Psychologists say that every war first starts in human hearts – with the dehumanization of one’s opponent. The current sad state of Russia’s relations with the US and the EU is characterized by exactly that – dehumanization.
The modern form of the Western denial of an opponent’s human qualities is to make them “non-eligible” for expressing their views via global media, for holding votes that the West does not approve of, or even for participating in international sports events. This article will consider the forms of this denial.
Clapper’s foray into genetics
There are some old-fashioned forms of dehumanization, when an opponent is declared “genetically” inferior or dangerous. When former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last year spoke about “the historical practices of the Russians, who typically, are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique,” he used exactly that old method.
Clapper himself was visibly unhappy with his utterance and probably received a moral dressing-down from his curators – not for the substance, but for the form of his attack on the Russians. In the modern world, there are lots of ways to demonize your enemy without using ethnic slurs. But are other kinds of “group demonization” (or, in fact, dehumanization) any better? One of the subtler methods of such dehumanization nowadays is to deny your opponent certain group credentials, putting in doubt his or her status as a journalist, soldier, citizen, etc. – it also helps to avoid accusations of racism. So, Clapper should probably learn from the subtler European demonizers.
Here’s an example. Speaking in early January, French President Emmanuel Macron called for vigilance against “fake journalists” when addressing a crowd of loyal media.
“It is you, the journalists, who are the first victims of this propaganda. It [the propaganda] imitates your tone of speech, it may even adopt your formats, it uses your vocabulary. Sometimes, it may even recruit its employees among you. Very often, it is financed by certain illiberal democracies, which we condemn every day. It spreads itself, it becomes banal and accepted, and in the end it flourishes on the confusion which we have ourselves gradually accepted,” he said.
Macron did not name Russia directly, but people familiar with his earlier statements could figure out that at least one of the “illiberal democracies” he referred to was in fact Russia. In 2017, Macron even ordered RT and Sputnik to be denied accreditation to events with his participation during his election campaign.
The tradition of denying essential human qualities to perceived Russian rivals has a long history in France. Jules Michelet (1798-1874) was a French historian specializing in what NATO strategists would today call “the protection of Poland from Russian aggression.” Michelet did it by lionizing a hero of the Polish 1794 uprising against Russia, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, and denigrating his enemies. In a pamphlet headlined “Poland and Russia: the legend of Kosciuszko” (1851), Michelet described Russians as creatures which have not yet become entirely human: “These are not yet human beings, these creatures with their thin eyes of lizards… What they miss is an essential prerequisite of humanity: the sense of morality, the ability to tell the good from the evil… They lie innocently and steal innocently, and they lie and steal all the time.”
‘Looking like humans’
There is a certain similarity in the ways Macron describes ‘fake journalists’ and Michelet describes ‘fake humans.’ Both demonized groups are accused of looking like humans, but not being actual humans, and denied the ability to take conscious moral decisions, “to tell the good from the evil.” This is supposed to put “Europeans” (who obviously can tell good from evil) in a position of moral superiority over Russians. And not only over ethnic Russians, but also those in the West who show understanding for Russians. Moral superiority is a typical and comfortable position for Russia’s critics from the EU, who drove the theme of “difference in values” between Russia and the EU to the point of racism.
“Racism is pervasive for the society that we live in,” Immanuel Wallerstein, the famous American sociologist and founder of the world-systems theory, told the author of this article during his recent visit to Moscow. “In the old times, racists boasted of richer biological, genetical heritage. When this became indecent, racists boasted of older and richer cultures. When this started to sound absurd too, racists started saying that they have better moral values than the supposedly inferior groups. But the driving force behind all of these comparisons is the same – racism.”
In our times, this “values-based” racism is often used for political purposes. The ongoing Russiagate saga is a perfect example of such a use. In the end, James Clapper’s diatribe about Russians being “genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate and gain favor” was aimed at driving the much-needed message about Russia’s alleged meddling in the US election: “If you put that in context with everything else we knew the Russians were doing to interfere with the election… We were concerned.”
Alarming historic parallels
This position of moral superiority towards opponents (not necessarily Russians), which the modern European and American leaders ascribe to themselves in some of its aspects reminds us of the darkest pages of Western history. It should not be forgotten that the German Nazis denied the human nature of the people opposed to their regime. Here is the famous excerpt from the manual handed out to SS servicemen during World War II: “A subhuman is only by appearance biologically similar to humans, in reality it is a very different creation of nature. It has hands, feet, a kind of brain, eyes and a mouth, but spiritually and psychologically it is further removed from us than any animal… Not everyone that has a human appearance is actually human. Woe to those who forget it!” (Source: Walther Hofer, “Nationalsozialismus. Dokumente 1933-1945” Frankfurt am Main, 1959, p. 280.)
