UN YPP

For three years in a row my country of citizenship wasn’t a participating country in the UN’s young professionals programme but, of course, as soon as I decide to go to grad school, it participates. Come on!!! 

I’m still considering applying, though. Successful candidates are put on a job roster for 2 years and are very likely to be recruited for P-1 and P-2 positions. The exam is usually in July - August, so I could sit it if I passed the initial application process. But it’s also unclear which job families will be recruiting this year. If Political Affairs is not on the list then is there a point for applying?.. Besides, I’d be eligible for P-2 posts either way once I’m done with grad school, although I would assume that the preference during recruiting would be given to those who have passed the YPP exam.

Hmm…

“Work until you no longer have to introduce yourself.”

Enough with the heavy stuff!

It may be 1984 but we’re alive and we’re breathing and - I’m so sorry for the cliche - but there are people living in conditions of ultimate insecurity all over the world so shouldn’t we suck it up? Ah?

I’m not going to take that sentence any further. Every decent human being knows that the world is wrong and that it needs to change and that every single one of us is responsible for that change. So there. Go on, get out there, start changing things!

I’m going away again in just over a week. Exciting!! I’m also hoping to get a new job with a cool Russian NGO this summer. Maybe? Please?? A part of that organization works with refugees and I worked with refugees for two years so I’ve decided that me and that NGO were made for each other like peanut butter and jelly! (haha I can see someone special rolling his eyes and saying, It’s jaaaam!)

The North Hemisphere is embracing spring. Isn’t it wonderful? It’s the time of the year when the air itself is saturated with new ideas, new beginnings, new hopes and plans. Half of the world thaws and awakens. Incroyable!

Je parle et étudie français chaque jour maintenant. Je vais avoir le niveau C1 le printemps prochain! À bientôt!

The Machine

The propaganda machine works so incredibly well in Russia. The state media know what they are doing and they do it extremely well. They are the masters of propaganda. Furthermore, I start to wonder whether the newsmakers actually do sincerely believe their own propaganda because it’s difficult to grasp that a “non-believer” would ever be able to sleep at night after dumping loads of propaganda dirt onto the viewers’ TV screens every day.

A few days ago I came accross some statistics on how many citizens in Russia watch TV and get their news only from state channels (can’t find the link atm, will try to insert it later). In retrospect, it’s probably not surprising that it’s the overwhelming majority. It also explains to an extent why propaganda works so well in Russia.

You have the majority of the population who have no or very limited access to non-state news sources, who are not very aware of societies, politics and cultures outside their own and who have lived their entire lives not even considering that Channel 1 or Channel Russia could lie. 

And then you have a minority of citizens who were lucky enough to grow up in environments that nurtured their critical thinking skills, who read and watch non-state media and foreign media, and who are much more aware of what goes on in the world outside of their own. Call them whatever you like - Intelligentsia, Opposition, Russian Europeans, Creative Class… the point is: they are actually the minority. 

But, personally, I think that one of the major reasons why propaganda works so well here is the near-total collapse of the Russian education system.

Again, here you have a small minority of institutions and people who works very, very hard to bring the most modern, relevant education that meets Western standards of education to Russia’s youth. Unfortunately, most of these institutions seem to be centered in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The rest of the country gets an outdated, once great but now rather decrepit system of higher education institutions that… I’m not even sure what it does anymore, to be honest, but it’s not educating active progressive citizens, that’s for sure.

A friend told me the other day that she was very stressed and tired because on top of work and grad school she took on to write another student’s dissertation. 

My jaw dropped.

She then went on to say that I shouldn’t be surprised because there are no strict rules against plagiarism in Russia. While there still are some people who, like her, would never pay for an assignment or a grade, it is a widespread practice, she said, and many people would pay a lot of money to get someone else to do assignments - even dissertations - for them.

But it’s not just about plagiarism, is it? If you don’t do your own work in university no matter what level you’re on, you’re just not going to learn anything, which means you will come out with a diploma but with barely any skills or knowledge. 

