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Struggle against fake information about events in Ukraine
Updated: 5 min 35 sec ago

On WhatsApp, Fake News is Nearly Impossible to Moderate. Is That a Bad Thing?

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 10:22

Image via Pixabay. From Public Domain.

With the number of social media users in India rapidly rising, the dissemination of fake news has become a widespread phenomenon in recent years.

So-called “information overload” has made it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, and in some cases, misinformation spread via social media appears to have precipitated real-life violence, sometimes with fatal consequences.

In one recent incident, Twitter users in India expressed their anger when a ruling party member shared an image taken out of context, in what seemed like an effort to stoke social tensions during a riot in the Indian state of West Bengal. Several such images were circulated through social media to skew public opinion in this period. In 2015, a possibly fake image circulated via WhatsApp and was later linked to the subsequent lynching of a Muslim man in India, on the suspicion that he had slaughtered a cow.

In India, reporting misinformation to police can be a first step towards prosecuting its sender under Indian laws like Section 67 of the IT act, if the information is perceived as likely to be “harmful to young minds”, or section 468 of IPC if the news is considered “detrimental” to someone’s reputation. But policies like these are hard to implement effectively, routinely running afoul of protections for free expression.

Online civil society is also increasingly proactive, with the emergence of several hoax-slaying initiatives run by do-gooders from different spheres of life who try to expose fake news for what it is. But research has shown that civilian reporting of fake news is often not swift or thorough enough to curb the problem.

At the moment, the most likely mitigators of fake news online may be the social media companies themselves. But experts are still undecided on whether or how companies might change their behaviors — by choice or by regulation — in order to diminish the problem.

Facebook’s “trending” tweaks

As a major venue for the spread of fake news, Facebook has found itself at the center of this debate. After the 2016 US election, critics charged that the prevalence of false stories smearing Hillary Clinton, spread mostly on Facebook, may have shaped the outcome of the US election. These allegations triggered an ongoing debate about how Facebook might moderate misinformation on their network, along with multiple technical tweaks by Facebook, in an attempt to make its network less friendly to fake news distributors.

Most recently, Facebook updated its “Trending” feature formula. Unlike in the past, when the posts with maximum engagement appeared in the “Trending” section, now only those posts that have been shared by other “reputable sources” will appear in the Trending section. Users are also invited to contribute to the system by reporting false news stories directly to the company.

But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says it is difficult to rely on feedback from users, who may flag potentially correct content as wrong, for vested reasons. In fact, recent research seems to indicate that most people fail to distinguish between real and fake online content. This, along with the fact that most of the news that we receive on social media sites are from those in our close circles (and therefore people we generally trust), makes social media an ideal platform for propagating fake news.

The only thing that is certain is that there are major pitfalls for any entity — whether a company, a government, or an individual — that aims to separate out the real from the fake.

Thanks to encryption, WhatsApp can’t moderate messages

While misinformation continues to circulate on standard social media platforms, all of the above examples from India reportedly went viral on WhatsApp. As the internet-based messaging app has become a key platform for disseminating news and information, for groups of friends and media houses alike, it has also increasingly served as a mechanism for distributing fake news.

But the picture becomes more complex when it comes to news and information spread through WhatsApp.

WhatsApp (which is owned by Facebook) is the leading messaging app for mobile users outside of the US. It is often easier to access via mobile phone than Facebook or other platforms that carry a higher volume of content and code.

But in contrast to the technology that supports Facebook, which allows the company can see and analyze what users post, WhatsApp operators have no way of seeing the content of users’ messages.

This is because WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, where only the sender (on one end) and receiver (on the other end) can read each other’s messages. This design feature has been a boon for users — including journalists and human rights advocates — who wish to keep their communications private from government surveillance.

But when it comes to the proliferation of misinformation, this presents a significant hurdle. In a recent interview with the Economic Times, WhatsApp software engineer Alan Kao explained that WhatsApp’s underlying encryption makes it difficult to tackle the challenge of fake news, as WhatsApp operators have no way of seeing what kind of information is being spread on their networks, unless it is reported to them directly by users.

Like other Facebook-owned products, WhatsApp has a policy on acceptable use which prohibits the use of the app, among other things, to publish “falsehoods, misrepresentations, or misleading statements.” But this seems more like a suggestion than a hard and fast rule. The app doesn’t offer a user-friendly way to report violating content, apart from its “Report Spam” option. In its FAQ on reporting “issues” (i.e. problems) to WhatsApp, the company writes:

We encourage you to report problematic content to us. Please keep in mind that to help ensure the safety, confidentiality and security of your messages, we generally do not have the contents of messages available to us, which limits our ability to verify the report and take action.

When needed, you can take a screenshot of the content and share it, along with any available contact info, with appropriate law enforcement authorities.

While it is easy to see why the company would encourage users to report violating behavior to law enforcement, this might not render the best outcome in a country like India (alongside many others.) Indeed, there have been several cases of arrests of people who have criticized politicians on WhatsApp. And in April 2017, an Indian court ruled that a WhatsApp group administrator could even be sentenced to jail time for “offensive” posts.

No matter what, it seems there is always the risk of the powers-that-be taking undue advantage of their influence over internet activity.

Written by Kisholoy Mukherjee, for Global Voices
Categories: World News

Polish TV channels to be broadcast in southeastern Lithuania to offset Russian propaganda

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 04:36

By Baltic Times

In an effort to counterbalance Russian propaganda, three Polish television channels will be made available to viewers in Lithuania’s southeastern districts with large ethnic Polish communities.

Free-to-air terrestrial broadcasts of TVP Info, Kino Polska International and Kino Polska Muzyka International are planned to begin in the districts of Vilnius, Salcininkai and Svencionys next February.

The Lithuanian Transport and Communications Ministry last Friday published the technical specifications for the public procurement for retransmission services, with the bidding procedure to be launched in late September and a contract with the winning bidder to be signed in late December.

Marijus Antonovic, a political scientist, welcomes the decision as a step in the right direction in providing an alternative to the Kremlin-controlled media, but notes that the selection of information TV channels is limited to TVP Info, a firm supporter of Poland’s ruling party.

“Retransmission of Polish television programs is needed because this helps a part of people to maintain Polish culture and provides an alternative to the Kremlin’s Russian-language production, which is popular among Poles in Lithuania,” Antonovic, who is a lecturer at Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Science and a member of Polish Discussion Club, told BNS.

“However, I think there should be a wider choice, because TVP Info currently strongly supports the authorities and Poland’s ruling party,” he said.

Lithuania has a population of around 200,000 ethnic Poles. TV Polonia is currently the only Polish TV channel available to viewers in Lithuania free of charge.

By Baltic Times

Categories: World News

Russian education officials in Krasnodar mandate weekly ‘information sessions’ where students will discuss ‘glory to Russia’ and other news

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 20:32

By Meduza

Russian education officials in the Krasnodar region have required all schools this year to conduct weekly “five-minute information sessions,” where students are expected to discuss current events, an Education Ministry spokesperson told the website Yugopolis.

The “information sessions” are required for all students, from first to 11th grade, and fall into the following themes: “Glory to Russia,” “The Story Says,” “News of the Week,” and “We Live in the Kuban.” Students will reportedly prepare “information presentations” for their classes with the help of teachers.

One local school principal told the radio station Ekho Moskvy that the “sessions” will also address contemporary political issues. Parents previously told reporters that their children had been told to watch news broadcasts on state television and describe the reports in class.

Russian education laws prohibit teachers from conducting political propaganda in class or imposing any political views on students.

In Soviet schools, students had lessons in “political information,” where they discussed political news reported on state television and state newspapers.

By Meduza

Categories: World News

European Commission to set up expert group on fake news

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 20:20

Photo: Commissioner Gabriel at a European Commission College meeting. copyright

By Mirka Pavlíková, for ESJNews

On Tuesday 29 August, new EU Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel announced that she is planning to set up an expert group on fake news. The experts’ findings can help create new legislative proposals concerning internet propaganda. However, she said it is premature to talk about a hard law on the EU level.

European countries still feel threatened by propaganda and fake news, mainly due to incoming important national elections. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of the most determined critics of Russian propaganda campaigns. Germany introduced its own national law about social media’s responsibility to remove illegal content like hate speech earlier this year. Possible new European legislation concerning fake news might set common rules across the Union, which can help minimise differences in approaches to internet propaganda between member states. Gabriel states that internet companies like Facebook have a duty to care about the problem. Cooperation with researchers, media, and institutions is an important factor of united approach against propaganda. The essential problem might be that social media providers claim they are not responsible for what their users post.

By Mirka Pavlíková, for ESJNews

Categories: World News

Fake: Ukraine a US Biological Testing Site

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 16:45

Scores of Russian media disseminated stories this week claiming that the US were conducting secret biological experiments in Ukraine resulting in some of the recent outbreaks of certain diseases in the country. All the publications use the same source for this fake story, the hacker group Cyber Berkut.

