooms hears him saying, “Fucking morons.”

This is not the behavior of a rebel, but of a common thug, who differs from the rebel in the sense that equality is a valuable thing in itself to the rebel. Not only does he not let anyone else tell him what to do, but he also doesn’t tell his neighbor how to live. And, by the way, he doesn’t take pieces of his land when the neighbor isn’t looking. But the thug could give a hoot about freedom and equality. He needs to muscle in on and put the squeeze on others. His rebellion ends right at the moment when he gets what he has coming.

Russia is persistently building an image as a global goon. It is doing this with a diplomat who believes that respecting one’s opponent is a weakness. Goons may be feared, but no one likes them. So these people are taking the risk of ruining my country’s image for a long time to come. This is already noticeable to those who have dealings with foreign partners.

Incidentally, I could not resist and asked a seller whether foreigners buy the Lavrov t-shirts. Not particularly, he said. Most of the buyers are Russians and they buy the Putin t-shirts.

“But that guy,” he said, “who the fuck wants him?”

Learning Is Fundamentalist

Greg Yudin
June 24, 2015
Facebook

Imagine you are the president of a big country, and you don’t like the fact that foreign foundations are funding your children and acquiring too much influence over them. Can such things happen? Of course they can. What do you do in this case? That’s right, you immediately offer talented young people different options for self-realization and launch funding programs in different areas. And then, all other things being equal, your children will gladly choose domestic funding. After all, they love their country and have dealings with foreign foundations only for lack of something better. What choices do they have?

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Now imagine you are spiteful little paranoiac who believes that people can only be bought and intimidated; otherwise, they won’t do anything. If you allow your children to get support from foreign foundations, they will immediately sell you out. For there is no reason to love you. And everything that is happening is meant to spite you and turn everyone against you. So then the first thing you will do is not think about the children but combat your enemies. You’ll say that children who are supported by foreign foundations have fallen into the enemy’s clutches. And you’ll spend money on propaganda so that everyone finds out about this and those children get scared.

Because in Russia there are pitifully few opportunities to break through and get your ideas heard. To do this you usually have to be born in Moscow and have good contacts. How many times have I heard from mayors, administrators, and all sorts of people outside of Moscow that the main problem is there is no way to engage young people, that young people do not know what to take up in life. In fact, young people who have had the courage, patience, and talent to secure support from any foundation are the nation’s gold. They are capable of creating something while overcoming difficulties. And now they are being told they are potential traitors. Because they have a dream and are prepared to go for it.

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Putin Accuses Foreign Organizations of Looting Russia’s Brightest Youth
June 24, 2015
The Moscow Times

President Vladimir Putin has accused foreign-backed organizations of pillaging through Russian schools in search of their most talented pupils and then spiriting them away via educational programs abroad, state news agency RIA Novosti reported Wednesday.

Speaking at a meeting of the Council for Science and Education, Putin said it was necessary to pay attention to the work of nongovernmental organizations in schools because they threatened to suck Russia dry of its future talent.

“A network of [foreign] organizations has ‘rummaged’ through the schools in the Russian Federation for many years under the guise of supporting talented young people. In reality, they simply hoover everything up like a vacuum,” he was cited as saying by RIA.

Putin was responding to comments by Vladimir Fortov, head of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who said in March that a “brain drain” was robbing the country of its future talent as educated youngsters sought out lives abroad.

Last year, as relations between Moscow and the West became strained over the crisis in Ukraine, Russia canceled an education exchange partnership with the United States in protest of the alleged adoption of a student by a same-sex couple.

The FLEX — or Future Leaders Exchange — program was established in 1992 and saw more than 8,000 Russian high schoolers travel to the United States for study purposes.

 learning is fundamental

 

[Vladimir Gelman]
Why foreign education does not meet the “highest international standards”
June 22, 2015
grey-dolphin.livejournal.com

The Russian government has decided that educations in political science, history, sociology, and other disciplines received at foreign universities do not meet the “highest international standards.” This follows from the list affirmed by Russian Federal Government Decree No. 1101-r (dated June 15, 2015). The document, which runs to over two hundred pages, includes a list of foreign universities that are among the leaders in the international rankings, a list that has been corrected compared to a similar document adopted a year ago. Whereas last year’s version of the document merely included a list of the universities, the current document specifies which areas and specialties in these institutions are in accordance with the Russian national classification.

What is significant is not which areas and specialties the Russian authorities have deemed as meeting the “highest international standards,” but which of them have not been included in this list. If you follow the government’s list, an education in political science, sociology, history, law, journalism, etc., at Harvard or Oxford does not meet the “highest international standards.” From the viewpoint of the Russian authorities, chemistry, physics, and even “economics and management” can be global, but political science and history are “sovereign” disciplines.

Images courtesy of Books around the Table and Google Images

Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure

Greg Yudin
June 16, 2015
Facebook

As many of you already know, the management of Gorky Park has banned political scientist Irina Soboleva’s lecture, “Should We Expect Any More Mass Protests in Russia?” which was to be held as part of a series of public lectures in our Master’s in Political Philosophy program at the Shaninka (Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences).

We tried to negotiate, but the talks were very strange. First, we have reason to believe the decision was not made by the directors of the park. Second, we immediately said we would not engage in political campaigning; our purpose was to share knowledge with people. But they are so scared there they demand we not use the words “politics” and “democracy.”

