Analysis: A propaganda war needs angry, defiant, disgusted, nerve-wracked people - and the Czech Republic qualifies
The return to the self-serving lie about a Greater Russia is costing the Russians absolutely everything, including their self-respect. The idea that it is still possible to destroy everything gives them the strength to continue.
It all began so innocently. In 2013 an American journalist from Radio Free Europe, Rob Coalson, noticed some remarkable material in an inconspicuous Russian magazine with a low print run, the Military-Industrial Courier.
The author of the piece was no less than the head of the Russian Chief of Staff, Valery Gerasimov. The Gerasimov Doctrine is named after his main thesis.
Informational, political and psychological war
Since then, the Gerasimov Doctrine has become a well-worn phrase among experts even as it has remained an absolutely unknown phenomenon to the target populations for whom this kind of propaganda is designed. For that reason, it is appropriate to write about it here.
The Gerasimov Doctrine is remarkable in several respects. In that 2013 article, it was described as a new method of warfare in the information age, based primarily on informational warfare, political warfare and psychological warfare in addition to conventional military aggression.
I will begin with the less important aspect - what was apparent from the beginning was the aggressor's classic paranoia. Any strategist knows this mindset.
If, for years, you are involved with a plan to control enemy territory, then over time it will begin to seem logical to you that your enemy should do absolutely the same thing. The more you specialize your plans, the more improbable it seems to you that your otherwise advanced enemy has not already prepared something similar.
Gerasimov's Doctrine is based on the thesis that a nonlinear, subversive war has long been waged against Russia by the West, and that Russia is just defending itself. For the Russians this rhetorical specialty is nothing new - they have used it since the 1930s.
"They started it" is one of the traditional opening arguments parroted online by their human trolls in online discussions, and today the "they" means America, Germany, the West, whoever. The most famous Czech author of all time, Karel Čapek, who coined the term "robot", joked about this mindset during the previous century when he wrote: "The enemy insidiously attempted to fire on our aircraft as we peacefully overwhelmed his city with bombs."
People have to be angry
Now we turn to what is essential: The 2013 article about these new warfare methods focused all attention on the economic, humanitarian, informational, political and other non-military measures that aim to awaken the potential of ordinary people to protest against their circumstances. In order to engage in protest, people must become angry, defiant, disgusted, and nerve-wracked.
The scientific potential of the natural and social sciences is becoming a full-fledged component of this military doctrine. Previously despised "soft fields" such as cultural ethnography, demography, economics, history, linguistics, psychology, sociology and statistics are all information sources that must be gleaned from in order to understand the inhabitants of the West.
The territory to be occupied is comprised of information. It is located in our minds.
How we think, what we believe, which fairytales we love, which historical figures we admire, what failures we fear - all of this is important for military analysts. That knowledge can then be recast into action.
Disinformation; extortion; friendly online discussers arguing in favor of propaganda; massive online social networking campaigns; organizing failures of the justice system that are apparent to the naked eye; producing political scandals; subverting Army and Police units; undermining the credibility of politicians and blackmailing them about it; undermining faith in facts, the media, and science - all of this sets the stage for the constant collection and assessment of information. At the generally visible level, these actions manifest in additional social tensions, growing frustrations among various population groups, increasing aggressivity during online discussions, rising levels of threats and vulgarisms in public, and a loss of inhibitions when it comes to the unwritten codes of polite behavior.
Bad moods and prestige
An interesting aspect of hybrid warfare is its activation of the "notorious non-voters" in democracies, i.e., people who, even in a healthy democracy, never cast a ballot. This social "mud", as such aggressive, notorious non-voters are called in the jargon of political "Piarists", is comprised of people who are disoriented, jobless, longtime welfare recipients, who are uneducated or who may have experienced a sudden fall to the bottom of society - they do not vote, and they are more or less glad they do not vote, because society has thrown them to the wolves when it comes to resolving their own particular life situations.
Naturally, it is not the Russians' fault that a bigger and bigger segment of the mid-level estates in both the East and West is falling into existential insecurity and questioning their own values. This fear of the future is very complex and takes many forms in daily life.
The electoral potential of notorious non-voters is horrifyingly destructive. It is never an accident that such voters always choose the biggest, loudest, Dadaist destroyer, populist and vulgarian.
The Russians have learned how to exploit these voters and to push their most sensitive buttons so that these people lose their self-control. It is absolutely justified for us to feel that these people's need for insults and vulgarities, their notions of destroying the establishment, their "striking back" in retaliation for their own ruined, unfulfilled lives, is the stuff of nightmares.
We were discussing who might take an interest in these people. This is how politicians appear on the scene who speak intentionally just to them.
These politicians seek to command them. They increase their importance, they endow their "bad mood" with social prestige.
From time to time these politicians offer their followers something violent or vulgar. It is a stroke of genius to get these people to turn out and vote.
In February 1948, it was the desire of people such as these to destroy everything that led to the painful intervention that was then so beautifully exploited by the Communists. This was gorgeously portrayed in the 1969 film "All My Compatriots" (Všichni dobří rodáci) by the Czech director Jasný.
The successful, wealthy peasants who rose up in Moravia, the clever, hardworking toilers who bled for their country, were sent to concentration camps by the local proletariat. Their farms were plundered and bankrupted during the course of one year.
Order would have been restored if those same disaffected people hadn't voted in 1946 and supported the Communists in 1948. After that, everything collapsed and the Russian "advisors" arrived to Czechoslovakia.
The Nazis and the optimists
A basic feature of Gerasimov's warfare is exactly the fact that it is a combined, hybrid approach. No one instrument supersedes any other, the effect is comprised of the action of many factors at once.
