On January 22, ZIK TV aired a controversial interview with Andriy Portnov, a key member of the Yanukovych regime. Many viewers objected to the channel’s decision to air the program and to the softball questioning by interviewer Natalia Vlashchenko.
The return to politics by the creators of the Yanukovych regime is a unique reminder that the era of “either or” choices has not yet ended for all of us.
There are events that are symbolic in nature. They reveal the essence of an era. Thus, the murder of the first protesters on Maidan four years ago demonstrated the inhuman nature of the Yanukovych regime — his contempt for the will of the Ukrainian people, his readiness to kill. With the first deaths, it became clear to everyone on Independence Square that in order to preserve power, the enraged criminal regime was not only “capable of shooting” but that it was shooting already. After that, the nature of the protest changed.
For all the supporters of the Maidan, defeat would have meant either death or prison. The protest turned into a real battle for liberation from the criminal dictatorship, where the price of defeat was too high. Four years ago, the era of “either or” had arrived. It was either us or them. The forfeiture of all hopes and illusions became a definite liberation. It confirmed that there was no longer any way back.
Andriy Portnov, one of the key architects of Yanukovych’s criminal dictatorship, discussed the revolution, claimed that peace in Ukraine could be achieved in a month, and blamed Maidan and the patriotic part of society for the war. Then, after the scandalous broadcast (on ZIK TV), he wrote on his Facebook page: “Today is the fourth anniversary of the day when the Maidan activists committed the first murders of their friends, thereby provoking mass riots and ensuring the coming to power of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and the People’s Front.” And then he promised prison and psychiatric hospitals for the “guilty” after “the change of power.” Many considered Portnov’s return to Ukrainian TV — and on the fourth anniversary of Maidan, no less — as symbolic. It was a unique reminder that the era of “either or” for each one of us is not yet over.
The uses of propaganda
Robert Ley, the Nazi Reich leader and head of the German “Labor Front,” who was personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of “guest workers” (ostarbeiters), proposed his own model for faster German reconciliation from his (post-war) prison cell. He claimed that for the sake of peace in Europe, it was necessary to place both the Nazi leaders who had retained influence with the German people and authoritative Jews at the negotiating table. “It will be difficult but I believe we will come to an agreement,” he said.
Hitler had always been delighted by Robert Ley’s ability to captivate a crowd with talk. “The masses are like a woman. You need to know how to seduce them and Robert always was the most successful,” he said. Occasionally, when dissatisfaction with economic decline and a senseless war began to grow in German society, Hitler would ask Ley to make a public speech. And Ley, a chronic alcoholic, would share scores of “useful tips” about the struggle with alcoholism for the sake of preserving family finances and authority in the life of ordinary Germans. He promised improvement and a thousand-year peace after the “Fuhrer vanquishes all of Germany’s enemies.” Ley said what the Germans wanted to hear. But the main purpose of his speeches was to maintain influence over German society in order to strengthen Hitler’s power. This is the same case when the propagandist talks about anything at all. The main thing is why.
On the air Portnov talked about continuous impoverishment, tiny salaries and the price of gas, fully aware that this is what viewers want to hear. Even the peace that he promised would arrive a month after the “fall of the Poroshenko regime” was but another “sweet poison” that concealed surrender on Russian terms. Yanukovych’s accomplices are hoping first of all for “reconciliation” with the Ukrainian people. By imitating behavior of the opposition party, they are counting on returning to power.
And here a question arises: do we really have to provide a platform to leaders of the former regime? On the one hand, one could say yes. Everyone has a right to freedom of speech. An invitation for a liar to appear on the air is not quite the same thing as the dissemination of lies. The main thing is the questioning by the journalist, his viewpoint and his moral core, without which the broadcast turns into an instrument of influence.
If the court of law represents the search for truth, a TV broadcast is the place where it should be impossible to hide the truth. People like Andriy Portnov–politicians, activists, criminal suspects — must testify in court. But quality journalism is a court as well. A societal one. Therefore, instead of soliciting Portnov’s opinions on the present, he should have been made to answer questions pertaining to him personally. His scandalous statements should have been offset by facts from his biography. Viewers should have known who this person is who so zealously criticizes the government and promises improvement. Instead, the airwaves were turned into a media benefit for Portnov alone.
The pseudo-Ukrainian mass media is only an imitation of journalism. The talk show host does not try to pose difficult questions and on occasion carefully suppresses the truth. And the guest, instead of providing explanations, transmits prepared lies with impunity. Open revanchism is hiding behind the facade of a political opposition. After all, those who should have been made to answer for their crimes a long time ago are appearing as experts.
Andriy Portnov, who expounds on the state of reforms, the fate of the country, and the prospects for development on the air while remaining silent about his own involvement in the plunder of the country and the deterioration of its prospects for development, epitomizes Ukrainian post-revolutionary habits. This is scum feeding fairy tales to useful dupes while expecting a return to power. This leaves only one option — to find out who has been assigned the role of idiot by the revanchists and to overtake them.
There is a widespread perception that current officials hope to retain power by giving former regime figures the leeway to maneuver because the contrast would serve them. Supposedly, voters will be forced to vote for them to prevent people like Portnov from returning to power to carry out the threatened repressions.
In this case the object of manipulation is not only the politically uninvolved ordinary citizens, who are being tempted by speeches about tariffs and salaries, but also the pro-European part of society that views the impunity and lack of accountability of Yanukovych’s people as evidence of inaction by the government.
We are rapidly approaching the repetition of the 2010 revanche scenario. The return of Viktor Yanukovych became possible then not because most of Ukrainian voted for him, but because the active pro-Ukrainian community, disillusioned by the orange team, simply did not go to the polls. And the biggest dupe is the one who thinks it is not worth paying attention to Yanukovych’s unpunished henchmen
Of course, one can always boycott the revanchist TV channels. One can exhort the Ministry of Information to begin to implement the state information policy, which is as necessary as air for the country under the present conditions of constant informational assault. But the best thing is to begin to create meaningful informational events from which the revanchists will not be able to hide.
Only fair court judgments and noteworthy investigations into the activities of the former government officials will be able to force even the media loyal to the former “regionals” (members of Yanukovych’s Party or Regions — Ed.) to ask them questions about their work against Ukraine. Otherwise, if the traitors and criminals close to Yanukovych remain unpunished, they will always be able to influence Ukrainians. Some with the help the rhetoric of the opposition; others by the very fact of their presence in the Ukrainian space.
Portnov’s appearance, with his promises to “punish the guilty,” his phony blather about “criminals in power,” indicates that the price of defeat is much too high again. Either we identify the criminals or we will all be turned into criminals. Justice and not propaganda has become the only guarantee of victory and the only weapon against revanchism.
Larysa Voloshyna is a practicing psychologist who was forced to leave her native Crimea with her family after the Russian invasion in 2014. She now works and lives in Kyiv, where she volunteers her services to help individuals displaced by the war. In addition, she is editor of the blog department on Espreso TV and author of numerous analytical articles on events in Ukraine.