Website screenshot TASS

This is not the first time that such stories have been circulated; they rely on conspiracy theories and offer no evidence for their claims. StopFake has debunked similar fakes in the past and repeatedly pointed out that information distributed by Cyber Berkut is completely unreliable.

Website screenshot Cyber Berkut

RIA Novosti Ukraina, TASS, REN TV, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Life News, Hispan TV and many other propagandist sites circulated this fake story.

Some Russian sites cited a Global Research article about the Pentagon unleashing biological weapons against Europe and quoted UNICEF Ukraine representative Joanna Barbaris speaking about a measles outbreak, implying that the two were secretly connected. However, according to Barbaris, the recent measles outbreak in Ukraine has nothing to do with biological weapons, it occurred because parents would not have their children vaccinated against the disease.

StopFake has pointed out on numerous occasions that Global Research is not a real news and analysis site, but rather a factory of fakes specializing in conspiracy theories.

The Cyber Berkut story that Russian media cite is filled with innuendo and unsubstantiated claims about US military intelligence running biological weapons labs in Ukraine. The story refers to emails from a Dr. Eliot Pearlman, head of the International HIV/AIDS and TB Institute about meeting medical officers from the Defense Ministry and Ukraine’s National Guard, attending conferences and distributing condoms to Ukrainian soldiers. None of these are secret activities.

Eliot Pearlman is a former US army doctor who has lived in Ukraine since 1991, his activities with HIV and TB prevention are completely open and accessible on his NGO’s website.

Cyber Berkut also claims that one of the companies running these secret laboratories is Black&Veatch,  a global consulting company specializing in infrastructure development. Black&Veatch was awarded a US Defense Threat Reduction Agency contract to help Ukraine enhance its capacity to detect, diagnose, report and respond to infectious disease outbreaks and has built a state of the art diagnostics laboratory in Odesa.

Website screenshot Black&Veatch

StopFake has reported that in 2005 Ukraine’s Health Ministry and the US Defense Department signed a cooperation agreement aimed to prevent the spread of pathogens, technology and expertise that could be used in the development of biological weapons. Under the agreement many Ukrainian laboratories were overhauled and modernized. The labs are completely open and transparent as is the work  that is taking place there.


Categories: World News

Kremlin Watch Monitor. September 5, 2017

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 01:23

Weekly Update on the Kremlin’s Disinformation Efforts

According to Politico, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson finally approved $60 million for use by the Global Engagement Center, an inter-agency within the State Department, after initially refusing to accept the funding. For weeks, he has endured increasing pressure from Congress, which allocated $80 million for national efforts to counter propaganda and disinformation campaigns. Mr. Tillerson also gave the green light for a $40 million transfer from the Pentagon to the GEC in order to fight state-sponsored propaganda.

The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab recently published an analysis on how pro-Kremlin social media users and news outlets, together with alt-right platforms, amplified pro-Kremlin narratives about the Charlottesville protests. Soon afterwards, the subjects of the analysis took action against the researchers, The Daily Beast reports. One of the accounts tweeted that the ProPublica website which published the analysis is an “alt-left #HateGroup and #FakeNews site funded by Soros.” The likely goal of the ensuing retweets was to saturate the notifications of their target.

The website of Julia Klöckner, the CDU’s leader in the state of Rhineland Palatinate, seems to have been hacked last week, Politico reports. Her spokesman, as well as the politician herself in a Tweet, stated that the hacking attempts likely came from a Russian server.

EU Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel announced last week that she is planning to set up a high-level group of external experts to advise her on “fake news”. In the next three months, she is also planning to hold a public consultation, “a detailed call for feedback on specialised topics, which can often feed into new EU legislative proposals”, Euractiv reports. The goal seems to be to pressure social media companies to take action in order to monitor disinformation posted on their platforms.

Putin’s Champion Award

Our Expert Jury consisting of Jessikka Aro, Peter Kreko, Nerijus Maliukevičius, Anton Shekhovtsov and John Schindler, regularly votes on the dangerousness of several candidates you can nominate via e-mail or Twitter.

The 18th Putin’s Champion Award Recipient is:

University of Debrecen

For its lack of intellectual integrity given its award of honorary membership to Vladimir Putin.

Istvan, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Expert Jury ranked his Putin-supportive job with


(out of 5) mark.

The rating signals how much the recipient contributed to the interest of the Putin’s aggressive regime. It is calculated as an average of ratings assessed by the Expert Jury of this Award.

You can find more details about the award and the former recipients here.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion


Prepared by the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence

Read the full study here.

The NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence published the first issue of Robotrolling, a publication dedicated to the activities of automated bots on social media. In the inaugural edition, they deal specifically with Twitter activities connected to NATO and four host countries of NATO troops – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland – in the period between March and August 2017, in both the Russian and English language. The study shows that 70% of accounts active in Russian on the given subject were automated. In the English language sphere, the number of automated accounts was smaller (28%), but was responsible for a relatively large amount of content.

How do Russian Twitter-bots operate? They are often distinguished by high levels of coordination, in contrast to the English-language accounts, which mostly consist of lone actors. Among the four host countries in question, Estonia has been targeted most frequently by Twitter-bots, while Poland and Lithuania the least. Most often, the bots talk to other bots, promoting third party content or incrementally building more believable profiles. Most commonly, they copy-and-paste headlines from online media outlets or serve as news aggregators.

Good Old Soviet Joke

Man on Red Square shouts, ‘Brezhnev is an idiot!’ He gets sentenced to 15 years: five years for insulting the Soviet leader, and 10 years for betraying a state secret.

Euroatlantic experts on disinformation warfare

A new documentary produced by StopFake tracks the origins of “fake news” all the way to World War II. It includes experts like Simon Ostrovsky (VICE News), Eliot Higgins (Bellingcat), Edward Lucas (The Economist), Gregory Asmolov (London School of Economics) and Alastair Reid (First Draft).

For Politico, J.M. Berger highlights the findings of Hamilton 68, an interactive dashboard that monitors near-real-time outputs of the Kremlin’s influence operations on Twitter, focusing on pro-Kremlin and alt-right content.

In the World Affairs Journal, Hannah Thoburn highlights the importance of educational media programs for children in the Russian language, similar to the Laboratory of Miracles broadcast in Latvia. This show focuses on popular science for kids and, if proven successful, might also be exported to other post-Soviet countries.

Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Think-Tank, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against liberal-democratic system

Categories: World News

Denmark and Sweden: “Russian fake news is a danger to our countries”

Tue, 09/05/2017 - 08:21

By EU vs Disinfo

Denmark and Sweden will cooperate in the field of hybrid threats, and there will be a strong focus on the problem with fake news and disinformation. This was the message in an op-ed published on Wednesday by the two countries’ defence ministers in the Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet under the headline “Russian fake news: a danger to our countries”.

“The security situation in our region is deteriorating as a result of Russia’s military build-up”, the ministers said in the op-ed, highlighting the threat from “hybrid warfare, including various forms of cyber attacks, disinformation and fake news, which can create uncertainty in societies. When we cannot clearly distinguish fake news and disinformation from what is true, we become increasingly unsafe. We have both been exposed to this in different forms […] We will increase our cooperation in this area”, defence ministers Claus Hjort Frederiksen (Denmark) and Peter Hulqvist (Sweden) concluded in their joint statement.

Denmark’s defence minister has already spoken openly about the threat posed by pro-Kremlin disinformation to the Danish troops which will be deployed to Estonia as a part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence. In Sweden, which is not a NATO member, authorities have taken measures to raise resilience in Swedish society in the run-up the 2018 elections, due to the attempts seen in other countries to influence the outcome of elections. Both Denmark and Sweden have contributed with seconded experts to EU’s East Stratcom Task Force in Brussels, which since September 2015 has created awareness about the ongoing pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign in Europe.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Russian-Speaking Belarusians and Ukrainians Threaten Putin’s ‘Russian World’ and Russia Itself

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 22:09

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Most commentaries on Belarus and Ukraine suggest that the relatively large Russian-speaking populations in these two countries are a threat to their survival because they make it easier for Moscow to manipulate the domestic situation of the two and that the growth of Belarusian and Ukrainian speakers thus benefits these countries and harms Russia.

While those may be reasonable conclusions for Belarusians and Ukrainians under certain circumstances, they ignore the way Russian-speaking Belarusian and Ukrainian patriots, people who identify with Belarus and Ukraine, represent a serious threat to Moscow and to Vladimir Putin’s largely linguistically defined “Russian world.”

Indeed, the existence of Russian-speaking countries besides Russia represents a threat to the maintenance of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation itself because they serve notice that just as there are many English-speaking countries in the world, there could be many Russian speaking ones as well, including Siberians, Far Easterners and so on.

The case of Belarus is especially instructive on these points. A new analysis on the Deutsche Welle portal notes that “although the majority of Belarusians speak Russian, they not only do not associate themselves with Russia but call themselves citizens of their own country” (особенности-белорусской-национальной-идентичности/a-37674267).

