Minister Tuomioja: Ukraine, information, disinformation and fascism
In crisis and conflict situations decision-makers are expected to comment events immediately and provide solutions.This applies also, and especially, to events in Ukraine. When following the abundant flow of news coming from and concerning Ukraine, and in particular what is posted on the Internet, we should always remember that most of it, whether intentionally or inadvertently, may be disinformation, irrespective whethee of the source and distributor is a governmental or a non-governmental actor. In such cases, there is a great temptation and danger that comments are asked and given on the basis of incomplete or false information.
Even clearly false information which is spread as propaganda may stem from some real event, which is then distorted and interpreted so that the original truth is lost or becomes the opposite.
Comments, evaluations and, above all, decisions must be based on information that is as accurate as possible. In such a situation it would be extremely important for decision-makers also to have access to the kind of independent monitoring and analytical capacity that would be able to distinguish false and truthful information clearly from each other and also to state when this is not possible. We have to note that this is lacking both in the media and in administration, and just as equally in Finland as in, for instance the European Union.
Futhermore we have to recognize that in principle there is no governmental or non-governmental disseminator of information that can be considered one hundred percent reliable. This applies to all parties and actors also in the Ukrainian crisis.
In a class of their own are the Russian media, which to an increasing degree are steered by the state and are tools for spreading propaganda, with almost complete disregard for facts. This starts already with the use of labels, such as fascism, which is perhaps the most common and historically the most effective term of intimidation used in news coverage by the Russian media.
I won’t dwell on the many definitions of fascism; instead, I shall attempt to list features that at different times have been characteristic of fascist movements. These include nationalism emphasizing a sense of ethnic and linguistic affinity, centralization of leadership, contempt for democracy that favours decadent culture, idealization of power politics, use of violence against and intimidation of opponents, resorting to manipulated referendums, homophobia, denial of class conflicts, a bias in favour of monopoly capitalism that submits to steering by the state, control of the dissemination of information and centralized state propaganda, and the cult of a strong leader.
It is difficult to find a country in Europe that would not have any movements or actors meeting these characteristics. In all countries these should be seen as a serious threat to democracy, the rule of law and the implementation of human rights. Even worse is if such still if such movements get to dominate a government’s use of power.
In Eastern Ukraine the armed actors called separatists and their international supportes who have seized town halls, set up roadblocks and terrorized their opponents, meet almost all of these characteristics of fascism, at least much more clearly than the Government in Kiev that has been branded as such.
By this I do not mean that there are no dangerous fascist movements, such as the Right Sector and others, on the side of the Kiev Government that it has not been able, or perhaps has not always been willing, to disarm and hold accountable for their acts. Solving the problem by granting such groups an official status in the state security apparatus is neither an acceptable nor a sustainable solution.
In a country as completely corrupt as Ukraine, all support given to its Government must be open and transparent, as well as strictly conditional with regard to economic reforms and political decisions. No one’s abuse of democracy and Human rights, unjust or uncontrolled violence or hate speech should be overlooked because those resorting to such means represent the geopolitically more favourable alternative. That would be betraying the hopes of all Ukrainians and would not promote the construction of democratic rule of law in Ukraine and securing its integrity.