My friend only sighed and said that for most people the diploma is more important than skills or knowledge because that’s what gets you a job in the end: a fancy piece of paper.

So, just think about it for a second. If plagiarism is widespread and thousands of Russian students find it easier and more convenient to pay their way through university and (almost mandatory) grad school, what kind of professionals will we have to deal with for the next 20 - 30 - 40 years? These are the people that are supposed to be the next generation of doers and movers and builders and changers, who will take over the reigns when Putin and co. are gone, the first generation that grew up after the Soviet Union - and you’re telling me that they are buying their education to take up crappy job as managers and coordinators in a yet another mall or bank?!

The longer I live here, the less hope I have for a brighter future for Russia.

Zombiefication vs Dezombiefication

Well, I’m about a week behind on news coverage… 

Crimea voted to join Russia. Surprise, surprise!

Did anyone watch Kiselev threaten the U.S. with a nuclear strike last night? I mean, really?? Honestly, I don’t know what’s more absurd: the fact that he even brough it up or the fact that he brought it up precisely because there are thousands of people in Russia who still think a nuclear war between Russia and the U.S. in this day and age is possible. How do you de-zombiefy a population that has been spoon-fed propaganda for years?

Speaking of which, if you are a Russian-speaking/ Russian-reading individual, check out this amazing online project that was launched recently: Antipropaganda. They analyze Russian news broadcasts minute by minute and explain which propaganda tools are used, when and how during these broadcasts. 

Ok, I have to get back to work now. Will write again soon!

Coverage Catch-up! (Day 4 - 6)

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had the time to actually type up my notes from the nightly news on Channel One. So here’s me doing some catching up on this project.

06.03.2014

The news broke about Crimea’s referendum questions being set and the voting itself being resceduled for March 16. Sevastopol (a city in Ukraine that has a special status, similar to Kiev) also announced a referendum on the same topic to be held on 16.03. Both the city and Crimea want to join Russian Federation. Obviously, this was reported both by the Western and Russian media.

As in previous days, lots of footage of pro-Russian rallies in eastern Ukraine. One woman was shown with a banner “Russia, save us from genocide”. Another protester in Donetsk was filmed complaining about the beginning of political repressions (with regard to the “people’s candidate” Mr. Gubarev being arrested).

IMHO, both the genocide poster and the repressions claim are awfully hysterical and were singled out for the broadcast to influence viewers’ opinions and only escalate the narratives of fascism and ultranationalism as being the new government’s ideologies. The state TV knows very well how vulnerable viewers’ sentiments are to these narratives (these vulnerabilities being rooted deeply in the history of the Great Patriotic War, a.k.a. World War II), and it exploits these narratives without remorse.

Similarly, a major theme that emerges in almost every broadcast is the allusion to the countries of former Yugoslavia, particularly to Kosovo, as in “NATO came there, and see what happened!”; of course, ethnic cleansing is not even mentioned. 

The rest of that evening’s broadcast centered on the international negotiations (Lavrov seemed extremely annoyed and demanded that the Feb. 21 agreement is acknowledged by the new government), the EU summit on the situation, where first measures were taken against Russia (suspension of G-8 preparations and talks about vise-free travel between EU and Russia), and why the West will not push for further sanctions (because global interdependency and they need Russia). Also a segment on informational war was run, with Channel One accusing Western media of lies and deceptions; but that’s not new at all.

Finally, there was more footage of pro-Russia protesters crying “Who else can save us?”, which nicely played into the very measured creation of Russia’s image as a savior. Agency of the people of Ukraine was nowhere near to be found; televised victimisation works better for propaganda purposes.

07.08.2014

On Friday the news began with footage from the Moscow rally in support of Ukraine; 65,000 people were reported to have gathered at the rally; no mention of the anti-war protest that the opposition held the same day.