The modern West’s new “value-based” racism is certainly not as crude and brutal as German Nazism was: today’s politicians prefer to avoid open ethnic slurs and are acting along the softer lines of declaring certain people non-eligible for certain activities. In the last few weeks alone, groups of Russians and their sympathizers were declared by Western officials to be non-eligible for journalism, for the Olympic Games (out of about 500 Russian athletes who had been preparing for the Winter Games, only 169 were allowed by the International Olympic Committee to go to South Korea) and for international trade.
The US State Department makes no secret that its goal is to discourage foreign governments from interacting with Russian defense industry companies.
“Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement on Monday. “Since the enactment of the CAATSA [the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act] legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.”
But the peak of this policy of “non-eligibility” for Russians is the recent resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) “On Humanitarian Consequences of the War in Ukraine.” The resolution in fact denied the results of the Crimean referendum, held in 2014, on the peninsula’s reunification with Russia. Crimea’s Russian majority, in the view of PACE, apparently wasn’t entitled to decide on their future.
The document declares Crimea an “occupied territory” and calls the onslaught of the Ukrainian army on the rebellious Russian-speaking regions in the east of the country (Donbass), which refused to recognize the self-imposed post-Maidan regime in Kiev, “the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine.” The fact that the Ukrainian army in 2014 used aviation and hit densely populated cities, killing thousands of civilians in the areas that had predominantly voted for the ousted president, Viktor Yanukovich, did not produce any impression on Western parliamentarians.
Again, European parliamentarians are demonizing Russia and Russians from the position of innate moral superiority. They forget the multiple reports in the Western media in the 1990s and 2000s about the desire of Russian-speaking Crimeans to be a part of Russia again.
PACE’s bigwigs also forgot that even the New York Times’ pre-Maidan reports on Crimea mentioned the continuous attempts of the Ukrainian government to liquidate the Russian-speaking region’s autonomy – even under the supposedly “Russia-friendly” former President Leonid Kuchma. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian nationalist parties that formed the post-Maidan Ukrainian government declared this goal as one of their top priorities.
The European parliamentarians seem to have also wiped out from their memory the violent scenes of the seizure of government buildings by Maidan activists in 2014, which even Western television could not ignore at the time, while hypocritically calling that act, coupled with the killings of policemen, a part of “peaceful protests” against a “pro-Russian regime.”
And of course no mention is made in PACE’s resolution of the food, energy and banking blockade, which the regime in Kiev has imposed on the rebellious eastern regions since 2014, prohibiting any supplies of food and money transfers. In 2017, the supplies of electricity and water from Ukraine were also terminated
And in this situation PACE’s resolution “On Humanitarian Consequences of the War in Ukraine” calls on the Russian government to stop supporting the rebellious territories economically. That, in the absence of food, electricity and water from Ukraine, would mean starvation and freezing for 4 million people, who are locked by the Kiev government on just 3 percent of Ukraine’s territory. Suggesting this cruel move to Moscow, PACE declares itself “concerned about the alarming humanitarian situation on the occupied territories.” Obviously, the people of Donbass, in the view of the modern European “humanists,” are eligible to eat food only after they return to the embrace of the West-supported nationalist regime in Kiev.
Not just against Russians
Let’s not delude ourselves: the new “values-based” racism is directed not only against Russians. To a no lesser extent it is directed against those people and political forces in the West which refuse to toe the line of the ruling circles in the US and the EU. European history provides lots of examples of the following situation: when an authoritarian “Euro-centrist” ideology comes to power in Europe, the “inner enemy” is being dealt with by means no less severe than those used against Russians or other outsiders. The periods of the Napoleonic wars and Nazi and fascist domination of Europe in the 20th century are just the most vivid examples. Journalists and the non-mainstream media are usually the first victims in such situations. The ongoing pan-European craze about fighting “fake news” is not coincidental. Let’s not forget that the only two regimes in human history which decided to eradicate “fake news” completely, declaring non-authorized information a crime, were Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Back then is was called “hostile propaganda”.
About the Author
Dmitry Babich was born in Moscow, in 1970. He has worked for various media outlets for 25 years, including The Moscow News and RIA Novosti news agency. He is currently working as a political analyst at Sputnik International, and is a frequent guest on BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN commenting on international affairs and history.