Witnesses Against War #3: Writer, literary critic Moscow

22 May 2022

Witness #3: Writer, literary critic Moscow

Source: Witnesses Against War

Witnesses Against War is an anonymous international group of journalists, writers, historians and translators, who live in Moscow and London. For reasons of security, their project is anonymous. In addition to the above websiste, you can also find them on Instagram / Инстаграм  and Telegram / Телеграм.

“I don’t remember how I found out about the invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine on the morning of February 24. But I remember my reaction to the news very well. It was a powerful shock. After all, two days earlier, on the radio news, I had heard the President and Minister of Foreign Affairs making assurances: we are not planning to go to war with Ukraine. And although I am accustomed to official lies, I believed this assertion. Why would I be wrong in the light of the predictions of political scientists, venerable economists and others.

Not only I, an elderly pensioner, but everyone who lived in the USSR, no matter how different their views, were brought up on the assertion: war is evil. The slogans “WE SUPORT PEACE ALL OVER THE WORLD” and “PEACE TO THE WORLD” [in Russian the words ‘peace’ and ‘the world’ are the same] decorated every third apartment block on city streets.

Militarisation, slogans on cars on Victory Day such as “We can repeat” [the war], the romanticisation of military uniforms and symbology began to appear in Putin’s Russia.

And now the invasion of an independent country-state, a legitimate member of the UN, and the closest country to us in terms of culture and a common past … It is unthinkable, impossible, the brain melted in the face of it, and refused to accept the terrible news.

A few days later, on pain of fines and persecution, the use of the word “war” was made illegal. On February 25, returning home from visiting friends, I saw a slogan smeared on the wall of an underground passage on Komsomolskaya Square that read “NO TO WAR!”, the next day I read on social media that several such slogans had appeared in Moscow, but by morning they were already gone, obviously a command had been issued: clean up the slogans! Along with horror and fear, a sense of savagery, darkness, and the unimaginability of what was happening would not leave me: in Ukraine various military infrastructure facilities are being destroyed, bombs are being dropped, a task has been set to destroy “neo-Nazis”, but it is forbidden to say or write the word “war”.

The second shock for me was the news that the majority of Russians support and approve of the invasion. An entire past reality with its anti-war literature and cinema, the songs “Buchenval alarm” and “Do the Russians want wars …” fell away into oblivion, as if they had never existed; I walked the streets of Moscow, peered at the people I saw and thought to myself: do these people approve of the war and the death of Ukrainians?

A few weeks later, a discussion began: are the opinion polls, showing that about 80% of Russians approve of the “Special Operation” true? (Special Operation was the official name given to what is happening). Some clever and important people argued that in wartime, and moreover in an authoritarian state, it is impossible to trust any opinion polls or answers made “on camera”: one person is afraid to say what he thinks, another believes the propaganda, yet another simply lies, just in case.

My personal experience shows that there are indeed many “supporters”, they are literally everywhere. Throughout the period of the Special Operation to date, I have not heard a single statement of protest in public. All that I have heard in shops, in taxis, even in the shower pool of the recreational compound that I visited at the end of April, were the repeated phrases: “there are Nazis in Ukraine, we are saving Ukrainians from Nazis”, “the West is jealous of us, but we have become strong “, or – the most widespread – “Ukraine was preparing to attack us, we just got ahead of them.”

In order not to lose my mind from shock and inner turmoil, I decided to switch on my reason and began to analyse, and divide into groups those who sincerely or not so sincerely support the invasion. I found there are three such groups.

1. The largest group consists of people who believe everything that is said on the TV. These people have only the information that they were told that evening, “ they’d been sold a pup” as they say; in times of peace, they don’t engage with politics at all; they are devoted to whoever is in power, believing that “the authorities know better”, but now, when life has flared up and caught fire with terrible events: our soldiers are in Ukraine, there are sanctions, food is becoming more expensive, the people of this group whether they like it or not, are plugged into the current burning issue of the day. Not a word is said on the central channels about the bombings and shelling of Kyiv, Kharkov, Odessa, about civilians and children locked in the bunkers of Azovstal; the events in Bucha and Irpin are presented as a staged set up by “Ukronazis”. They do not even try to analyze or reflect on current events, they did not do this in peacetime either. These people are the victims of the most powerful propaganda for the masses.

2. This group consists of officials and employees of various ranks, as well as the intelligentsia, scientific and artistic, who are on the payroll of the authorities. A striking example of this group consists of the rectors of universities, who unanimously supported the aggression in a collective letter. The rectors are highly educated people with academic degrees; it’s hard to believe that they ALL really and truly approve of Russia’s actions, but they are in the civil service, and are holding on to their seats; they are frightened of being fired.

3. This group is made up of people “on the fence.” They are educated, and well set up in life. Mentally or intuitively understanding that something terrible, cruel and wrong is happening, as a result of which their lives will worsen, they will become impoverished, and they will not, for example, be able to travel abroad, they consciously prefer not to look at information from alternative sources so as not to disturb their peace of mind. Try to talk to them about dead civilians and they will say: “Let’s not talk about it.” Their behaviour is the self-defence of conformists, who are in the majority in any society. They keep quiet, and what they think is an absolute secret.

In order to understand the mechanics of the impact of official information on a person’s perception, one afternoon I turned on the TV. Skabeyeva was hosting a show. There is only one topic now – events in Ukraine. (NB for eight years now the topic of Ukraine has been the main topic on various political talk shows every day and every evening). Along with the arguments of various persons I didn’t recognise, who spoke about the humanity of our soldiers in Ukraine and the terrible Ukrainian Nazis, they showed several videos from Mariupol and Kherson, “liberated by Russian troops”. The gentle voice of the correspondent recounted how glad the ordinary residents of these cities were that they had been “liberated,” and how smiles had appeared on the faces of the children, for the first time in a long time.

By the 21st minute of watching, I felt that a little more, and I would begin to believe what was being said, and that if I had listened and watched only state channels, I might have been among those who support the Special Operation. In horror, I pressed the button on the remote control and the screen went blank.

So I experimented with the power of propaganda on myself; the power of carefully chosen video clips, accompanied by sophisticated, tendentious, deceitful comments. For 20 minutes I did not hear a single word of truth.

From the very first days of the war, close relatives and friends from Ukraine began to call me, I myself was afraid to call them: after all, it was my country that had invaded them. From them I learned about what was not talked about on our TV.

On the evening of the first day of the war, a friend called from near Kharkov, from a district town; she cried, said that her son was a doctor in a military unit on the border, that she was afraid for his life, she shouted:

– In the morning, two apartment buildings were destroyed! What are you doing??? I hate all Russians!

– Vika, do you hate me too?

– You – no.”

Read in Russian here

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