Once again, people were filmed inviting Crimeans to stay with them, as in “Crimean refugees” that Russia claims to be accepting by thousands amid looming humanitarian crisis. The only “confirmation” of this was provided by RT and ITAR-TASS. Hmm…

Russia announced that it “will support Crimea’s free and democratic choice”, and officials promised that the Consistution will be rewritten in order to allow for certain procedural laws on an outside entity joining Russian Federation to be passed, these laws being particularly tailored to Crimea. 

No comment was made with regard to Russia’s stand on supporting the rest of Ukraine’s free and democratic choice that came to life on the ground in Maidan. 

An official compared Russia to Scotland after the West said that Crimea’s referendum was illegal and its results will not be legitimate, questioning why is it that Scotland’s referendum is not claimed to be illegal, too. 

Visa bans against selected Russian officials approved by the U.S. were not mentioned.

Gazprom threatened to stop gas shipments to Ukraine altogether, now.

And, as usual, a large part of the broadcast was devoted to further helping the leading narratives of the past weeks sink into Channel One’s viewers’ psyche. Ukrainians are begging Russia to save them. Kiev and Ukraine’s government is taken over by nazis and oligarchs (the two things Soviet Russian people hate the most). Ultranationalists want legalization of their fighters, they want weapons, and they want to run for government posts - the same tactic that Hitler used to take over Germany in late 1930s. Saakashvili (Georgia’s ex-President) is friends with the new government in Kiev; that clearly shows how awful that new govermnet is and why Ukrainian people need saving. And a not-so-subtle reference to Kosovo again. 

You have to give it to Channel One, though. They know exactly what kind of narratives Russian viewers will related the best, with the highest level of emotions and sentiment. They know what they’re doing and they do it extremely well. 1000 points for excellent propaganda, Channel One!

08.03.2014

International Women’s Day!

But in terms of the Ukrainian crisis, the coverage was much shorter on Saturday. The broadcast focused on Crimea’s referendum first; the West’s reaction to it (negative), the preparations being made for the voting in Crimea, and Crimean soldiers pledging allegiance to the current Crimean government. 

There will be a commission created to investigate snipers and killings during Maidan - something Russia has been demanding for some time, so now it’s quite glad it got it. 

Ultranational forces now have RPGs, and their leader wants to run for president. 

Nothing was reported about the allegations that Russia may have hired actors and actresses for pro-Russian rallies. But at least the propaganda was dialed down a few notches from the previous broadcasts. 

Today is Sunday, which means Mr. Kiselev’s News of the week is going to air on Russia 24 channel. Ideally, I would watch both the 21:00 news and then his show. To be quite frank though, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to watch it. This project is proving rather challenging for two main reasons: a) it’s exhausting to watch a constant stream of shameless propaganda for an hour every night and b) I find it really difficult to write without a bias because the propaganda is so apparent and so prevalent.

The situation in Ukraine is developing in such interesting ways though. This is a great political and historical precedent and a wonderful ground for multifaceted analysis. Speaking of multifaceted analysis - read Al Jazeera’s coverage, people! It’s great!

What happens if Crimea votes to join Russia and no major country accepts the legitimacy of the vote except Russia? Will the West actually be able to push for more harsh sanctions in the environment of global interdependancy (my partner says no, but we shall see, eh?)? What will happen to the new Ukraine politically and economically? Will there be any military operations (personally, I think there won’t)? What will be the long-term consequences of this West-Russia stand off over Ukraine? So many questions, and the answers are not necessarily in the near future.

East-West Coverage Comparison, Day 3

The Channel One broadcast began with the topic of who were the snipers in Kiev. Citing LiveLeak, the Channel reported that snipers shot at both sides and shootings were staged for the camera. They also inserted parts of this leaked phone call between Estonia’s Urmas Paet and Catherine Ashton, where Pat alledges that Maidan’s main doctor told him that both sides were wounded in the same manner. Channel One failed to mention that the doctor, Olga Bogomolets, denied the claims, as BBC reported at 16:15 and 16:19 GMT.