Indeed, Belarusian scholars say that it is quite possible to be a Belarusian without knowing a word of Belarusian and that such an approach reflects a phenomenon more widely recognized among the Irish who speak English or Austrians who speak German but are nonetheless committed Irish or Austrian patriots, writer Valentina Akudovich says.

Andrey Vardomatsky, a Belarusian sociologist, comes to the same point with the rhetorical question: “Do you know the Brazilian language or the Venezuelan one?” Language is “a strong but far from the only indicator of national identity.” Other factors can sometimes play a much larger role.

“An individual can live wherever he wants, speak whatever language he wants, and grow up in whatever cultural tradition, but at the same time consider himself subjectively a representative of a different nation,” the sociologist continues, who argues that language is only one of the five traditional criteria of such identities.

(The others are a shared history, a shared culture, a shared territory, and common socio-psychological dispositions.)

As far as Belarusian identity is concerned, Vardomatsky says, at the present time, Belarusian national identity is more involved with territory and statehood than with anything else.  Language issues are important and will remain a source of discord but they are not the determining factor many think.

One of the reasons culture and language play less of a role, cultural specialist Maksim Zhdankov says, is that before World War II, the Soviets largely destroyed the Belarusian intelligentsia and after the war promoted in-migration and out-migration to dilute the Belarusianness of the people.

Since 1991, Belarusians have felt themselves separate and distinct because they now have a state, and as a result, he continues, “even people who speak Russian 100 percent of the time while living on Belarusian territory do not associate themselves with Russia and have a very clear attachment to ‘here and now’” and that “here and now” is “the Belarusian Republic.

Many Belarusians hope that their national language will become more commonly used and that Russian as a result will be less so, but language alone, they argue, is not going to determine identities, something they can feel good about and that Moscow at least under Putin can only fear.

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

A pre-history of post-truth, East and West

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 21:50

By Marci Shore, Eurozine

Postmodernism was conceived largely by the Left as a safeguard against totalizing ideologies. Yet today, it has been appropriated on behalf of an encroaching neo-totalitarianism of the Right. Is French literary theory to blame? And can a philosophy of dissent developed in communist eastern Europe offer an antidote?

In 2014, Russian historian Andrei Zubov was fired from his Moscow professorship for comparing Putin’s annexation of Crimea to Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland.1 Two years later, at a festival in the post-industrial Czech city of Ostrava, Zubov spoke to a large audience about the task of historians. ‘My dolzhni govorit’ pravdu’, he said. We should speak the truth. This declaration – all the more so when uttered in Zubov’s baritone – sounded quaint, even old-fashioned. In particular, the Slavic word pravda – truth – invoked with no qualification and no prefix, suggested a bygone era. Who believed in truth anymore?

The end of ‘The End of History’ arrived together with the end of belief in reality. The Cold War world was a world of warring ideologies; in the twenty-first century, both American capitalism and post-Soviet oligarchy employ the same public relations specialists catering to gangsters with political ambitions. As Peter Pomerantsev described in Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, in the Russia of the 2000s, distinguishing between truth and lies became passé. In this world of enlightened, postmodern people, ‘everything is PR’.

Reality television has rendered obsolete the boundary between the fictional and the real. Truth is a constraint that has been overcome; ‘post-truth’ has been declared ‘word of the year.’ In Washington, the White House shamelessly defends its ‘alternative facts’. At the beginning, American journalists were taken off-guard: they had been trained to confirm individual pieces of information, not to confront a brazen untethering from empirical reality. The New Yorker captured the desperation with a satire about the fact-checker who passed out from exhaustion after the Republican debate. He had to be hospitalized; apparently no one replaced him.2

In any moment of crisis, a long Russian tradition poses two ‘eternal questions’. The first: Kto vinovat? Who is to blame? Did postmodernism’s critique of the ontological stability of truth unwillingly create the conditions of possibility for ‘post-truth’, now exploited by oligarchic regimes on both sides of the Atlantic? Is French literary theory and its ‘narcissistic obscurantism’ at fault?3 ‘I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face,’ wrote Michel Foucault. ‘Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same.’4 Was it not always suspicious that literary theorists like Paul de Man and Hans Robert Jauss – each of whom had a vested personal interest in disassociating his youthful wartime self from his post-war scholarly self – elaborate so passionately a philosophy of the inconstancy of the I, the nonexistence of a stable subject, stable meaning, stable truth? Does Jacques Derrida not bear some responsibility for Vladimir Putin?

The second eternal question: Chto delat’? What is to be done? Is there an antidote to postmodernity? If so, where can we search for it?


‘Postmodernity’ has a history. It came not from nowhere, but rather from ‘modernity,’ which in Europe historians have traditionally dated from the eighteenth-century French Enlightenment. In the beginning, God was merely sidelined, relegated to a minor role as human reason took centre stage. ‘Sapere Aude! “Have courage to use your own understanding!” – that is the motto of enlightenment,’ Immanuel Kant famously wrote.5 Later (in the 1880s, to be precise), God was killed off entirely (speculatively by Dostoevsky, definitively by Nietzsche). Now the philosophical stakes of compensating for an emasculated-turned-nonexistent God became still greater. God had fulfilled epistemological, ontological and ethical roles; his death left an enormous empty space. Much of modern philosophy can be described as an attempt to replace God, to find a path to absolute truth in God’s absence.

The search for a path to truth was the search for a bridge: from subject to object, inner to outer, consciousness to world, thought to Being. Epistemology (the study of knowledge, of the possibility of knowledge) now came to dominate philosophical inquiry. Before all else, we needed epistemological clarity, certainty that we could know the world. Otherwise we were doomed to alienation. Hannah Arendt described the ‘melancholy of modern philosophy’ in the absence of anything or anyone who could guarantee the congruity of thought and Being. She blamed Kant (whom she loved) for shattering this classical identity of consciousness and world and so leaving us with nothing to hold onto. Hegel’s philosophy, in turn, was a response to Kant, an attempt to restore this broken unity. The Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski and the Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller both characterized the story Hegel told in The Phenomenology of Spirit as a Bildungsroman of consciousness: we move dialectically through history towards a telos that promises ultimate reconciliation: between subject and object, consciousness and world, thought and Being.6 Yet no one could be sure – Arendt wrote – whether Hegel’s attempt to ‘reconstitute a world now shattered into pieces’ leaves us with ‘a residence or a prison for reality.’7

There was yet another aspect of the problem: in European modernity, truth was not only difficult to reach, but also increasingly vulnerable to politics. Arendt clarified that it was not all truth that was so vulnerable to politics, but in particular ‘factual truth’. This she distinguished from ‘philosophical truth’, which can be understood as truth we can arrive at a priori, by using our own reason, a truth not dependent upon experience: 2+2=4, for instance, or Kant’s categorical imperative that a person should always be treated as an end, not as a means. What is vulnerable to politics is factual truth – a posteriori, empirical truth, truth dependent upon experience. For factual truth always bears the weakness of its original contingency. Two plus two must always, necessarily equal 4, but it was not necessary that Germany invade Belgium in 1914. Events could have played themselves out differently. The German invasion of Belgium is a fact a posteriori. (For Kołakowski, it was precisely this original, infinite contingency of empirical reality that we found existentially unbearable: the lack of a higher imperative for things happening as they do.8)

While politics had always posed a threat to factual truth – Arendt explained – the pre-modern, ‘traditional lie’ had been modest in comparison to the ‘modern political lie’. The traditional lie had two distinguishing qualities: first, it ‘was never meant to deceive literally everybody; it was directed at the enemy and was meant to deceive only him’. And so the truth always found a last refuge, if only within the liar, who was aware he was lying. Secondly, the traditional lie ‘concerned only particulars … [and] a falsehood that makes no attempt to change the whole context – tears, as it were, a hole in the fabric of factuality. As every historian knows, one can spot a lie by noticing incongruities, holes, or the junctures of patched-up places.’9

The modern lie, in contrast, allowed no last refuge for the truth, since the liar deceived himself as well. Moreover, the modern lie was no longer a tear in the fabric of reality. ‘Modern political lies are so big that they require a complete rearrangement of the whole factual texture,’ Arendt wrote, ‘the making of another reality, as it were, into which they will fit without seam, crack, or fissure.’10 In this new reality there was no tear to perceive. This is one way to understand twentieth century totalitarian ideologies: seamless reconstructions of reality. They offered a grand narrative, a story that might be false, but nonetheless possessed its own narrative arc. They offered a transcendental key to our history and our lives, making them into a seamless, coherent whole.


The ideologies that made possible totalitarianism did not last forever. (‘Bolshevism,’ writes Yuri Slezkine in his epic-length saga of the Bolshevik elite, ‘was a one-generational phenomenon’.11) By destroying the would-be experiment of ‘socialism with a human face,’ the Warsaw Pact invasion of Prague brought about the beginning of the end of the last of the grand narratives. In or around 1968, Marxism lost its hold. And there was nothing commensurate in scope to take its place. ‘I define postmodern as incredulity towards meta-narratives,’ wrote the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard a decade later.12 Postmodern philosophy was in large part inspired by the moral desire never again to fall prey to those grand narratives, to those seamless reconstructions of reality that enabled totalitarianism. If modernity was the attempt to replace God, postmodernity began when we gave up on replacing God, when we accepted that there was neither a God nor a viable surrogate.

