Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Internet Alone Won’t Transform Russians into Opponents of Regime

Paul Goble


            Staunton, July 29 – Many in Moscow and the West, seeing the ways in which Russian television has mobilized Russians in support of Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, believe that the Internet can transform Russians into opponents of the Kremlin. But the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” warn today that the web on its own doesn’t and won’t have that effect.


                That Moscow television plays a key role in structuring Russian views about Moscow’s policies in Ukraine is beyond question. Ninety-four percent say that they rely on it for news and information about events there, and 74 percent say they believe Russian media are giving “an objective picture” of the situation (ng.ru/politics/2014-07-29/3_soldier.html).


            Aleksey Gorbachev, a political commentator for “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” cites a Levada Center poll showing that 64 percent of those surveyed blame the West for the war in Ukraine, 20 percent blame Kyiv, but “only three percent say that the civil war in the Donbas is the result of the interference of Russia.”


            Even though there are good reasons to suspect these figures – given the climate of fear in Russia under Putin, ever more people are reluctant to say what they think if it differs with the opinion of the bosses – many opponents of the Kremlin’s policies in both Russia and the West are placing their hopes in the Internet.


            That is not surprising given that anyone who wants to can get an entirely different perspective on what is going on in Ukraine and elsewhere from websites, including Russian-language ones.  But the existence of such resources by themselves, the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” say, won’t necessarily change opinions let alone make people into opponents of Putin’s policies (ng.ru/editorial/2014-07-29/2_red.html).


            It is absolutely true, the paper says, that “the Internet makes various kinds of information accessible,” but that “does not mean that the information automatically becomes more sought after” or accepted. “Soviet power banned books and films,” but that didn’t mean people did not want to watch them. Now, these are widely available, but that doesn’t mean people do.


            Consequently, it is wrong to think that the existence of the Internet or even widespread access to it will “make an opposition member out of a citizen or even make that individual skeptical of what the authorities are saying.”  The only thing that will do that is a critical attitude toward information, something reflecting background, intellect and education.


            “On his own, the Internet user is in no way defended against the official point of view, including when it is expressed in the most primitive propagandistic forms,” the editors of the Moscow paper say.  And the authorities are not only prepared to be far more clever in how they present their positions but also to be a player in the online world.


Russians can learn from the Internet much that the authorities would prefer they not learn, but a large share of them are not interested in doing or, if they do get information from the Internet, in relying on it as opposed to what they hear on television.  Up to now, the Internet is simply “not competitive” with Moscow television in that regard.




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