Then Channel One report turned to the coverage of Donetsk and Kharkov protests, with heavy bias on the pro-Russian protests. There was no mention of the on-going stand off between pro-Russian and pro-Kiev rallies in Donetsk, nor about the number of injured in clashes during the day.

A large chunk of tonight’s piece on Ukraine was devoted to the rumors that Ukraine and the US are negotiating the installation of an anti-ballistic missile system in Ukraine as a payment of sorts for U.S. financial aid. Kiev denies allegations. Despite that, Channel One went on to talk about America’s dream to bring NATO’s influence as close to Russia’s doorstep as possible, citing that as the real reason for NATO’s involvement in Kosovo. Being on the subject of Kosovo, the story not-so-subtly slipped a few seconds of Kosovo footage, seemingly to demonstrate what exactly happens when NATO does come to your doorstep and enters your house. 

Briefly the looming economic “chaos” in Ukraine was mentioned, as well as its huge gas payments debt to Russia, potential humanitarian aid from Russia to Ukraine, Crimea and Tatarstan relations, in-Russia rallies “for peace” and “for Ukraine”, and private militaries that supposedly descended on Kiev earlier today. 

The piece ended with the announcement that Lavrov is currently in talks with Western representitives in Paris. 

There was no mention of Hague’s words this morning that Russia must pay and that if there will be no progress, Russia will face severe consequences. BBC did, however, follow this footage with a brief outline of exactly what kind of relations the UK, Germany and France would risk to lose if sanctions are imposed. 

Channel One did not report any intense stand-offs today (or yesterday, for that fact). Russia continues to deny that it has any troops in Crimea outside of its military bases. Channel One did not mention UN envoy being held in a coffee shop in Crimea by a local militia.

The Blamegame (Day 2 of Coverage Comparison)

Despite a busy day I did carve out some time to watch Putin’s press conference live, catch up on Channel One nine o’clock evening news and follow the coverage of the situation in Ukraine by BBC. 

Putin stood his ground during the press conference. The way he explains it, Russia is in the right.

  • It sees Yanukovitch as the only legitimate head of state and does not quite acknowledge the new government in Kiev (although Russia will still be in contact with them)
  • Yanukovitch asked Putin to bring in the troops so Putin reserves such a right. Note: Russia officially denies any Russian troops being present in Crimea.
  • If the wide-spread terror of fascists and ultranationalists continues, Russia might have to use force as the last resort.
  • Sanctions from the West will hurt everyone, including those imposing those sanctions. Because Globalization.

Putin’s meeting with the press was dominated by the single broad idea: Russia is in the right, the West allowed ultranational violent forces take over the power, there will be no war, and if Russia enters, it will be a humanitarian intervention.

Will world leaders ever will stop abusing the term “humanitarian” and using it to cover up their dirty deeds?! 

Either way, the Channel One evening news related the same main idea at the very beginning of their broadcast (after covering Putin’s press conference in detail first, of course): it is business as usual in Crimea, everything is calm, everything is well.

They did make a point of clarifying that Crimea is getting its referendum as planned, on March 30th, and followed that announcement by footage from Kharkov and Donetsk, where rallies were held and people also demanded a referendum. A referendum for what - that was not specifies; presumably independence or autonomy? Unclear and quite problematic, considering Crimea held the status of autonomy before the revolution but other regions of Eastern Ukraine did not.

To be honest, a lot of people at the featured rallies (both in Ukraine and Russia) that I saw over the past two days on Russian TV just look very scared, confused and shell-shocked. Many seem hysterical and fearful of some imminent threat of ultranationalists. Personally, I think the media must take the blame for that in the first place.

