by Ana Fumurescu
First Ukraine, now Romania. While Putin has not been focusing his attention as closely on the “island of Latinity” in the Slavic sea as he has on the now war-torn Ukraine, he nevertheless seems to have his fingers tied around a few Romanian strings. Russia Today, the Kremlin’s television propaganda network, just announced the launching of its broadcast in the Romanian language, scheduled to take place on November 1st, the day before the first round of Romania’s presidential elections. Coincidence? Probably not. The West is by this point quite familiar with Russian manipulation, and it looks like the Kremlin is hard at work trying to snag back the commitment of its former Soviet satellites. Not only will the Russia Today network be broadcasting Putin’s opinions in a language all Romanians will understand, but it has already also been attempting to shape the attitudes of the Romanian public through its RussiaToday.ro Facebook page, which has been quite active since its launching in August of this year.
This page features almost daily posts, some of which address charges of Russian manipulation by throwing them back in the face of the West. According to RussiaToday.ro, it is the West (or “the Occident,” as the authors refer to it), not Russia, that has been manipulating Romania, and Romanians have just been regurgitating what the Western media has been spoon-feeding them. According to the author of this post, the opinion that Russians are evil is simply not based in fact. “Can Russians really be this bad?” the post asks. “No,” the author evidently answers, “because Russians…do not bend easily to manipulation and control from the outside.” Even more emphatically, the author makes a case for Russia’s inherent “goodness” by saying that “it is the only country in the world that has NEVER been conquered!” (author’s emphasis). Accordingly, the post goes on to say that the West stigmatizes Russia precisely because of its frustration at never having been able to manipulate Russians.
Leaving aside the evidently biased and factually oversimplified nature of this post, it is important not to completely disregard it. Sure, this website is blatantly one-sided, but it does bring up some provocative points. Although, as one may see in the above paragraph, even Putin sympathizers are incapable of making a solid argument disputing the stereotype of a manipulative Russia, it is never in vain to question established stereotypes. Yes, the Russians have a well-known history of propaganda and manipulation, but are they really so much worse than the West? With the stories brought to light by Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, among others, revealing hushed government surveillance, secret operations, and corruption in the West, one may wonder: is the West simply better at masking its true motives? Whether the answer to this question ends up being “yes” or just a faint “maybe,” it is worth engaging in further discussion. While the greatest strength of the West is its (generally) free press and (relative) transparency, this could also be its greatest weakness. This is because, in a society whose entire existence rests on the claim to openness, it is not difficult for the public to become complacent and willing to accept the grand narratives with which they are presented. We could all, therefore, benefit from the advice plastered on the banner image of the RussiaTuday.ro Facebook page and “Question More.”