Breaking the Agenda by a Group of Persons by Prior Agreement

Ivan Davydov’s opinion piece on propaganda in modern Russia

Arguing about corruption, we usually imagine the way of thinking and actions of a regular Russian official. How does it work? Here's how: an official is plotting some carpet improvement. By the way, as a result, something useful and beneficial to society may well come out, it also happens. The only question is the price. While implementing improvements through burglary, the official includes a lot of opportunities in the project – from the distribution of contracts to relatives and other relevant people to kickbacks, which will be received by his colleagues involved in the ritual at all levels. And we understand – it should be so, it's a tradition, or even a spiritual bond. There is a scheme, there is a technology, it is more or less susceptible to investigation, and almost certainly there will be a journalist who will bring the official out into the open, find the assets of his cousins, who managed to earn by the grace of this official, and distant friends of the fourth wife who, were not left without profit as well. The journalist will attach photos of villas, yachts, and copies of bank documents to the publication. The public will lazily get horrified, the official will sigh, get offended, maybe, and take comfort in the thought of the next improvement project. Because there is no connection between the career of an official and the process of bringing one out into the open.

By the actions of such officials, our common misfortune (we still call it Russia) is formed, but there is no strategy in their actions. There’s only constant hunger, which to an ordinary non-official mind is not always understandable – you can burst, if you eat so much, but they do not – it’s a miracle.

The strategy is found where the state tackles the job, where the officials act not as single filibusters, but as an organized (let's skip one more epithet for a change) grouping, and the whole thing is not about some contracts for cement, but about more serious things. When it is necessary to steal not money, but our rights guaranteed by the Constitution, for example. Well, or, for example, the ability to prioritize in the information field.

How does it work? Here's how it works. In September (!) near Chelyabinsk, a radioactive isotope of ruthenium-106 leaked on the chemical plant Mayak owned by Rosatom. For a day, they write, the maximum permissible concentration of ruthenium in the air exceeded the annual norm 10,000 times. To imagine that this fact could be hidden for two months would not be possible not only in the terrible 90s, but even in the perestroika Soviet Union (and the perestroika Union remained a totalitarian state, by the way). In happy and stable Putin's Russia, it was successfully concealed. But also when (by chance, rather, by Roshydromet's oversight) the story came out to surface, it did not become the number one topic. Because the school student from Novy Urengoy Nikolay Desyatnichenko spoke in the Bundestag with the now famous speech: a simple speech about the horrors of the last war and the inadmissibility of a new one, after which all state propagandists rushed to trample on the schoolboy until Dmitry Peskov personally condemned the propagandists. Offended activists, however, and did not take Peskov seriously – the smart people, like Minister of Education Olga Vasilieva, children's ombudsman Anna Kuznetsova and weathercock-man Vladimir Solovyov realized that ostracizing Desyatnichenko is no longer a thing, but the insulted social activists of all colors are still on it.

The harm of propaganda is not only that propaganda deceives people who have not developed the skills for critical thinking. Propaganda (if only this is truly sweeping, large-scale propaganda, well, as in modern Russia, for instance) very severely limits the room to manoeuvre for those who are trying to resist the propaganda. It defines the rules of the game, according to which you can exist only in a dialogue with it – refuting its lies, trying to repel its victims. And the public craves not for the truth, but for the battle. Not that there the really important things not in the agenda – and the ruthenium emission near Chelyabinsk is an important thing –but the whole conversation shifts to the periphery of public consciousness, turns out to be a secondary, marginal, boring topic. A new dispute about the war, which luckily for us ended 72 years ago, is more important. Ten thousand times more important.

Therefore, Vesti published an article with a mocking title on its website: “A safe ruthenium rain passed over Bashkiria”. And that's it. And on the air, Vesti, by the way, does not talk about it at all. Who knows, maybe, after some time there will be a title “In the Southern Urals, lovely three-headed children were born.” But I would not be surprised if the news with such a headline would be published.

In the so-called Lugansk People's Republic,  something like a coup d'etat is taking place, and the troops of the fraternal Donetsk Republic (also the so-called) are seen on the streets. Both republics are Russian puppets and are held with our money, by the way. Their struggle for a bright future was the nerve of propaganda for the last three years. But now for some reason the propaganda forgot about them, the news from the LNR are dry, boring, empty, as if nothing happens there at all. But the Duma deputies have already initiated an attack at the festival “Artdkofest”, where they are going to show a Ukrainian film about the Kiev’s anti-terrorist operation. This, of course, is more urgent than the real war of the “republics”.

To build such a system for hacking the agenda is not the same as to steal a bag of cement and not even a truck of tile. It costs a lot. And most importantly, there is a suspicion that there is an intractable but tangible link between this system, which works quite effectively, and the fact that another small or large state thief, after any, even the most qualitative journalistic investigation revealing the essence of his work on illegal enrichment, does not simply remain unpunished, but continues his work. He is thinking about the next improvement.

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