Karl Marx was untimely when he wrote that ‘all that is solid melts into air’. In the mid-nineteenth century, the observation was premature. Only in the late twentieth century did all that was solid melt. Modernity, explained the Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, aspired to replace the pre-modern solids with something still more solid and lasting. Postmodernity (which Bauman calls ‘liquid modernity’) aspires to melt the solids. This second-wave modernity no longer searches for firm grounding, but embraces ephemerality, slipperiness, uncertainty, liquidity. ‘Flexibility,’ Bauman wrote, ‘has replaced solidity as the ideal condition to be pursued of things and affairs.’ All the while, God remains on His ‘protracted leave of absence.’13

What is so seductive about postmodern theory – as the historian Tony Judt put it  – is precisely its ‘insistence upon subverting not just old certainties but the very possibility of certainty itself.’14 Now we give up on ever finding that bridge from subject to object, inner to outer, thought to Being. We relinquish the idea that there is a holistic order tying the particular to the universal, a stable structure connecting our individual selves to the world. Structures – the French philosopher Jacques Derrida told us – need a centre, a grounding point, be it God or some substitute, a way to limit the otherwise endless play of signifiers and the things they signify. ‘There has to be a transcendental signified,’ Derrida argued, ‘for the difference between signifier and signified to be somewhere absolute and irreducible.’15 But this centre – this ‘transcendental signified’ – is precisely what is missing, what does not and cannot exist. The implication is both destabilizing and liberating. ‘The absence of the transcendental signified,’ wrote Derrida in the founding text of deconstruction, ‘extends the domain and play of signification infinitely’.16

For Derrida, ‘play’ suggested openness, an embracing of plurality. Because there is no centre, no God and no ersatz God holding the structure of the world in place, words, meanings, truths, texts, all subvert themselves, always contain within themselves elements in tension with one another, negating one another. Meaning is never self-identical, but rather always fluid and in flux, incomplete and self-undermining, both different and deferred, other than what it had been a moment before and still to come. The relationship between words and things is not fixed; words are always already at play with one another, and so there can be no once-and-for-all determinate truth. Life is not a closed structure. There are no closed structures; life is constant movement.

And this is important: for Derrida, the very existence of a ‘transcendental signified’ was always already a totalitarian threat. Its absence is salutary, even joyous.17 It is an absence that leaves us not with a deficit of meaning and truth, but rather with a surplus. For Derrida the word ‘play’ was not meant to trivialize our lives and our relationship to the world. On the contrary, ‘play’ was an affirmation of our creativity, our freedom and our responsibility. Derrida’s deconstruction – the paradigmatic postmodern philosophy – was meant not as fatalistic nihilism but as provocative exhilaration. A refusal of all claims to absolute truth was meant to protect us from totalitarian terror. Deconstruction, Derrida insisted, had always represented ‘the least necessary condition for identifying and combating the totalitarian risk’.18


Yet this fluidity, this openness to infinite possibilities, is also an unhinging, leaving us with no secure ground, a condition Arendt calls Bodenlosigkeit. For if there is no determinate truth, if reality is only constructed by discourse, composed of signifiers always at play with one another, does any reality exist at all that we should feel attached to, invest in, depend upon, care deeply about? Bauman argues that ‘numerous authorities’ is an oxymoron; effectively it means ‘no authority.’19 Are infinite meanings and infinite truths effectively equivalent to no meaning and no truth? After the death of faith in Marxism, eastern European thinkers living under a communism no one believed in any longer, very much feared nihilism. They feared what the Czech dissident Václav Havel described to his wife, Olga, as ‘nothingness, that modern face of the devil.’20

Havel wrote that letter to Olga in March 1981, from prison. He had found himself there some time after taking on the role of spokesperson for the human rights petition Charter 77. Among the other two original spokespersons was the revered Jan Patočka, older than Havel by more than a quarter-century. Patočka and Derrida had come from the very same German philosophical tradition: Hegel’s Bildungsroman of consciousness, Husserl’s phenomenology, Heidegger’s existentialism. In the 1930s, Patočka had studied with both Husserl and Heidegger; he was among Husserl’s last students. In 1949, at Charles University in Prague, he had taught a seminal lecture course on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit; he had also translated Hegel’s entire text into Czech. The aging Czech philosopher had always avoided politics; he was neither a communist nor a dissident; he was a scholar and a thinker who, after being cast out of the university in the aftermath of the 1968 invasion, had been leading underground seminars in private apartments, reading Heidegger’s Being and Time with his students time and again, grappling with the meaning of each sentence, translating aloud from German into Czech as they read. Now Patočka agreed to join Havel in representing Charter 77. Within a few days the secret police came for them both. Patočka’s health was weak; he did not survive the interrogations.

Some year and a half later, an underground courier delivered to Adam Michnik, then the editor of a Polish samizdat journal, Havel’s essay dedicated to Patočka in memoriam. This essay, titled ‘The Power of the Powerless’, would become the iconic text of eastern European dissent. The anti-hero of ‘The Power of the Powerless’ is an ordinary greengrocer, who every morning dutifully hangs the sign saying ‘Workers of the world unite!’ in his shop window. The greengrocer has no special enthusiasm for communist ideals – by the late 1970s, no one does. And everyone who sees the sign understands that no one is any longer anticipating that workers around the world will unite. Yet the greengrocer, like all the others, goes on hanging the sign. After all, does he have a choice? If he were to refuse, he could be questioned, detained, persecuted. His family, too, would likely suffer. His children could be denied entrance to the university. The greengrocer, Havel tells us (although he does not use the French term), is living in mauvaise foi. He is living in ‘bad faith’, precisely in Sartre’s sense of bad faith as self-deception. The greengrocer is lying to himself – not, though, about his belief in communism. He knows perfectly well that he does not believe in communism. No, the greengrocer is lying to himself about his powerlessness.

In what way is this sense of powerlessness a self-deception? Havel responded with a question: why would all these unpleasant consequences befall the greengrocer if he were to take down the sign? After all, no one believes the sign’s message anyway. Everyone – including the emperor himself – knows that the emperor is naked. Yet these unpleasant consequences suggest that the hanging of this sign is nonetheless extremely important to the communist regime. In fact, if one day all the greengrocers were to take down their signs, this would be the beginning of a revolution. And so the greengrocer is not so powerlessness after all. On the contrary, he is quite powerful: it is the greengrocers who allow the game to go on in the first place.

Havel accused the greengrocer of ‘living a lie.’ The greengrocer’s failure to live in truth is a moral failure: he is guilty of sustaining the very system that oppresses him. That he lives a lie, that everyone lives a lie, does not make truth go away – Havel insisted – but only demoralizes the person who lives an inauthentic life. Havel’s assertion resists the postmodernist turn: no amount of propaganda or blind ritual or ‘bad faith’ can dissolve the ontologically real distinction between truth and lies.

It is not by chance that eastern European dissidents so often spoke about truth as if it were something tangible, solid like the keys in a pocket. Havel was not alone in the conviction that the ontological reality of truth was proven by the experience of the ontological reality of lies. In centring a philosophy of dissent around the distinction between truth and lies, eastern European dissidents drew not only upon the philosophical references of Central Europe, but also upon a rich tradition of Russian literature. After 1968, the communist regime resembled Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor who had only one secret: he did not believe in God. For Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Gogol, Tolstoy and others, to take pen to paper was to search for the truth of human existence. In the wake of the Stalinist Terror, the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev wrote an essay titled ‘The Paradox of the Lie.’ The lie was the condition that allowed totalitarianism to come into being, asserted Berdyaev. In his experience, this lie was an expression of the deep deformation of human consciousness; as a result of this deformation, individual conscience fled ever more from the world.21


A Solidarity-era Polish film – itself a contribution to the philosophy of dissent – illuminates an essential difference between modern communist totalitarianism and Putin’s postmodern Russia. In Interrogation (Przesłuchanie, 1982)set inside a Stalinist prison, the great Polish actress Krystyna Janda plays Tonia, a young nightclub singer who is suddenly imprisoned, accused of aiding enemies of People’s Poland. Her interrogators insist that she is the lover of an anti-communist spy. Tonia is uncomprehending; the interrogators’ story is fiction, she denies all of it. The interrogations continue; the prison guards torture her. Over time Tonia’s resistance breaks; gradually she acquiesces to ever greater portions of the fictitious narrative.

At the end of the film, we never learn what the true story is, which of these men appearing in the narratives of the Stalinist interrogators might have been Tonia’s lover, whether any of them had been a spy, and whether, if so, Tonia had been aware of this. And yet – we are made to understand – there is a true story. That we do not learn what it is, does not mean it does not exist. In other words, at the end of the film, there is epistemological confusion, but not ontological confusion. Truth continues to have a stable existence whether or not an individual has access to knowledge about it.

