It’s been well over a year since Russia started its brutal war in Ukraine. Alongside changing the entire course of world history and shattering the illusion of peace in the world, it also changed how we perceive news. Many of the Gen-Z or Millennial generation who were born in Europe or the United States (a large share of Uttryck readers, in short), have never experienced war or seen it on the news in this scale. Of course, many of us have watched the documentation of the civil war in Syria, Afghanistan, and other troubled parts of the world, but many of us have never experienced a war in our own continent and of this scale.
Moreover, the Western news landscape has never been so united before. Almost all the largest European and American news outlets have continuously displayed unconditional support for Ukraine and stressed how important it is for it to beat Russia and emerge victorious in this war. However, while it is extremely important to keep the public informed about the course of the war and Ukrainian efforts, it is equally important that major Western news outlets keep up the same pace when making news about the current situation in Russia. Specifically, news that concern the repression of dissent across Russia.
Of course, Western media write about this topic, even on smaller scale issues. For example, back in 29th of March, when a Russian man was arrested after his daughter made a drawing in school condemning the war. That story was covered by various notable media outlets, such as The Guardian and Al Jazeera. Even Eastern European media outlets, which commonly take a way harsher stance on Russia and post even more about Ukraine, widely published this story.
Why writing about Russia during this time is particularly important
Throughout many debates around the war, many have talked about the possibility of regime change in Russia that could lead to the overthrowing of Putin and the end of the war. Other popular point of discussion is what are the chances of the Russian people staging a country-wide protest movement, like what happened a few years ago in Belarus. A popular radical view shared by many is that the Russian people share a so-called “slave mentality” that demands a ruler who can provide stability for them. Many of the people who share these views are of Western origin (such as Daniel Rancour-Laferriere, the author of the book “The Slave Soul of Russia: Moral Masochism and the Cult of Suffering” but it is also common among Russia’s neighbour states, such as the Baltic States and Poland, with nationalist and right-wing parties in these countries especially fuelling these views. Knowing that Russia throughout its history has been a democracy for only a few years and that large share of the Russian population, especially those living in the countryside, are passionate supporters of Putin and believe in the so-called “Russian world,” it is easy to jump to that conclusion.
However, it is important to realize that this is a widely exaggerated stereotype. Sure, the number of people who have been arrested in anti-war protests in Russia (around 20,000 by now), is quite small compared to the country’s total population of 143 million. However, is it because of the Russian “slave mindset” or because the people who want to speak out are currently living under a brutal fascist dictatorship, where even the tiniest offense (like a children’s drawing) can lead to lengthy prison sentences?
Therefore, news plays a very important role in keeping the public aware why it’s not worth it to hope for a “regime change” or “revolution.” It is true that Russian history and the large share of people who are in support of war are standing in the way of these things. However, we cannot prove this theory wrong or right and see these things play out, because the boot that the Russian state apparatus has on its people is too heavy. And media outlets need to do their best to show that to the public and talk about repression in Russia extensively, so that readers can break free of long-held stereotypes. Furthermore, stories about this type of repression to show how this repression is holding the Russian people hostage in the worst parts of their history and not letting them move on from it. In a way, these stories show how Russian history has been stolen – all the progress that was made after the fall of the Soviet Union has been erased in just one year. The media need to showcase how the average Russian is not able to do anything against Putin’s regime.
By: Paul Siksnis
Photography: Алесь Усцінаў