A striking proof that Hannes Hofbauer’s book was published at the right time, is the European Parliament’s adoption of the resolution by a majority of 304 votes against 179, with 208 abstentions. It is a “non–binding” resolution entitled “EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda against it by third parties”.1 At first sight this sounds to be defensive. In fact, it is about the support of the “Task Force for EU Strategic Communication” and its “Disinformation Digest”2 and thus about the authority to interpret the international political activities.
The resolution “calls on each Member State to make the EU Strategic Communication Task Force’s two weekly newsletters ‘The Disinformation Digest’ and ‘The Disinformation Review’ available to their citizens in order to create awareness among the general public of propaganda methods used by third parties.”
Russia Today is primarily targeted, as can be seen in the “Disinformation Digest” of the European Diplomatic Service. Of course, the reasons are linked to the growing popularity of the 11-year-old foreign television station Russia Today (RT) and the increasing acceptance enjoyed in the states of the “West”. Politics and local media are therefore increasingly faced with a situation where the authority to interpret the controversial questions of international politics between Russia and the EU/NATO countries, is slipping out of their control. The high professionalism of the journalists working for the RT group and the vigorous medial appearance contributes to this, but also the transmission of information excluded in Western media. The fact that the resolution lumps the Russian media together with propaganda propagated by Islamist terror organisations such as the so-called “Islamic State” and with their videos on beheadings and that thus the Russian media are set on the same level with mass murderers can only be described as bizarre. The EU citizens are not yet so deeply indoctrinated that they would not realise this, especially as the enemy stereotype Russia, being fostered in the current media, according to all surveys, did in no way have the hoped-for effect.
Hannes Hofbauer has formulated a sentence in plain clarity making the reader understand the connection between the political situation and Russophobia: “Enmity produces enemy stereotypes” (p. 13). He is not only referring to the current situation, but he looks back to the fifteenth century, where he located the source of “Russia and of the image defaming the Russians”, the image of “Asian and barbarian”. Russia since that time is used in innumerable variants as a recurring stereotype by originators of enemy images. Referring to the schism of 1054, the author points out that the Roman-Catholic church in this regard shares a good part of the blame. Since that time, the Eastern Roman Church, and thus also the Russian Orthodox Church, had not any longer been regarded as a Christian community, but as the “Strongholds of the apostates.” In the 16th century, the University of Kracow was the leading educational institution in Europe. In the year 1500, its influential rector, Johannes Sacranus, described the Russians as “a nation of heretics with connections to the Turks”.
The self-understanding of the former Kingdom of Poland as the defenders of the “Bulwark of Christianity” obviously continues to take effect in a secular form up to the present day when the Western media criticise the Russian social and political model as we have seen in recent years. In modern Poland these historical roots are particularly visible in view of the relations between the Polish governments and the Russian Federation since the era of Walesa. Hofbauer makes a plausible statement that the decisive influence of the University of Krakow on the – as we say now – European intellectuals of the time were the mycelium feeding the image of Russia as “Asian” where Asian also means “barbaric”.
However, the negative image of Russia in the intellectual historical conflicts of that time did not develop independently of the power-political interests of the Polish-Lithuanian Union against the Moscow Principality. Rather, the academic scholars provided the ideological propagandistic reinforcement. This is not unknown to today’s observers of the EU-NATO relations with President Putin’s Russia when taking a look at the leading daily and weekly newspapers. For over the centuries, the pattern has always remained the same, as discussed in the book on the basis of the conflicts and armed conflicts, especially of the 19th and 20th centuries, so that, at in fast motion, a historical overview of the essential events in the two periods, including the strategic intentions and motives of the actors, is formed.
Hannes Hofbauer is an economic historian. In this respect, he focuses his attention intensively on the connection between a negative or almost russophobic picture of the country with the huge reserves of raw material and the economic and geopolitical interests of the West, especially the United States. Here, in this and at the end of the last century, the recourse to a historical pattern manifests. For in times when Russian and Western European interests harmonised, as was temporarily the case in th 19th century between Prussia/German Empire/Habsburg and the Tsarist Russian Empire, only the “heroes of German intellectual history” conveyed a picture of Russia as “the absolute evil”. The ruling dynasties, however, saw the allies against the democratic activities in the tsar.
