Trust in propaganda as a sign of a sick society: Aspen Institute Kyiv held a conversation with Peter Pomerantsev

On November 1, Aspen Institute Kyiv held a conversation with Peter Pomerantsev, a British journalist, producer, and author of the books Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality. Andrii Kulakov, a program coordinator of the Aspen Community Program of the Aspen Institute Kyiv, moderated the conversation.

Propaganda is more about demand than supply.

During the dialogue with the most active Institute Alumni and Community members, Peter Pomerantsev noted that any method of convincing the masses could be considered propaganda. At the same time, education or medical information is not propaganda because the latter is always carried out exclusively in the interests of the one who propagates.

When we talk about advocacy work, we mean the message and the target audience that requires it. Propaganda is more about demand than supply. The Russian propaganda messages satisfy the citizens’ demand who are desperate to avoid reality at any cost.

In addition, Peter pointed out that the frequency of interaction with information does not correlate with the level of truth-seeking. Russians actively use information but mainly to form a worldview that is comfortable for them. In the great flow of perceived information they find the narratives they like.

One of the reasons why Ukraine inspired so many people around the world — it brought clarity and reminded them that it is good and evil.

According to Peter Pomerantsev, truth and justice are related closely to Russians. They say they can redefine reality, act with complete impunity, and change memory.

For example, in occupied Mariupol, bulldozers demolished destroyed by the Russians buildings with corpses inside. In this way, they erase the reality and memory of those lives. The Russians are trying to argue that the evidence doesn’t matter because it won’t lead to justice if Russia wins. In this context, our task is to understand what truth, responsibility, and memory mean now.

Peter added that one of the reasons why Ukraine inspired so many people in the world was that it brought clarity, reminded them that it is good and evil and that you can be a democrat and a patriot at the same time. Attention was focused on Ukraine, and clarity was seen where there was none.

Another sign of a sick society is the glorification of its writers and their cult.

According to the definition by the British philologist Raymond Williams, culture is a sense of the generally shared ideals of a society embedded in its language, education, and artistic creativity; the way society imagines and projects itself.

In the Western educational system, students constantly analyze the works of their writers, deconstructing their content and looking for signs of colonial thinking in their work. On the other hand, Russian society has not yet learned to analyze itself and reflect on its past. Russians have a writers’ cult, and this is also a form of authoritarianism. The transformation of any artist into a cult is a sign of a sick society. The presence of this cult does not allow us objectively analyze Russian authors and see imperialism in their works.

The conversation recording is available on the Aspen Institute Kyiv YouTube channel via the link.

Earlier the executive director of Aspen Institute Kyiv, Yuliya Tychkivska, took part in a panel discussion devoted to propaganda at the Ideas Festival. View the recording at the link.