The word “war” that has been mentioned by both sides covering the conflict naturally makes ordinary people very nervous and only adds to the frenzy and uncertainty that ensued after the change of the government in Kiev. To Russian and Ukrainian viewers the words “war” and “fascism” that have been often used by media in recent days (particularly Russian media), often in a speculative sense, resonate sharply with the sacred and treasured memories of WWII, or The Great Patriotic War as it was called in the USSR.

Russian citizens who came out to rallies in Volgograd and Rostov talked along the lines, “I’m watching the news and I’m so scared for my … [family members/friends] in Ukraine”, and also along the patriotic lines speaking out against fascism taking over the whole of Ukraine. To me all these are clear signs of direct influence of media propaganda on ordinary viewers.

Back to Channel One news. They briefly covered a number of meeting at the international level, including the UNSC meeting earlier today. Right after the UNSC footage, they talked about China supporting Russia’s position and Putin’s phone call with Xi.  

Then the coverage turned to economics and it was reported that the U.S., the EU and the IMF have all pledged money (IMF - unofficially) to support Ukraine. No mention of Russia’s possible financial assistance but instead a few minutes lates it was once again said that Gazprom is not going to extend discounted priced on gas due to Ukraine’s debt to the company (and, as Putin stressed earlier at his press conference, not because of the political situation).

Channel One then dutifully reported that now even the West is now realizing that the far right has taken over the power, using this footage and interviews with some French, German and British political scientists and journalists. However, when you watch the cited footage, BBC’s conclusion is actually that yes, the influence is growing and its unclear to what extent but there is no mention of far right power take over. They also used footage from Alex Jones’ Infowars website where Lyndon LaRouche claimed the US government supported nazis in Ukraine; I’m sorry but how can Infowars be cited as a credible news source I fail to understand.

Finally, closer to the end of the broadcast, the time came to bash the West and once again point to the historical facts that the US that’s trying to claim a higher moral ground with regards to sovereignty and territorial intergrity that a track record to show that the US itself does not respect either principle when it’s not in its national interests to do so. Then, using Jack Matlock’s recent article for the base of its argiment, Channel One quickly reminded the viewers of nearly every breach of sovereignty by the U.S. in the past 60 years, from Grenada and Haiti to Iraq and Afghanistan, closing with comments about Lybia and Syria, and the false pretence of “humanitarian” nature of US interventions. Putin’s comment about Russia potentially conducting a “humanitarian” operation was ignored to highlight that “humanitarian” interventions leave only thousands dead and a country in ruins. To be fair, all these claimes are not unsubstaintial.

There was no mention of reported shots being fired into the air this morning, nor about the US suspending military cooperation with Russia. At the end of the day, the blame game and fingerpointing persisted.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighters, eh?

New Project! West & East coverage of the conflict in Ukraine compared

I was going to write a long post about how wrong, awfully delusional and archaic Russian muscle-flexing is but instead I thought I’d focus on relating what the main Russian channel - Channel One - is saying about the crisis, and what it is not. The following notes were taken during the daily evening news at 21:00 MSK on Channel One.