The latent hatred of liberal Western European intellectuals against the Russians has been transported over generations and can be activated by the political elites at any time, as happened in the run-up to the First World War. That has not changed much to this day, as the author shows overlooking the history of the relations between the West and Russia after the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The presidential system of Russia under Yeltsin obediently served the transfer of the former Soviet planned economy into a capitalist market economy based on the recommendations of the Washington Consensus3, recommended by IMF and the American economists Jeffrey Sachs and David Lipton. This transfer was equivalent to a shock therapy. Large parts of the Russian population were found in bitter poverty, human life expectancy fell rapidly, clever ex-Komsomols seized control of the former state combinates and provided western oil and gas companies with majority participations in the once national energy companies. At the same time, the weakened Russian state had nothing to oppose the beginning East expansion of NATO, although this was a clean break of the promises to Gorbachev made by US Secretary of State James Baker in 1990.4
The Western reporting and commentary on the Russian Federation at that time was, in any case, slightly patronising, but quite seldom so hurtful and aiming below waistline as is the case today. For Yeltsin’s Russia neither opposed the beginning eastern enlargement of NATO nor could the weakened country prevent the war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999. It seemed only a matter of time before the Neoliberals, installed at the switchboards in business and politics by Jeffrey Sachs & Co., would integrate Russia into the western orbit. To this extent there was no reason to prejudice the Western public against a future club member.
This was to change rapidly when President Vladimir Putin took office, having been unknown so far. In one of his first major foreign policy speeches, on 25 September 2001 in the German “Bundestag”5, he offered the EU the opportunity to unite its own possibilities “with the Russian human, territorial and natural resources as well as with the economic, cultural and defense potentials of Russia”. Thereafter Putin repeated this offer several times, with the handy formula of a “common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok”6, thus putting the United States’ strategic ideas in Europe in check, that were based on Halford Mackinder’s heartland theory7 and had been a topic at a conference of the US foreign ministry in Bratislava8 in 2000. It was the concentrate of a task force named “Project for the New American Century” located in the Republican “American Enterprise Institute”, that was presented here to the high-ranking Eastern European politicians at the end of April 2000. Then, in September of the same year this task force published their most important paper “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”.9 The leading neoconservatives had been working on it for years.
The political, economic and social10 stabilisation of the Russian Federation by President Putin already during his first term of office as well as the restoration of control over strategically important companies in connection with his vision of the cooperation of a future Eurasian economic union with the EU led to the first great wave of anti-Russian propaganda in politics and the media of the West. Their leading power used those recognised as supporters of the Atlanticism in the EU, as the example of the 115 “anxious” politicians and intellectuals shows, who addressed themselves to the Western heads of state and government in an open letter full of magnificent hypocrisy.11
Hofbauer portrays the connection between evanescent hopes of the USA and its European “tributary vassals” (Brzezinski, “The Grand Chessboard”), to be able to integrate Russia into the western, trans-Atlantic sphere, and the agitation against Russia, partly encreasing to hysteria, especially ad personam Putin, in the last chapter of the book in concentrated form on concrete events (Georgia, Ukraine) of the past ten years.
Incidentally, reporting and comments, as well as accusations of the politics on Syria, whose increasing virulence correlates with the waning hopes of the West on a regime change follows the same pattern. And thus the cycle, beginning at the fifteenth century, is closing for the reader: if the Western elites can not control Russia, the defamation machinery is set in motion.
This book is so important because Europe as a whole – and not just the EU – facing tectonic shifts in the balance of global power12 must find a way to introduce its cultural and economic strengths in order to develop the future global order on a cooperative, peaceful fundament. The fact that the Russian Federation will play a prominent role here is self-evident on the basis of geography and its resources. What will be at stake for future generations in Eurasia can be deduced from the plea of the former Political Director of the German Foreign Office, who later was the German Ambassador in Beijing and is the chairman of the Quandt Foundation today: “Diplomacy with new means. China’s ‘New Silk Road’ should be the EU’s strategic priority”.13 A media poisoned atmosphere would be counterproductive for this huge project. Accordingly, I hope Hannes Hofbauer’s book will reach a wide readership. •
* Jochen Scholz was Lieutenant Colonel in the German army. As such, he served for several years with NATO in Brussels and then – during the NATO war against Yugoslavia – in the German Federal Defense Ministry. There he realised that the official speeches of the responsible politicians about gross human rights violations by Serbia did not correspond with what he could see in the reports of the experts on the ground. Because of these lies of the politicians he left the SPD in 1999.
4 Zelikow, Phillip/Rice, Condoleezza. “Sternstunden der Diplomatie”, Berlin 1997, p. 257
8 Letter of Willy Wimmer to Federal Chancellor Schröder: www.nachdenkseiten.de/?p=22855
12 cf. “ReOrient. Global Economy in the Asian Age” by Andre Gunder Frank: http://mediashop.at/buecher/reorient/
13 https://zeitschrift-ip.dgap.org/de/article/getFullPDF/27469 und http://deutsche-wirtschafts-nachrichten.de/2016/10/03/partner-im-osten-china-lockt-europa-mit-der-neuen-seidenstrasse/
(Translation Current Concerns)
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