Interrogation represents the modernist position: God is dead, but that does not mean that truth, even under a totalitarian regime, is a mere subjective illusion. The postmodern world begins when we move from epistemological uncertainty to ontological uncertainty. This is when we give up on believing that there is such a thing as a stable reality beneath or amidst the created narratives. ‘Post-truth’ represents the postmodernist position: ‘you have your facts – we have alternative facts.’ ‘Everything is PR.’ Now we inhabit a seemingly infinite number of seamless alternative realities, each with its own ‘alternative facts.’ Pomerantsev describes Putin’s Russia as a world in which nothing is true – and everyone takes this lightly. In a review of Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, the Ukrainian essayist Jurko Prochasko describes truth as a limit, as a boundary and a border. To fail to recognize truth is to fail to recognize boundaries. This non-recognition, Prochasko writes, ‘never ends well’.22

Derrida himself believed in hospitality, in friendship, in forgiveness. He was not a moral nihilist. Yet today, ideas that originated in the critical sensibility of the Left have been reconfigured as weapons of the Right. The philosophy Derrida conceived as an embracing of responsibility has been appropriated as an abdication of responsibility. From the point of view of intellectual history, there is a certain irony in post-factuality’s moving from East to West, from Moscow to Washington. Here Derrida himself provides a suggestion: among his favourite concepts is pharmakos, an ancient Greek word that can be used to mean both poison and remedy. Today eastern Europe could reveal itself as the pharmakos: the source of the poison could be the source of the antidote.23

Kto vinovat? Who is to blame? ‘Blaming is irresponsible’, Agnes Heller answers, ‘It is responsibility that should be taken. It is responsibility that must be taken.’24 In eastern Europe, the philosophy of dissent was a philosophy of responsibility. ‘Patočka used to say,’ Havel wrote in ‘The Power of the Powerless’, ‘that the most interesting thing about responsibility is that we carry it with us everywhere. That means that responsibility is ours, that we must accept it and grasp it here, now.’25 ‘Life and history,’ wrote the Polish philosopher Krzysztof Michalski, one of Patočka’s last students, ‘do not go on independently of our participation, like a carousel you can ride or jump off of at will.’26 Man – he argued – ‘can be identified only as the subject of history’.27

Chto delat’? What is to be done? Patočka insisted that even if there were no reified, stable meaning out there to be found, the seeking of meaning was our responsibility. ‘Humans cannot live without meaning,’ he wrote. Perhaps the truth could not be had, but it could and must be sought.28 Kołakowski, too, was deeply committed to this position. ‘Husserl believed that the search for certitude was constitutive of European culture and that giving up this search would amount to destroying that culture,’ Kołakowski wrote. ‘Husserl was probably right.’29 Kołakowski believed that the failure of Husserl’s passionate search for absolute truth was inevitable: ‘The problem of the bridge is insoluble; there is no logical passage.’30 No less so, though, was it our responsibility to keep searching. To give up on truth was to give up on ethics.

In 2008, during one of their last conversations, Adam Michnik asked Havel: ‘What advice would you have for a young person today who were to ask you: how should I live?’

‘The fundamental imperative,’ Havel answered. ‘Live in truth.’31


This article is part of the focal point ‘Disinformation and Democracy’, which will be launched in Eurozine at the end of September. It is co-published with Public Seminar.


  1. See Joshua Yaffa, ‘Putin’s New War on “Traitors”’, The New Yorker (28 March 2014), online at:; Андрей Зубов, «Это уже было» Ведомости (1 March 2014);
  2. Andy Borowitz, ‘Fact-checker at Republican Debate Hospitalized for Exhaustion,’ The New Yorker (16 January 2016).
  3. Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (New York: Penguin 2005), 481.
  4. Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972): 17.
  5. Immanuel Kant, ‘What is Enlightenment?’ The Basic Writings of Kant, ed. Allen W. Wood (New York: The Modern Library, 2001): 135–141.
  6. Agnes Heller, ‘Contingency’, A Philosophy of History in Fragments (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993): 1-35, see page 11; Leszek Kołakowski, Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth, and Dissolution, vol. 1: The Founders, trans. P. S. Falla (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978): 56–80, see p. 60.
  7. Hannah Arendt, ‘What Is Existential Philosophy?’, Essays in Understanding 1930–1954, ed. Jerome Kohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1994): 163–187, quotations p. 164.
  8. See Leszek Kołakowski, The Presence of Myth, trans. Adam Czerniawski (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1989).
  9. Hannah Arendt, ‘Truth and Politics,’ Between Past and Future(New York: Penguin Books, 2006): 223–259, quotation p. 248.
  10. Arendt, ‘Truth and Politics,’ 249.
  11. Yuri Slezkine, The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2017): 1176.
  12. Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984): xxiv.
  13. Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Malden: Polity Press, 2012): quotations viii-ix, 55.
  14. Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (New York: Penguin 2005): 479.
  15. Jacques Derrida, ‘On Grammatology,’ A Derrida Reader, ed. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991): 31-58, quotation p. 36.
  16. Jacques Derrida, ‘Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,’ Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978): 279–293, quotation p. 280.
  17. See Derrida in ‘Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’: ‘Turning towards the lost or impossible presence of the absent origin, this structuralist thematic of broken immediacy is therefore the saddened, negative, nostalgic, guilty, Rousseauistic side of the thinking of play whose other side would be the Nietzschean affirmation, that is the joyous affirmation of the play of the world and of the innocence of becoming, the affirmation of a world of signs without fault, without truth, and without origin which is offered to an active interpretation. This affirmation then determines the noncenter otherwise than as loss of the center. And it plays without security.’ (292)
  18. Jacques Derrida, ‘Like the Sound of the Sea Deep Within a Shell: Paul de Man’s War,’ Critical Inquiry, vol. 14, no. 3 (spring 1988): 590-652, quotation p. 647.
  19. Bauman, Liquid Modernity, 64.
  20. Václav Havel, Letters to Olga, trans. Paul Wilson (London-Boston: Faber and Faber, 1990), 175 (letter dated 14 March 1981).
  21. Nikolai Berdyaev, ‘Парадокс Лжи,’originally published in 1939; In English: ‘The Paradox of the Lie,’ trans. Fr. S. Janos;
  22. Юрко Прохасько, «Истинна Правда,» Критика (February 2016); In English: Yurko Prokhasko, ‘Veritable Truth,’ trans. Kate Younger, Krytyka (February 2016);
  23. There is no better antidote to Putin’s infectious post-factuality – implies the contemporary Russian novelist Sergey Lebedev – than the great tradition of Russian literature.
  24. Agnes Heller, ‘Some Remarks about the Sense of Historical Existence,’ A Theory of History (London: Routledge and Kegal Paul, 1982): 328–333, quotation p. 332.
  25. Václav Havel, ‘The Power of the Powerless,’ The Power of the Powerless, ed. John Keane (Armonk: ME Sharpe, 1985): 24–96, quotation p. 80. For Derrida’s analysis of Patočka’s idea of responsibility, see Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. David Willis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).
  26. Krzysztof Michalski, The Flame of Eternity: An Interpretation of Nietzsche’s Thought, trans. Benjamin Paloff (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).
  27. Krzysztof Michalski, ‘Iron Laws and Personal Responsibility,’ trans. E. Kohák, Cross Currents 7 (1988): 129-135, quotation p. 132.
  28. Jan Patočka, ‘Does History Have a Meaning?’ Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History, trans. Erazim Kohák, ed. James Dodd (Chicago: Open Court, 1996): 53-77, quotation p. 75.
  29. Leszek Kolakowski, Husserl and the Search for Certitude(South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2001), 7
  30. Kolakowski, Husserl and the Search for Certitude, 80
  31. Václav Havel and Adam Michnik, ‘Rewolucjo ducha, przyjdź!’, Gazeta Wyborcza (15 November 2008).

By Marci Shore, Eurozine


Original in English
First published in Eurozine / Public Seminar

© Marce Shore / Eurozine / Public Seminar


Categories: World News

The Daily Vertical: Back To Article 70 (Transcript)

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 21:38

By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL

So don’t look now, but Russia may be about to get yet another law that will allow Vladimir Putin’s regime to prosecute its own citizens for just about anything.

According to a report in this morning’s edition of the pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia, which is one of the regime’s key mouthpieces, the Federation Council is working on legislation to deal with “undesirable behavior.”

The details of the bill are still being worked out, but the Izvestia report says it would provide for the expulsion of foreigners and the prosecution of Russians who act in any way that harms national security.

Viewed one way, the legislation follows up on previous laws requiring NGOs that receive foreign funding to register as so-called foreign agents and on laws providing for the banning of foreign NGOs deemed to be “undesirable organizations.”

If passed, it could also have a chilling effect on how foreign journalists cover Russia.

But this is not just about controlling foreigners.