This does not suit us, of course. We are engaged in political thought and researching political life, and are going to pursue this work in the future. If Gorky Park is going to decide for its visitors what they should and should not learn, we are not going to help them. We will not permit our ideas to be censored.

As for Irina Soboleva’s lecture, first we thought of holding it at the Shaninka. But as interest in the lecture is quite great, the Shaninka is now concerned about finding a place that would accommodate everyone. So the lecture has been postponed to Friday. Once we find a venue, then we will immediately inform you.

Please forward this message.

640px-RIAN_archive_510373_Pond_in_Gorky_ParkGorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure, 1982

Gorky Park refuses to hold a lecture about the possibility of protests in Russia
June 15, 2015
BBC Russian Service

Gorky Park management has refused to allow a lecture by political scientist Irina Soboleva, “Should We Expect Any More Mass Protests in Russia?” to be held on its premises.

“After further exploring the content of the planned lecture, the decision was made that the park is not the place for holding lectures with a political subtext,” Marina Lee, the park’s PR director told the BBC Russian Service. “It is clear the lecture’s title is fairly blatant and provocative. But a park is not a place for provocations.”

According to Lee, the decision was made by park management.

“And in future, lectures with a political bias, with a political emphasis, will not be held in the park,” she added.

According to the lecturer, Irina Soboleva, her lecture was educational, not political.

“[The notification that the lecture had been banned] was made three days before the lecture was to be held, and we have had to change the time and the venue of the lecture very quickly,” Soboleva told the BBC Russian Service.

“I should stress the lecture is part of the series ‘Open Environment,’ which has been held at Gorky Park. The Shaninka [Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences] has already held several lectures as part of the project, and as far as I understand, no such problems had arisen with any of them. This is my first lecture in which issues of political science, rather than sociology, are addressed. Apparently, that is why this problem arose,” said the political scientist.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Spiral of Silence

spiral-of-silence-communication-theory

Greg Yudin
Facebook
April 3, 2015

Let me tell you a story about opinion polls.

The so-called spiral of silence has often been recalled recently in Russia in connection with public opinion polls. The idea behind the spiral of silence is simple. As soon as an opinion is conveyed either in the media or those selfsame surveys as having support from the majority, the minority, out of fear, prefers either to keep silent or join the majority. The idea has been used to explain where unanimous opinions, 86% ratings, total approval, etc., come from. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, the “godmother” of public opinion polling in post-war Germany, coined the term “spiral of silence” in 1980. And so in Russia, it is usually argued that the spiral of silence is an inherent feature of public opinion, because it was discovered in Germany, a proper bourgeois country.

We know that Noelle-Neumann was a Nazi. She did not join the party per se, but she did head a branch of a party student organization, made a considerable stir in the US by actively promoting Nazism, and later worked for two years at Goebbels’s weekly newspaper Das Reich.

But that is not so important. Many people suffered from Nazi fever, including social scientists. What is more interesting is that while many of those people somehow reflected on their Nazi experiences, trying in different ways to explain what had led them to do the things they did, Noelle-Neumann went into total denial. All her life, she maintained that she had done nothing extraordinary, that Hitler was a charming man, and that she had just been forced to denounce Jews, and in fact, she had secretly opposed the regime. It is easy to see how she opposed it if you take a gander at the articles she wrote for Das Reich. It is as if a columnist for the current incarnation of Izvestia would say that he had secretly been fighting for peace and harmony in Russia.

Subsequently, the spiral of silence theory was repeatedly tested, and it turned out that it works poorly in multipolar societies. If it explains anything at all, however, it explains the personal experience of Noelle-Neumann herself. It is her own fear that she identifies with the intimidated majority. She tries to justify this fear by arguing that the spiral of silence is something ordinary and inevitable. But this is a bad excuse, because, in order to save her conscience, she justifies political repression, not only past repression but future repression. It is one thing to recognize that no normal person is immune from becoming a beast, and quite another thing to say it is a normal thing when people turn into animals.

In fact, as far back as her 1940 dissertation (which simultaneously functioned as a report to Goebbels’s office on American attitudes to Germany), she writes directly about the difference between the US and the Third Reich.

“In Germany, public opinion figures like the body of the people, which receives orders from the head and ensures their implementation. […] In one case, public opinion holds sway. In others, it is guided.”

All this came to mind after the stunning lecture last week by my colleague Grigory Kertman from the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM). Kertman spoke about the fear of respondents during interviews. It cannot be measured directly. You cannot ask respondents, “Are you afraid of me right now?” But Kertman cleverly got around this by collecting information from the interviewers who conduct the polls. He discovered that they are used to the fact that respondents are afraid: this is the most common cause of insincere responses. A significant part of the interview takes place in circumstances where the respondent’s fear is so strong that it is palpable to the interviewers.

This silence of the lambs is abnormal, and it has nothing to do with the “nature of public opinion.” The insatiable desire to pass human beings off as naturally cowardly creatures and justify those who systematically bully them always comes from those who themselves have been victims of violence. Nothing good will come of it. We definitely do not want to go where this spiral would lead us.

Greg Yudin is a research fellow and lecturer at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader. See my previous posts on Russia’s pollocracy. Image courtesy of masscommunicationtalk.com