Information War East: Censorship in Ukraine
Not only Russia is restricting freedom of the press and opinion – Ukraine is also restricting it. But the European allies are not interested. Censorship, repression, attacks on fundamental rights: these are all attributes that are predominantly attributed to Russian politics in the Ukrainian crisis. But the pro-European parliament in Kiev has also passed some controversial laws in recent months that restrict fundamental democratic rights – such as the ban on communists and the appointment of Western Ukrainian partisans as national heroes.
There were no protest notes from the EU, which massively supports Ukraine. The office of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is also cautious when asked: whether the law – in particular the ban on communism – is in line with freedom of expression is currently being examined, a spokesman said. “In principle, any such ban in a democratic society must correspond to an urgent social necessity and be in proportion to the legitimate goals,” according to a written statement. What exactly that means remained open upon request.
At any rate, the OSCE is now protesting against some Ukrainian measures; for example, Kiev is taking “excessive” action against Russian journalists, criticized the OSCE Media Representative Dunja Mijatović at the end of February. Since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis Russian media have launched an unprecedented campaign against the new Ukrainian government. The limited freedom of the press is therefore above all one thing for Kiev: self-defence against Russian propaganda. But does this legitimise Ukraine to pursue a similar policy?
They are heroes
The law on “the honorable memory of the fighters for the independence of Ukraine in the 20th century” is to come into force after the signature of President Petro Poroshenko. The law posthumously declares nationalists of Ukrainian history – such as the “Ukrainian Insurgent Army” (UPA) – to be national heroes. The problem is that these Western Ukrainian militias also made common cause with the Wehrmacht in their partisan struggle against Soviets and Poles in World War II. The commemoration of them has been divided accordingly ever since: While in Western and Central Ukraine they are regarded as heroes, in Eastern and Southern Ukraine they are called Nazi collaborators. With the law, however, “all public statements that express a disrespectful attitude” towards these fighters are now made punishable.
According to Poroshenko’s signature, the law “on the condemnation of the communist and Nazi (Nazi) totalitarian regimes” is to come into force. This puts symbols of National Socialism and the Soviet Union on the same level – and forbids them. The prohibition of communist symbolism is explosive: According to it, in future it will be forbidden “to publicly question the criminal nature of the communist totalitarian regime from 1917 to 1991”. Even streets and cities with Soviet names, such as the East Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk, would have to be renamed within six months. This applies above all to the regions in the southern and eastern parts of the country, where the memory of the Soviet Union is quite positive.
It is not yet clear what the law will cover: For example, monuments glorifying the victory of the Soviet Union in the Second World War should not be affected by the ban. With the law, however, the last remaining statues of Lenin would probably be finally put on the back burner.
Flap, the last
The amendment to the law on “Films with positive representation of representatives of the occupying state” came into force at the beginning of April. This means that films produced in Russia are banned in Ukraine and paint a positive picture of Russian security forces. Whether a film or series falls into this category should be examined by the Ukrainian State Cinema Agency. In recent months, the authority has banned at least 15 Russian films. In Russia, a veritable film industry has emerged for patriotic feature films and series, to which this Ukrainian amendment wants to respond.
Reporters within limits
On 12 February, the Ukrainian parliament withdrew accreditation for public buildings from around 100 Russian media representatives. Since then, journalists from Russian state media in particular have no longer been allowed to enter public Ukrainian institutions, such as the parliament and ministries. In addition, Russian journalists have repeatedly been expelled from the Ukraine, banned from entering the country or arrested. Last Thursday there was even a murder: the Ukrainian journalist Oles Busina, a declared friend of Russia and opponent of the Maidan movement, was shot dead in Kiev on the open street by previously unknown perpetrators.
The complete ban of Russian propaganda media in Ukraine is also being discussed again and again. The background: TV stations close to the Kremlin are known for their false reports from Ukraine. They claim, for example, that Ukrainian soldiers crucify children. In the autumn, the transmission of 15 Russian television channels via the Ukrainian cable and satellite network was banned.
Orwell sends his greetings
The new “Ministry of Information Policy” has been in existence since 2 December 2014. When Prime Minister Arseni Yatsenyuk established the ministry, journalists and activists protested fiercely. But in the propaganda fight against Russia, the “information sovereignty of Ukraine” should be secured, according to the new information minister Yuri Stez. On February 19, the Ministry announced the establishment of an “information army”: Since then, digital information warriors have been recruited on a website to fight against misinformation on online media and social networks. “Step into the Ukrainian information army and help Ukraine to defend itself online,” is the motto on the website, behind it a picture of a bombed-out debris field, including a blue button: “Step in! Such measures are Ukraine’s reaction to alleged “troll factories” on the Russian side, where bloggers spread Kremlin propaganda against payment. According to Ukrainian media, 35,000 information warriors are to be recruited.
The Law “On the Purification of the Government Apparatus” came into force on 16 October 2014. It is intended to dismiss up to one million civil servants who served under former President Viktor Yanukovych. However, the Council of Europe and human rights activists have criticised the blanket dismissal: it contradicts the presumption of innocence and attacks the rule of law. The Ukrainian Constitutional Court is currently negotiating the fate of the law.
Terror from the left
The banning proceedings against the Communist Party were initiated on 8 July 2014 and the dissolution of the parliamentary faction took place on 24 July.
The Ukrainian communists are accused by the secret service of supporting “terrorism” with money and weapons – the separatists in the eastern parts of the country. In the summer, the Ministry of Justice initiated a procedure to ban the party, which was suspended in the autumn but reinstated in the end. On 24 July 2014 the then President of Parliament Oleksandr Turtschinow dissolved the Communist faction in parliament; in the 2012 parliamentary elections the party had become the fourth strongest party with 13.18 percent.