Like previous laws on extremism and on insulting religious believers — which have been implemented very broadly to suit the needs of the authorities — this new legislation would give Putin’s Kremlin a new tool to harass and prosecute it domestic opponents.

In many ways, it appears to resemble the infamous Article 70 of Russia’s Soviet-era Criminal Code, which prohibited “agitation or propaganda aimed at subverting or weakening Soviet authority.”

According to Izvestia, the legislation should be introduced to the State Duma in early 2018 — just in time for the presidential elections in March.

And it’s yet another example of how deeply insecure the Putin regime is after nearly 18 years in power.

By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL

Categories: World News

New Hopes and Challenges: How Ukrainian Public Opinion Has Changed Since 2014

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 21:16

By Hromadske International

Since 2014, Ukraine has lived through the most difficult period in its 26 years of independence. Ukrainians have experienced revolution, political transformation, war, internal displacement, and economic collapse. But how have these events changed their views of their country, its future, and the world?

Hromadske set out to answer this question by examining changes in Ukrainian public opinion. To do this, we compared the results of a sociological survey conducted in June and July with similar surveys from previous years.

We based our analysis on reports from theAll-Ukrainian Public Opinion Survey,” carried out by the GfK Ukraine market research firm on behalf of the International Republican Institute (USA), and the National Population Survey of Ukraine,” carried out by the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology in cooperation with the “Intellectual Perspectives” charitable organization. The surveys were conducted in all regions of Ukraine, except for annexed Crimea and the occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Looking to the Future 

This year, surveys show that Ukrainians increasingly believe their country is changing for the better and they are more optimistic about its future.

According to the Institute of Sociology, in 2017, the main feelings Ukrainians experienced while thinking about the state’s future were hope (47%), anxiety (35%), optimism (21%), and fear (17%). A sense of hope prevailed in all regions (especially in the South); anxiety also ranked second in all regions, apart from in the West, where optimism took second place.

In previous years, the highest levels of hope and optimism appeared in 2005 — 61% and 34%, respectively. The highest levels of pessimism struck in 2013 — 32% people expressed hope, 18% expressed hopelessness, and only 14% said they were optimistic.


When thinking about their own futures, the most common feelings Ukrainians had were also hope (47%), anxiety (30%), and optimism (26%).

A similar GfK study asked people in which direction they thought Ukraine was moving. This year’s survey shows a slight increase (5-7%) in the number of Ukrainians who think the country is moving in the right direction. However, it was still a minority opinion. As of June 2017, 18% said Ukraine was moving in the right direction, 68% said in the wrong direction, and the rest answered “difficult to say.”

Europe or Russia? 

According to the surveys, most of the population supports closer ties with Europe. The Ukrainian tendency to have a positive attitude toward European integration and a more negative view on forming an alliance with Russia began to grow in 2014. It continues to this day.

Similarly, the Institute of Sociology survey shows that the percentage of people favoring an alliance with Russia and Belarus fell from 49% in 2013, to 25% in in 2014. Now, in 2017, this figure stands at just 20%.

Public attitudes towards Ukraine joining the European Union have also improved significantly. In 2013, only 42% viewed this positively, compared to 52% in 2014 and 54% in 2017. However, it should be noted that views on this issue continue to vary by region of the country.

A Union with Europe or Russia?

The GfK study results also show that pro-European attitudes are growing. According to the latest data, 54% of Ukrainians favour the European Union — the highest level since May 2013. The report also provides data on the Ukrainian public’s attitude toward individual countries: 58% relate positively to Poland, 50% to Latvia, 49% to Germany, and 47% and 50% to the USA and Canada, respectively.

Since 2014, attitudes toward Russia have also worsened significantly. From February and September 2014, the proportion of the population with negative views on Russia rose from 19% to 66%. Today, this figure  stands at 51%.

How would you vote now in a referendum on Ukraine joining NATO?

Both reports also show changes in public attitudes toward Ukraine joining NATO. In 2014, support for NATO accession began to rise. Now, in June and July 2017, the figures stand at almost 40% against NATO membership and nearly 30% for it. However, much like public attitudes on EU membership, views on NATO membership are also divided along regional lines.

Problems, Fears, Challenges

It’s not all hope and optimism for the Ukrainian people. For the majority of Ukrainians, economic instability and fear of an attack from external enemies remain serious concerns. These worries prevail over other issues, likes fears of rising crime rates.

According to the GfK study, the majority of Ukrainians consider the main challenges facing the country to be corruption in state agencies (51%) and the war in Ukraine’s east (50%). Low industrial output and unemployment  — at around 29% each — are lower priorities. Interestingly, issues on a personal level differ from those on a state level. Ukrainians named the rise in prices (44%), the ongoing war in the east and unemployment (around 34% each), social security (31%), and corruption (30%) to be their most pressing personal issues.


However, public dissatisfaction with the economic situation — both on the personal and the state level — continues to decrease, albeit slightly. The proportion of people surveyed who emphasize the severe deterioration of Ukraine’s economy over the years stands at 35% as of June 2017. Compare that to September 2014 and June 2015, when the figure stood at 57% and 60%, respectively.

People’s dissatisfaction with their own family’s economic situation has also decreased. This year, only 34% emphasize this issue, compared to 40% in 2014 and 55% in 2015. As for the future, 26% of respondents felt the economic situation would improve next year. But 23% thought it would change for the worse.

What do Ukrainians fear in 2017? The Institute of Sociology’s survey shows that the rise in prices (77%), unemployment (61%), and non-payment of salaries and pensions (63%) are top contenders.

However, it should be noted that the most dramatic changes in Ukrainian people’s fears occurred in 2014. Then, fear of an attack by an external enemy rose dramatically — from 7% in 2012, to 60% in 2014. Fear that Ukraine would collapse as a state also rose — from 12% in 2012 to 46% in 2014. Fear of a possible international conflict rose — from 11% in 2012 to 35% in 2014. And, finally, fear of mass unrest in the streets rose — from 17% in 2012 to 33% in 2014.

But these fears have weakened over the last three years. Although fear of an external attack remains relatively high (38%), fears of international conflict, mass public disorder and state failure have decreased — to 17%, 21%, and 28%, respectively.

By Hromadske International

Categories: World News

StopFake #147 with Marko Suprun

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 20:03

The latest edition of StopFake News with Marko Suprun. Among the disinformation debunked this week: Russian deported journalist and her alternative fact atories, Ukraine a US biological testing site, Glory to Ukraine is a Nazi greeting.

Categories: World News

Robotrolling 2017/1

Sat, 09/02/2017 - 17:56

Prepared by Dr Rolf Fredheim and published by NATO Strategis Communication Centre of Excellence

Download publication file (3.51 MB)

Executive Summary

Two in three Twitter users who write in Russian about the NATO presence in Eastern Europe are robotic or ‘bot’ accounts. Together, these accounts created 84% of the total Russian-language messages. The English language space is also heavily affected: 1 in 4 active accounts were likely automated and were responsible for 46% of all English-language content. Of the four states considered—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland—Estonia has disproportionately frequently been targeted by bots, whereas Poland and Lithuania have seen the least automated activity.

Our impression is that Twitter in Russian is policed less effectively than it is in English. Despite the high presence of automated activity, the period considered saw no large-scale, coordinated robotic campaigns. The vast majority of bot activity is apolitical spam. For this reason, the polluted state of Twitter conversations about the NATO presence may be indicative of Twitter as a whole. The implications are stark: the democratising possibilities of social media appear—at least in the case of Twitter in Russia—to have been greatly undermined. The findings presented have practical implications for any policy maker, journalist, or analyst who measures activity on Twitter. Failure to account for bot activity will—at best—result in junk statistics.

This is the first issue of ‘Robotrolling’, a regular product about automation in social media published quarterly by NATO StratCom COE.

Prepared by Dr Rolf Fredheim and published by NATO Strategis Communication Centre of Excellence

The NATO StratCom Centre of Excellence, based in Latvia, is a Multinational, Cross-sector Organization which provides Comprehensive analyses, Advice and Practical Support to the Alliance and Allied Nations.


Categories: World News

Russian Deported Journalist and Her Alternative Fact Stories

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 15:54

This week Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) deported Anna Kurbatova, a journalist working for Russia’s state TV Perviy Kanal (Channel One) and banned her for three years amidst accusations of biased coverage. According to SBU spokeswoman Olena Hytlianska, the decision was taken because Kurbatova’s “actions harmed Ukraine’s national interests”.

Скриншот @Новости_на_Первом_Канале

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir called the move excessive and said such actions  on respective authorities to “affect the free flow of information and violate OSCE commitments on freedom of the media”.

What  were Kurbatova’s reports really about? StopFake looked at her last story and uncovered fakes, alternative facts, manipulation and hate mongering.

Kurbatova’s report about Ukrainian Independence Day is filled with Kremlin propagandist clichés about Ukraine. She calls the military parade a ‘march of dependency’, mocks the soldiers’ uniforms which she says are similar to NATO uniforms and claims they were marching out of step. She calls the war in Donbas a civil war and bemoans the sorry state of Ukraine is in, pointing out this is all the result of the Maidan protests. The country is in a deep economic crisis and the IMF is really calling the shots in Ukraine, Kurbatova avows.

