Opinion: The impact of Russian propaganda on Lithuania is greater than we thought it was

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Pranešk apie klaidą

The Lithuania Tribune presents an opinion article by journalist and political analyst Audrius Bačiulis, as published by www.veidas.lt.

large_russian_bear_15239Even though today there are enough journalists in Lithuania who understand English, German, or other European languages, our main source of global events remains the Russian media, which, for the major part, is disseminating some form of the Kremlin’s propaganda.

Two weeks ago all Lithuanian news websites posted a false piece on information that former Secretary of Defence of the US, Robert Gates, in his book ‘Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War’ wrote that accepting the Baltic States and the Central European countries into NATO was a mistake.

Since this false information came first from the well-reputed BNS news agency, the majority of the Lithuanian media published it as well without giving a second thought that such a statement, taking into consideration Gates’s previous comments and context, sounds rather strange.

This disinformation was only disclaimed in the evening when a new day dawned on the other side of the Atlantic, and several journalists who hadn’t bought this piece of news completely (including some BNS journalists) managed to get hold of an original copy of Mr Gates’s book and see for themselves that the truth was the opposite – NATO’s quick expansion into Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Baltic States was called the right decision by Mr Gates. The original misleading information was corrected, so today you will not find many traces of it. Sounds like a subject not worth writing about, right?

Photo courtesy of the Ministry of National Defence of Lithuania

Photo courtesy of the Ministry of National Defence of Lithuania

Well, it is worth covering (and even a must) because of two reasons. Firstly, the misleading piece of news was only corrected in the evening, and because of its ‘breaking’ nature it was placed at the top of news websites. It was read by thousands and discussed with friends and acquaintances. Far less people realised that it was false because, as I have already mentioned, the information was corrected in the evening when the majority of people no longer use computers and those who do hardly bother reading the same news again.

Hence the result: many people now think that, according to an influential American, Lithuania shouldn’t have been accepted into NATO (that’s the message because the majority of websites only mentioned Lithuania, not the entire region of East Central-Europe, in their headlines in order to make the information more important). A special operation of Russian information warfare – to increase the distrust of Lithuanians in America and NATO – was a great success.

And here’s the second reason: the false message has Russian roots. I quote a BNS journalist’s explanation regarding the disinformation (the letter was private, so I’ll keep the colleague’s name confidential): “When we saw the message, which was prepared by Interfax (we are its subscribers), we tried to obtain the original source. On the website of the Voice of America, which Interfax used as a reference, we found a message in Russian. There was no mentioning of excerpts in English on the Voice of America or other websites. (…) We reached out to Lithuanian officers and contacts in the US asking them to help obtain the original quote, and we soon realised that it would take a while. Having assessed the importance of the content, we created a message with a link to the Voice of America and continued our efforts to obtain an original copy. (…) Obviously, this was a lesson for the future regarding the reliability of the Voice of America messages, and we apologise for the inconvenience.”

The colleague from BNS is telling the truth – the false message was born on the Voice of America’s Russian website Golos-Ameriki.ru and was still on it when I was writing this, even though high enough US diplomats were notified about the mistake, and the Voice of America belongs to the US Government. I guess the joke during the Cold War that the Americans didn’t pay much to the staff of the Voice of America and Radio Liberty because their main employer was the KGB wasn’t too far-fetched.

Audrius Bačiulis | Photo courtesy of www.veidas.lt

Audrius Bačiulis | Photo courtesy of www.veidas.lt

But let the Americans figure out themselves why their national news website is disseminating false information about American politicians. And we should be more concerned about the fact that the Lithuanian media swallowed the bait so easily. I suppose not many Lithuanians read Golos-Ameriki.ru. But a lot of them are still subscribed to Interfax and other Russian news agencies which lost their independence long ago and are spreading the same propaganda of the Kremlin as the national TASS.

Just like the entire Russian media, including even those channels and journalists who are considered oppositional and are a favourite of a part of the Lithuanian ‘intelligentsia’ who still cannot forget their Russian roots and listen to allegedly spiritual songs of the Leningrad Rock Club, which was the KGB’s means of youth control, musicians (in Europe, there is no term ‘the intelligentsia’, and has never been – it’s an exclusively Russian thing; in Europe we have intellectuals). It’s just that their propaganda is intended for another, more intelligent and, therefore, ignorant towards the direct glorification of Vladimir Putin layer of society.

Some say that Russian news agencies are useful for getting information about events in Russia. But one simple truth has to be understood – today reliable information about events in Russia only comes from Western journalists working there and writing in English, German, French, and other languages of the civilized world.

All information in Russian is full of propaganda clichés just for the fact alone that it is written by journalists who are being brainwashed by the Kremlin’s propaganda machine for 15 years already. Only specialists who analyse Russia’s propaganda system and its information warfare can use such information safely.

That’s exactly what the media of Central Europe does, ignoring the information of Russian news agencies for many years or at least checking its reliability in English sources. The disinformation, which was disseminated by Interfax, didn’t fool the media of Poland, the Czech Republic, or Hungary – they didn’t write a single word, and even though Interfax’s disinformation was translated into Polish, it was only published by Kresy.pl., which is oriented towards post-Soviet audience.

We checked ourselves – browsed the news websites of these countries and asked the people who work there, including editors of foreign news, who would simply have to see such a sensational piece of news. In those countries nobody wastes money anymore on subscribing to Interfax’s lies; what is more, according to Vija Marija Pakalkaitė, a journalist at Euroblog, it is difficult to find a person in Hungary who speaks Russian, even in the capital.

It’s high time for Lithuania to take example from our European colleagues and read Russian news in English.

Skrivanek, We deliver languages. Worldwide

The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Lithuania Tribune.

One thought on “Opinion: The impact of Russian propaganda on Lithuania is greater than we thought it was

  1. Great article. Russian “Disinformacija” and “Maskirovka” has undermined the Lithuanian state for over 20 years through control of the a great percentage of the media. Goebels, Hitlers Propoganda Minister, stated that if you tell a lie loudly enough and often enough – people will believe it. The Russian regime fully understands this and utilizes it to its advantage. A lie will travel around the world, before the truth even takes off. The Russians fully understand this. That they have infiltrated media – is a fact. The problem is that even the CIA and our own Intelligence Services are absolute twits when it comes to identifying and defanging these threats.
    Kestutis J. Eidukoni

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