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How the EU banned Orthodox Christianity… except it didn’t

Greetings, comrades! Here's a recent story that made me fume. See, we've all become perfectly aware by now that the EU has been under increasing pressure from hostile Russian propaganda, which threatens to undermine its relations with its partners, to block important decisions, and generally damage the credibility of the major European institutions by instilling fear and a sense of insecurity among the EU citizens. The purpose is to cause discord within the EU, and put its democratic values in question – and the means that the Russian government is using to achieve that are various, from think-tanks, to multilingual TV channels (RT), to pseudo information agencies and multimedia sources (Sputnik), trans-border social groups and religious organizations, to social media and internet trolls, and of course funding political parties (mostly Euroskeptic and right-wing) and populist movements.

That's basically what the part about Russia in the EU's recent report on Strategic Communication With A View To Counteracting Propaganda Against It By Third Countries says. This EU resolution only has an advisable character and doesn't impose anything on anybody, instead it recommends urgent measures for countering hostile propaganda, without prescribing bans on free speech or any such thing. All it does is identify a problem, and propose possible solutions within the law.

And yet, the report has caused a hysterical reaction. Even from the highest ranks in the Kremlin, and of course the usual suspects among the Kremlin media puppets: "We are witnessing an obvious degradation in the notions of demoracy of the Western society". The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the report "a disgusting paper, proving the EU's information crimes". Some of the above-mentioned Russian "media" called for all international organizations, media groups and unions, to show solidarity and oppose the "creeping discrimination and censorship". And our very own former prime-minister from the Socialist Party, now turned chairman of the European Socialist Party, Sergei Stanishev expressed formal indignation of the "absurd placing of Russia alongside ISIS in the same document". From his entire expose, it transpires that Russian propaganda doesn't exist as a problem in his mind, and the very mention of Russia in some sort of negative context is akin to a crime against humanity.

But the very reactions that followed this resolution in themselves are evidence in support for the statements contained inside, and proof for its conclusions about the methods and tools of Russia's propaganda war. Or "hybrid war" as we call it nowadays.

You want examples? Fine. Just days before the resolution was voted in Strasbourg, Russia Today cited "trusted sources" to spread the "news" that a sinister amendment had been added to the draft document, stating that "Orthodox Christianity is dangerous because it strives to spread its Christian values and expand its influence in the world". The article also claimed that the EU was "starting a war against Orthodox Christian propaganda in Europe and around the world". Then the "news" was instantaneously transmitted by various known and unknown "media" in East Europe, my country included, all of them raising a hue and cry that the European Parliament was planning to adopt a bill to authorize a war against ideological enemies from outside, its main target being Orthodox Christian propaganda. They also claimed that "even at the time of the Ottoman yoke, Orthodox Christianity had enjoyed a protected status and was preserved, while now the EU wants to destroy it and ban it".

Then a chorus of "analysts" joined in, explaining how "the West always needs an external enemy", and in order to counter Russia, it's now planning to attack Orthodox Christianity "as the last paragon of freedom in the world" (which it most emphatically isn't). Which, for countries defined by their Orthodox heritage (like my country) was "a sucker-punch on their primary historical, cultural and religious identity". Meanwhile, the discussion was joined by the thousands of payroll trolls and useful idiots on the Internet, and amplified many-fold around various forums and media whose professional standards are somewhere around zero. It became the primary topic on our blogosphere for a few days, people sharing indignation against the "rotten West that is coming to take our values and freedoms".

Meanwhile back in the real world, even a cursory check would've showed that nowhere in that resolution even a word had been mentioned about any such thing: there was nothing about a "dangerous" Orthodox Christianity, no "war on Orthodox Christian propaganda", and neither even a hint of any "ban". All in all, the document didn't even speak of religious convictions, values or priorities. It only said that "the regime in Moscow attempts to present itself as the sole protector of traditional Christian values" – which is the truth, as we've mentioned here before.

Such examples (slightly adjusted to each country's specifics, of course) can be seen all around the EU these days: from the "innocent" blurring of the line between real fact, arbitrary interpretation, and outright lie about the "banned Orthodox Christianity" and those evil Westerners' plans to "take our dearest things away from us" (as if anyone in the West cares that much about our "things", whatever those might be), to instilling distrust, insecurity, fear and hostility among ourselves. Granted, our society has always been split between Russophiles and Russophobes (which is a civilizational divide between East and West really), so we only need a little spark to ignite the whole keg over and over again.

In turn, this propaganda is just one among an array of tools in Moscow's hybrid war against the West, now openly described by its key ideologists as "a strategy for influence, not brute force", whose pupose is not to destroy the enemy but to "disrupt the inner coherence of its governance systems".

Of course, EU's problems and those of its separate members are not entirely and solely caused by the Russian hybrid war – it's not central to them. They're structural and societal, i.e. much deeper than that. But still, in pursuit of its own interests, Russia is actively working to deepen them by using all sorts of means to stimulate the disintegration processes in the EU, wherever they may occur. Russia is trying to stimulate and catalyze the undermining of its fundamental values and principles, and is playing a long game in that respect. Patiently and methodically. And we're now seeing that Russia has become so bold in this, it's already spreading its arms across the ocean, and actively influencing American politics as well – a process that is only bound to continue and deepen from here on, now that their Manchurian Candidate has successfully been installed in office.

Putin has become so bold that by asserting its "right" to spread lies and disinformation, Russia is cynically citing exactly one of the most important European values (which is not respected in Russia itself), the freedom of expression, of the media, and of speech, as an argument in its favor. For instance, this EU resolution was commented with the argument that "the most criminal way to counter an opponent is by banning something, which is a violation of the democratic norms" (Putin's words); or "these methods are no different from the perceived threats that the report describes, and are thus in conflict with Europe's democratic values" (our Socialist guy Stanishev, who curiously pretends to know a thing or two about democracy). These guys are speaking of "information crimes" and "stark discrimination and censorship", while at the same time actively practicing them at home.

In fact, the measures proposed by the report are the exact opposite to all that. These include making people more informed and raising the information literacy of the EU citizens, reinforcing media pluralism, freedom of the press, and encouraging high-quality journalism, with an emphasis on investigative journalism. The EU MPs recommend to foster an understanding of the distinction between propaganda and criticism, and they remind that it's counter-productive to try to counter someone else's propaganda with propaganda of your own.

So the response they're proposing to hostile propaganda is entirely consistent with the democratic values and principles. Still, two questions remain. First, would this response be productive and efficient enough, since it's clear we're not dealing with a normal, conventional "opponent", and neither with normal "media", or a constructive "alternative standpoint", but a powerful disruptive machine instead, whose main output is blatant and indiscriminate disinformation? And secondly, isn't that response coming a bit too late?

Source: Talk politics.

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