Kurbatova enlists Mikhail Delyagin, the director of the Institute of Globalization Problems, an institute that has only one expert, Delyagin, who is also  one of the authors of Novorossia rising from the Ashes, an anthology of radical Russian political views in which he claims that Crimea and the occupied eastern Ukrainian territories have a great future in Russia. Delyagin calls Ukrainians aborigines to whom only rum and shiny objects can be sold and not first class weapons.  Kurbatova’s report also features the leader of the now banned Communist Party of Ukraine Petro Symonenko who claims Ukraine is advocating policies of hate towards Russia and propagandist Yuriy Kot, the former National Lottery presenter who fled to Russia.  Kot announces that Ukraine’s new visa free travel arrangement with the European Union is a sham.

Continuing her report about the failure of Ukraine’s independence and how miserable Ukraine is without Russia Kurbatova claims that Ukraine destroyed its aviation industry just to cut its ties with Russia and has resorted to building cheap spectacles and umbrellas for the EU. She is referring to Ukraine’s Antonov aviation company, which Russian media regularly report is closing, but which continues to build airplanes. Kurbatova also buries Ukraine’s Yuzhmash rocket company, claiming it is shut down, the company however continues to operate.


Kurbatova also claims that the average Ukrainian salary is less than 170 dollars per month, when in fact it is $300 according to Ukraine’s Statistical Service.

In an earlier report Kurbatova interviews a Kyiv resident who tells her that she barely makes ends meet with her small pension, what she fails to mention is that people like the pensioner interviewed are eligible for state subsidies to offset utility costs.

Russian Channel One’s program devoted to Kurbatova’s deportation was no less propagandistic.

Entitled Why is Ukraine Afraid of Journalists, the show, among other things, claimed that Russian journalists can’t get accreditation in Ukraine. This is complete nonsense as Ukraine abolished accreditation for foreign journalists in 2011.

Categories: World News

Russian journalist Kurbatova to be deported from Ukraine – SBU

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 19:23

Анна Курбатова

By Ukrinform

Russia’s Channel One journalist Anna Kurbatova will be deported to Russia, Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) spokesperson Olena Hitlianska has reported on Facebook.

“Russian propagandist Anna Kurbatova will be forcibly returned to Russia. Ukraine is a law-governed state, and its law enforcement bodies act exclusively in line with the current legislation. The necessary documents are currently being drafted for her official expulsion,” she said.

Hitlianska said that this would happen to everyone who disgraces Ukraine.

Earlier, Russian media reported that Kurbatova had allegedly been kidnapped in Kyiv.

Kurbatova provided distorted and untrue information in her reports from Ukraine.

By Ukrinform

Categories: World News

Kremlin, Nationalists Face Off Over Romanov Romance ‘Mathilda’

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 18:36

Moscow’s conservative friends become its foes in campaign to defend Tsar Nicholas II’s memory

The trailer for “Mathilda,” a fictionalized retelling of the romance between the Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich — later Nicholas II, Russia’s last tsar — and ballerina Mathilda Kschessinskaya, looks like standard Hollywood-esque fare. Beautiful women dance, the royals live well, the poor are invisible. There are love triangles, fireworks, a diamond-studded crown rolling on the floor.

But this is more than just a two-minute preview of a feature marking the centennial of Russia’s 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. It has become the focal point of a bitter struggle over the right to creative expression, and over whether or not the Kremlin has become the tool of the very religious nationalist movement it has encouraged.

The more than 16,600 signatories of a petition to ban “Mathilda” believe that the trailer’s implication that Nicholas II engaged in pre-marital sex is a “deliberate lie” that dishonors his canonized status as a passion-bearer (someone who humbly submits to death) and insults “all of Russia.” The petition requests action from both the Ministry of Culture and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill.

No serious historian disputes the affair between Tsarevich Nicholas and Kschessinskaya. But the traditionalism promoted by church and state makes no exceptions for the facts.

Or for someone with the film director’s credentials.

Sixty-five-year-old Alexei Uchitel is a pro-Kremlin member of Russia’s cinema elite, and a supporter of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. The president of St. Petersburg’s Message to Man film festival, he is one of the country’s most popular directors; a man who counts Soviet-era celebrity filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin, a Kremlin ally and unabashedly censorship-happy politician, among his supporters.

That leaves the government in a double bind — it must now try simultaneously to gratify both religious nationalists and influential establishment artistic figures.

The task is complex. The Russian Constitution forbids all forms of censorship, but а 2013 law that makes insulting “religious feelings” a criminal offense carries greater force.

Leading the charge against “Mathilda” is 36-year-old Duma deputy Natalia Poklonskaya, Crimea’s former general prosecutor and a member of the ruling United Russia party. Citing the “religious feelings,” Poklonskaya wants prosecutors to scrutinize both the film’s financing and its entire script.

An earlier review of the trailer, executed at Poklonskaya’s request, found no violation of the law. The culture ministry’s Public Chamber, a “consultative” body, plans to do its own review of the film as well.

Yet ultra-Orthodox groups and one senior Church official, Metropolitan Isidor of Kuban, insist that “Mathilda” should be banned.

Equally amused and annoyed by the outcry, Uchitel has opted to fight back. On February 8, he asked Russia’s general prosecutor’s office to protect those working on “Mathilda” from “threats and illegal actions” by individuals with “extremist inclinations;” an apparent reference to Orthodox groups burning the film’s posters and pushing cinemas not to show “Mathilda.” He also requested protection from Poklonskaya’s “slander.”

Prosecutors have not yet responded, but, in the first pointed government pushback against Orthodox activists, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has, noting that the state “will respond harshly” to attempts by “anonymous extremists” to put “pressure on culture, on mass media . . .”

“We’re getting more provincial as the result [of censorship], which means that Russian cultural influence in the world will further weaken,” said filmmaker Mikhail Mestetsky.

The Kremlin has reason to see the attack on Uchitel as an attack on itself.

The Ministry of Culture helped finance “Mathilda’s” estimated $25-million budget (the exact amount has not been released) and allowed scenes to be shot within the Kremlin’s Uspensky Cathedral and the former royal residences Tsarskoe Selo. The state-run palace even hosted a display of costumes from the film.

Another government-owned facility, St. Petersburg’s tsarist-era Mariinsky Theater, where Kschessinskaya danced, may host “Mathilda’s” première.

The struggle over this state-cosseted film is just the latest example of radical conservatives turning their wrath on their heretofore government allies. Some stage-and-film professionals, like playwright-filmmaker Vassily Sigarev, a frequent target of conservative attacks, believe the situation is “getting out of control.”

In 2015, ultra-Orthodox activists vandalized the works of non-conformist Soviet sculptors in Moscow’s state-owned Manezh gallery for the way in which they portrayed some religious themes. The perpetrators served only a few days behind bars or were cleared of all charges.

More recently, the government got into a Kafka-esque farce when Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov clashed with Kremlin spokesperson Peskov for demanding that one of Kadyrov’s associates, biker Alexander Zaldostanov, apologize for insulting prominent theater director Konstantin Raikin, who, in turn, had denounced the government for censorship of the arts.

“I sometimes get the suspicion that [people in the Kremlin] are actually shocked by this Dr. Moreau-like zoo that they’ve built up around themselves,” commented Sigarev, alluding to the human-animal hybrids of H.G. Wells’ science-fiction novel, “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”

“But it’s the Kremlin that created these aforementioned monsters, and now they’re reaping what they’ve sown.”

Against this backdrop, some stress that Russian artists need to start weaning themselves off state sponsorship. Chief among them is Mikhail Ugarov, the artistic director of Moscow’s independent basement theater Teatr.doc.

“The government is counting on these lambs to stay silent with only the occasional bleating,” Ugarov said of government-financed filmmakers. “Fall out of love with the pile of cash, and you will realize that you can do what you want.”

But with limitations.

Private funding for the arts can be hard to come by. The tradition largely died with the 1917 revolution.

With much of the economy under government control, filmmakers cannot easily ignore the state purse. The culture ministry set aside 7.6 billion rubles (about $129 million) for film production in 2016; filmmakers do not have to return unused funds.

That purse may not last forever — amid sanctions, lower oil prices and a sharply devalued ruble, the finance ministry recently projected that government spending could decrease for almost the next 18 years.

For now, however, those who pass up state financial support can be exposed to harsh attacks.

The Moscow city government evicted the independently financed Teatr.doc from its facilities in 2014 after it showed a Ukrainian documentary about the EuroMaidan uprising and the battle with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The theater has since twice relocated. Police raids, administrative fines and a lack of money are routine.

Smear campaigns are another tactic. One private gallery in Moscow opted to close an exhibit of American photographer Jock Sturges’ photos of nudist families after a popular pro-government blogger deemed the works “an exhibit for pedophiles.” Protesters doused one of the photos in urine for good measure.