Propaganda in and of itself is not the main source of victory in this war either. Without blackmail, without compromising and influencing judges, politicians and publicly active figures, without corruption, without financial operations, without psychological operations, nothing about the propaganda would apply and it would remain ineffective.
When hybrid warfare is waged well and the propaganda has its desired effect, a society will, across various sociological groups, begin to feel abandoned by its leaders, divided between "us" and "them", and endangered. The creation of two enemy camps are an important basis for this manipulation to function.
It is important that the hatred between them be fed fresh meat and that it be impossible to trigger the mental act of thinking in the environment. In the beginning, there are many combat lines, but over time they are reduced to just one.
In the Czech Republic these camps are labeled the "Nazis vs. the optimists", the "gender jihadists vs. the chauvinist yokels", etc. Each little wave in these disputes can be blown up into unfathomable tsunamis.
All one needs to do this are proper writers and the right kind of marketing tools on the Internet. The iceberg of hate gradually begins to melt and in each country two camps ultimately form.
Propaganda is not feasible without an enemy, so here in the Czech Republic the discourse involves "corrupt politicians" "darkies", "feminists", "Germans", "ISIS terrorists", "Jews", "lesbians", "multi-cultis", "Muslims", "neo-Marxists at the universities", the "out of touch elites", the "Prague cafe-goers", whatever one can think of. Their essential potential is the fear they generate and its faithful ally, anger.
In Ukraine, these measures of warfare were harshly tested. First, though, the "Ukrainian Spring" arrived, i.e., an actual attempt to draw closer to the West as far as the function of the rule of law and trade were concerned.
This war has no battlefield
Moscow correctly assessed that Ukraine's desire to join Europe would not end well for the Russian Federation, so the Russian Government activated its own people inside the Ukrainian security forces. Dead people on the squares were just a prelude to a plan that was prepared with lightning speed.
The Kremlin decided it preferred war to further loss of influence. Members of Russian special forces and the Navy entered Ukraine.
That advance guard was dressed in uniforms without any state insignia. For that reason, people in Ukraine began to call them "the little green men".
The concept of "little green men" was not Putin's invention, but Lenin's. When, in 1920, the Russian "Red Army" occupied Poland, Lenin proposed the soldiers wear neutral clothing, and they proceeded to string up all the Catholic priests, "kulaks" and landowners in the occupied territories.
The move was designed to give the impression to observers that local farmers had risen up and committed the violence, not an invading military. The 21st-century invasion of Ukraine was the same.
Russian-sponsored locals were quickly engaged to play the role of "separatists". Ever since, an integral component of the warfare has been propaganda that mainly aims to: a) anger ethnic Russians in Ukraine and incite them against Ukraine; and b) to destabilize the leaders of various states on the international scene by undermining their ability to correctly identify what is going on in Ukraine and to infiltrate them all en masse with a Russia-controlled media source that delivers a range of content in a range of languages.
Today this approach is called "alternative facts". The truthful version of events - i.e., the actual facts - is, by comparison, of no interest for the public being targeted by all of this propaganda.
The truth, compared to a "sexy" lie, is just stale beer. Both Facebook and Twitter could tell us something about the relative success of each.
This asymmetry in disseminating lies and truth is becoming the axis of the new battle lines. A lie is always exciting and titillating, while the truth is just a boring, stupefying repair job featuring grey facts.
The facts will always come later. Who cares about them?
The use of open military force is, in the draft proposals of the Gerasimov Doctrine, intended primarily for the CLOSE of the conflict, and seems to smooth over what is happening on the enemy's territory as if of its own accord. This use of military force is called, by Gerasimov, "peacekeeping".
In the case of Ukraine, however, there was not enough time to deploy a long-winded series of nonsense beforehand. The Ukrainian students suddenly, without warning, decided that they want to live free of Russian influence and began demonstrating.
It was, therefore, necessary for the Kremlin to act. The propaganda was deployed ex post.
In parallel, pro-Russian politicians in Europe began to repeat the official propaganda slang of the Kremlin channels. "A Fascist coup is underway in Ukraine! People want to go back to the Banderites! Violence is being committed against Russians! Nazi swastikas are hanging everywhere! The Russians must defend their people!" ... and it was all underway.
"The essence of non-linear war," Gerasimov says, "is the fact that the war is not on a battlefield. It is all around you."
Here I would add that we are being surrounded like never before. None of the ordinary people being targeted has managed to realize that we are in this insidious war.
That idea seems too absurd to us. How can a war take place just in our minds, without a shot being fired?
This article was originally written for the Institute of Independent Journalism, an independent nonprofit organization and registered institute involved in providing information, journalism and news reporting. The Institute's analyses, articles and data outputs are offered to all for use under prearranged conditions.
Alexandra Alvarová is the author of Industry of Lies: Propaganda, Conspiracy and the Disinformation War (Průmysl lži: Propaganda, konspirace, a dezinformační válka), published by Triton (2017) in the Czech Republic, which describes it as follows:
"The book is intended for readers who believe in critical thinking, education, and healthy common sense and will convince readers that unfortunately, nothing of the sort exists. The author has studied marketing and political propaganda for 20 years and will demonstrate to readers how childish, emotionally lazy, naive, stupid and unreliable our brains are when they form opinions. Readers will become immersed in a world about which nobody has written anywhere else because it is located behind the scenes of the big power games where billions are spinning. In that world, 1 + 1 does not necessary equal 2 - not even to you! It is a world of manipulation and propaganda. She has decided to speak up so readers can comprehend what easy prey we all are for political marketers."
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