  • 6000 troops. While BBC reported during the day that there is an estimate of 6000 troops that have already entered the Crimea region, Channel One reported that there are 6000 Ukrainian troops that have defected and pledged allegiance to the new Crimean authority.
  • A big point was made about Kiev not having any money to pay pensions, social benefits, or anything else for that matter. A point was also made about Crimea being a self-sustained region that will be able to survive without Kiev’s money… then about ten minutes later the newscast turned to a meeting with Medevdev where it was said that Russia is able and willing to help Crimea that has a large budget deficit.
  • Multiple times the words “ultranationalist”, “fascist” and “Banderovci” were mentioned.
  • A significant amount of air time was given to footage and commentary from rallies around the east of Ukraine and in Russian cities close to the Ukrainian border. The message was clear: Ukrainians are begging for Russia’s help, Russians want the government to intervene, everyone is terrified of violence from the new Ukrainian government toward ethnic Russians. At least two women (one, it was said, was a refugee) were filmed crying on camera while telling of their ordeals. Nearly every person interviewed mentioned “fascism” and “nazis” in their speeches, and many talked about the sacred brotherhood between Russian and Ukrainian people. Personally, I was under the impression that most of the gathered people watched yesterday’s News of the Week broadcast and fell into senseless paranoia. 
  • A phone call between Putin and Merkel was reported, with a focus on Putin’s statement - protecting everyone from the ultranationalist threat - and no mention of the Chancellor’s comment about Putin being out of touch with reality and from another planet. 
  • A phone call between Russia and the US was also reported; it was highlighted that the US was not preparing any sanctions against Russia. Yet the latest from BBC suggests otherwise…
  • It was also mentioned that Russian government is working on plans to build a bridge between Russia and Crimea. I haven’t found any news of this in the western media (if you have, shoot me a message?).
  • There was no mention at all of Russian troops gathering near or being inside or being in control of Crimea. No word on the said deadline to surrender either.
  • A Ukrainian politician was filmed denying news about Ukrainian army mobilization and saying that there is nothing to mobilize. 
  • There was no mention of the possibility of international monitors being discussed.
  • There was no mention of the fall that Russian currency - the ruble - and stocks saw this morning.

I want to highlight that these are just some notes I was able to take down during the newscast. The full Channel One newscast can be wathced on Channel One website (Russian language only). 

When I told someone this morning how difficult I found it to watch Russian news, they said that I should challenge myself and watch it at least once a day and write down my thoughts and observations. I thought I’d take that idea one step further and utilize my bilinguality to compare the coverage of the Ukrainian crisis by both sides.

That being said, I’ve got a number of projects I’m working on, so I’m afraid the largest chunk of my comparison will be limited to Channel One on the Russian state side, a couple of non-state Russian publications that I read (Afisha and Lenta.ru, mostly), BBC and The New York Times. I’m reading Al Jazeera’s coverage too, so I might mention some of their reports.

As I’m not a news source - and because I do tend to read mostly non-Russian news sources and independent liberal Russian media - there may be some bias in these posts. I will do my best, however, to keep the notes as close to what is being broadcast on Russia’s Channel One as possible. Obviously, as always, all credit for all stories goes to their rightful owners, I’m simply compiling and comparing some news. Alright, I’ll be back with more tomorrow!

As an end note, I do want to say that no matter whose side we are on, we should all hope that the crisis is solved in a peaceful and diplomatic way and that no more blood spills in the upcoming days.

It’s very easy to cross the thin line between peace and war. It is much more difficult to rebuild and reconcile war-torn societies that will carry the scars of an armed conflict with them through the years to come. As the famous quote goes: violence does not end violence; it extends it. 

Remember the time I used to love flying

… Now I see it as an infinitely annoying chore. I just had the longest journey from Scotland, with two layovers (5 hours, then 9 hours) and an 18-hour train ride afterwards. I want to swear that I’m never going to travel with a 22 lbs bag ever again but then we all know that it’s not true; I do tend to move around a lot. 

Either way… I’ve moved home. Woo!? Now I get to relax and focus on a number of freelance gigs I’ve somehow managed to acquire - yet that are still barely enough to keep me afloat financially (damn you Sallie Mae and your atrociously high monthly bills). I’m not travelling again for another 8-ish weeks. 

I keep thinking I should write a post about the events in the Ukraine, and maybe share my thoughts on Scottish independence bid but I’m just so tired and I still need to restock my fridge and figure out my new schedule.

I’m about half through The Sun Also Rises and I mildly hate it. I think it has something to do with the fatigue I get from the expat crowd, real and fictional. I think I’ll turn to Russian classics next, especially since my parents have a great home library here and I’m absolutely sick of reading ebooks.

EXTRA EXTRA!: Did you know that there’s a "Doomsday Vault" in the Arctic filled with every food crop sample on the planet? How cool is that!