Or consider the case of “Rag Union,” a 2015 satirical comedy about a group of aspiring anarchists and performance artists that pokes gentle fun at Russia’s controversial law on foreign agents.

Last summer, the low-budget film, the feature-length debut of director Mikhail Mestetsky, lost a free screening in a public park in the western city of Smolensk when the park administrators stated they could only welcome events “based upon cultural and moral norms . . . based on taking pride in our history, on a love for our Motherland, on spiritual growth of the individual, and on living a healthy lifestyle.”

“Nobody owes cultural workers anything; it’s you people who owe society,” Deputy Culture Minister Vladimir Aristarkhov declared at a 2016 roundtable.

Mestetsky and his crew initially laughed off the controversy, but the director believes that Russia is only sabotaging itself with such bans.

“We’re getting more provincial as the result [of this kind of censorship], which means that Russian cultural influence in the world will further weaken,” he said.

Conservatives don’t see it this way. Edgy art can damage respect for the government, they claim.

“In February 1917 [when the tsar abdicated, according to the Julian calendar], Emperor Nicholas II and his family were victims of black PR — both by the press and by artists . . .” recollected Dmitry Babich, a writer for the state-run broadcaster Sputnik International and a contributor to Problemy Literatury, a conservative publication on fiction and theater. “The end result was that Nicholas was isolated everywhere.”

Not wishing the same, the government still stands by the notion that “serving the state” is the most honorable calling for creative professionals.

“Nobody owes cultural workers anything; it’s you people who owe society,” Deputy Culture Minister Vladimir Aristarkhov lectured director Raikin during a public roundtable last fall over the closure of Sturges’ exhibit. “If you don’t like it, don’t work for state-owned [cultural] institutions.”

Whether or not the “Mathilda” fight will prompt Russian filmmakers to do exactly that remains to be seen.

By Natalia Antonova, Codastory

Natalia Antonova is married to director Alexey Zhiryakov, who has worked on projects at Teatr.doc.

Categories: World News

Kremlin’s Efforts to Use Russophobia as the ‘Anti-Sovietism’ of Today Don’t Quite Work, Troitsky Says

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 18:16

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

When the USSR existed, calling someone “anti-Soviet” was one of the most damning labels, even if some wore that as a badge of honor, Artemy Troitsky says; but now that it has ceased to exist, efforts to use “Russophobia” in the same way don’t work nearly as well.

In an essay for Novaya gazeta, the music critic who has lived for many years in the West says that he well remembers the application of “anti-Soviet” to any critic of the Soviet system and thus is in a position to understand what the current regime’s use “Russophobia” is actually about (

Russophobia as a charge appeared at the end of the 1990s ostensibly to serve as a replacement for anti-Soviet, a term that ceased to exist when the Soviet system did. Such an attempt was based on the assumption that “you don’t love the Soviet Union, then you are an anti-Soviet; you don’t love Russia, then you are a Russophobe!”

“What could be simpler?” But there is a problem: the first term concerns attitudes toward Soviet power, a state system, while the latter concerns supposed negative attitudes toward the Russian people, their culture and ethnicity, as such. Thus, many critics of the Russian government are denounced as haters of Russians, something they as Russians reject.

Russophobes, Troitsky continues, “are a mysterious breed! I suspect that in my entire life I have not met or seen even one.” Many emigres and many in Russia “do not like the Kremlin and condemn the policies it is carrying out. But the Kremlin whatever its lackeys say is far from Russia as a whole!”

One Russian punk rock group sings “I love my country but hate the government,” he says, echoing an attitude that is to be found in many countries and reflecting a distinction that must be maintained “between a country and its government” or “between religion and the church.”

And there is the secret of what the current charges of Russophobia are really about: a desire by the regime and its supporters to impose on people the notion that any criticism of the government is a criticism of the nation because the two are supposedly the same – an equation that is not true and that must not be accepted as true.

The charge thus doesn’t really work for “’internal consumption,’” the critic says. But it doesn’t work abroad either. The Russian government may assert that people in the West hate Russians but it is obvious to anyone who has lived there that Westerners don’t hate Russians but they do oppose Kremlin policies.

The Kremlin of course would like to get everyone to forget that both to unite Russians behind itself and also to shut up any critics of the crimes of the Kremlin. That is what the powers that be want, but it is precisely why people should reject the term Russophobia just as they have dispensed with the term anti-Soviet.

Even more than its predecessor, it is fundamentally false and imaginary, an effort to revive in the 21st century a term under false pretenses, “to equate the suffering Russian people and the Russian state and the great Russian language, culture and character and the crimes of Russian aggression, corruption and hypocrisy.”

Indeed, Troitsky suggests, the real Russophobes are not those the Kremlin and its minions describe as such but the Kremlin and its minions themselves.

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

Junker: Ukraine Not In EU, Not In NATO

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 17:39

This week both Russian and Ukrainian media disseminated a story claiming that European Commission President Jean Claude Junker said that Ukraine is not the European Union or NATO. Speaking in Brussels Junker said: “For the moment Ukraine is neither the EU, nor NATO. Everyone should know this.”

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Junker’s statement was interpreted in several different ways, that Ukraine has no relation to the EU or NATO, that Junker showed Ukraine its place, that the European Commission president made clear that Ukraine is not an EU country. The Ukrainian site Obozrevatel even announced that Brussels had cruelly curtailed Ukraine’s European ambitions.

RIA Novosti, Sputnik, TASS,, Izvestia and other Russian sites carried this story along with Ukraine’s Obozrevatel, Fakty and others.

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This is the full Junker quote: “There are currently 60 wars around the world, 60 – none in Europe, if I disregard Ukraine that is not  ‘ European ‘ in the sense of the European Union. I saw that my friend Poroshenko a few days ago said:  Ukraine is the European Union and it is NATO. For the moment, it is neither. Everyone should know this.”

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President Poroshenko never claimed Ukraine was the European Union or NATO. What he said during his Independence Day address was that Ukraine “only has one road, the wide European highway which leads to membership in the European Union and NATO. (video, 01:50)


Junker has never spoken against Ukraine’s European aspirations. In a tweet following the Dutch ratification of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement last May Junker wrote “Today’s vote sends an important signal from the Netherlands and the entire EU: Ukraine’s place is in Europe.”

Categories: World News

Fake: Poroshenko Donetsk Greeting Outrages Residents

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 23:57

Russia’s NTV channel published a news story claiming that a greeting from “bloody” Poroshenko to the city of Donetsk outraged city scores of people on social media. These outraged residents are really social media accounts of people living in Russia or fake accounts created just for trolling.

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Donetsk celebrates its city holiday on August 27. On that day President Poroshenko’s Facebook page featured a greeting to the city residents, telling them Ukraine had not forgotten them and was fighting to return their city to Ukraine.

NTV presented posts from fake and Russia based accounts as angry and negative reactions to President Poroshenko’s greeting on Donetsk City Day.

Screenshot @TpjuY5BfDNBMtka

Screenshot @s55xrJJfgv8L3iu

Some of the accounts that NTV presented as those of Donetsk residents were created only a few days ago, they have no personal information, no profile photo and the timeline is filled with aggressive comments about Ukraine. Other accounts are based in such Russian cities as Yekaterinburg and St, Petersburg.

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The Russian newspaper Vzglyad also criticized Poroshenko’s Donetsk city day greeting and accused him of trying to destroy the people of Donbas.


Categories: World News

Fake: Glory to Ukraine is a Nazi Greeting

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 23:35

Russian propagandist site RT (Formerly Russia Today) published a story claiming that the Ukrainian popular greeting – Glory to Ukraine! – is “a well-known slogan used by World War II Nazi collaborators”. This greeting in fact came into use well before WWII and it became popular again in Ukraine after the 2013-2014 Maidan protests.

Website screenshot RT

RT’s story appeared after German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel greeted Ukraine on its Independence Day in a tweet that ended with the phrase Glory to Ukraine. According to RT, the tweet brought on a vale of protests as the greeting is “an infamous slogan used by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) a nationalist paramilitary group that actively collaborated with the Nazis in WWII and was under the political leadership of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists led by Stepan Bandera”.

Screenshot @AlexB7734

Screenshot @anti_prop

The only protests that RT uses to illustrate its claim are all from Russian accounts, they are filled with reposts of conspiracy theory tweets and pro-Russian propaganda.

According to historians, ‘Glory to Ukraine” was first used as a greeting in 1919 among partisans resisting the Bolshevik invasion of Ukraine. Later Ukrainian National Republic cavalry regiments took up the greeting, as did the the Hetmanate, independent Ukrainian states that were unable to defeat the Bolsheviks. The greeting became an official slogan of the Ukrainian Nationalists only in 1941,  when the response ‘Glory to the Heroes’ was added.


The greeting entered the mainstream after the Maidan revolution; today it is used as a patriotic greeting and a sign of support for Ukraine.

Categories: World News