Anne Morelli is a historian, professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and specialist in historical media criticism. She published the standard work “Principes élémentaires de propaganda de guerre” (The Principles of War Propaganda). We asked her about the war propaganda used in the Ukraine conflict. The blaming of the other side, which has been in the media in recent days, is in line with one of the ten principles she set out in her book. She argues that demonising the opponent, whose word is constantly discredited, does not contribute to understanding the conflict.
Robin Delobel: Our media give Putin full responsibility. Why don’t they look at the consequences of the previous actions of the Western camp, i.e. the US, Europe and the Ukrainian leadership?
Anne Morelli: We are in a situation where there is no room for disagreement. I am stunned to see posters at ULB saying “Save Ukraine”, “Putin Murderer” and similar messages. It is the first time I have seen students taking such a position in a military conflict. It must be emphasised that Ukraine has weapons and that these weapons did not come of their own accord. Ukraine has been armed since 2014 and the government regularly uses its weapons against the “insubordinates” in the so-called “pro-Russian” areas.
When areas like Croatia and Kosovo seceded in Yugoslavia, this was cheered. Western countries supported them directly. Germany or the Vatican, for example, immediately recognised Croatia’s independence while they were busy dismembering a country that had been united until then. But when the opposite is the case, as here, where our enemy supports an autonomy, we say that this is scandalous. We have a blatant double standard. Imagine if tomorrow the Basques, Catalans or Flemings wanted their autonomy. Would we applaud?
It is not entirely clear what prompted Russia to attack Ukraine, unless one simply thinks Putin is a madman seeking world domination. However, a report by the French news agency AFP, picked up by numerous media, mentions what Moscow accuses Kiev of: genocide in the Donbass, neo-Nazis and Selenski’s nuclear weapons claims … But AFP states that these are “crazy accusations”. Is that really so?
Demonising the enemy is a basic principle of war propaganda that is quite continuous. Napoleon was crazy. So were the Emperor, Saddam Hussein, Milosevic and Ghaddafi. And Putin, of course, is crazy too. We are lucky that our leaders are all in their right minds, while they are all crazy on the other side. This is an elementary principle of war propaganda. Nevertheless, the problem of neo-Nazis is very real. The Azov battalion, they are not choirboys, they are neo-Nazis. One must also remember that a part of Ukrainians has shown solidarity with Nazi Germany. There is a part of the population that fought the Nazis, but there is a part that supported the genocide of the Jews and all the atrocities.
When Putin says “We will fight the Ukrainian fascists”, Russia knows what it is talking about. Again, Western propaganda has made people forget that it was the former USSR that contributed most to the defeat of Nazi Germany. For the Belgian population, this was completely obvious in 1945. But since then, propaganda has had its effect, not least through Hollywood productions, films like Soldier James Ryan and a multitude of other films.
How can you develop a peace movement under these circumstances and what role can we play?
That is very difficult at the moment. This corresponds to the tenth principle: if you ask questions at the time of war, you are already going too far. You are effectively considered an agent of the enemy.
If you ask: “Don’t the people in Donbass have the right to be independent like the people in Kosovo?” you are suspected of being an agent of Putin. No, I don’t love Putin. But I have no desire for information that is so biased, no desire for information that is ultimately NATO’s!
So, what should I do? I have been invited to TV stations several times, and when I asked to project the Europe map of 1989 to show who is moving his pieces towards the other, I was strangely told that there was no need for me to interfere.
I think that in the present time, with such tremendous propaganda, our voice is not being heard.
Nevertheless, one has to see who is encircling whom. It is the NATO troops who are encircling Russia, not the other way round. When a demonstration against the war was held recently, only a few people came. Since the Iraq war until today, there has been a certain discouragement in the peace movement. If you look at the huge demonstrations that took place in Britain and Italy, for example, it hasn’t stopped the governments from going to war, despite the reactions of the people.
In an interview with La Libre Belgique, you said that for Biden “China is too big a chunk, which is why an attack on Russia via Nato seems more accessible”. Isn’t the reality of a war between the US and Russia exaggerated?
I don’t think Biden will wage it himself, because he promised his voters that he would no longer send US troops directly to the front. But on the one hand he is sending military to countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union, like the Baltic states, Poland, etc. And on the other hand, he hopes that European countries will wage the war against Russia. In this case, Biden would not have to deal with the public opinion. On the contrary, he will gain the reputation for being courageous in the face of the enemy. I am only a historian, but I think that Biden will try to let others fight the war. By the way, the Ukrainians have already received an enormous amount of military equipment. •
Source: www.investigaction.net of 26 February 2022;
with friendly permission of the author
(Translation Current Concerns)
“If one wants to weaken the enemy, then one must first portray its leader as incompetent and cast doubt on his trustworthiness and integrity. [...] Then no opportunity must be missed to give the enemy leader demonic features, to present him as a stain to be eradicated, as the last dinosaur, madman, barbarian, as a cunning criminal, butcher, troublemaker, enemy of the human race, monster. As a monster from whom all evil has originated. [...] The technique of diabolising the enemy leader is very efficient and will certainly be used for a long time to come. Citizens and media users obviously need ‘good’ and ‘evil’ that they can clearly identify. The easiest way to achieve this identification is to present the respective ‘devil on duty’ as the new Hitler.” (Morelli, Anne. Die Prinzipien der Kriegspropaganda; p. 35 ff and p. 42; translated from the German)
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