Efforts likely to discredit civic activists and journalists
Oleh Rybachuk, leader of the civic movement CHESNO, believes that in the near future there may be a wide-scale campaign aimed at discrediting civic activists. In an interview given to Gazeta.ua he said that those in power were conjuring up scandals connected with public figures and journalists.
Asked why specifically now, he answered that the regime doesn’t have any other ways out. “Level of confidence in it is at a record low and it basically has nothing that it can counter this with from the point of view of information. It’s effectively impossible to imagine anybody in their right mind who would defend the regime. Those who defend it do so for specific ends. They don’t support it and are simply trying to compromise opponents of the regime”. He says that the journalists and publications engaged in such activities spread dirt in a fairly standardized fashion.
They can’t for example, say anything against the CHESNO or Stop Censorship movements as such, so instead they go for individuals and publish lies about them. There’ll be about one percent fact in such texts, he says, that an event actually took place while everything else is wildly distorted.
He calls this fairly standard political technology that he’s been seeing since he entered politics in 2002.
This is being used against CHESNO, with claims that they’re simply in it to get grants, and against Stop Censorship which doesn’t even get any funding. It’s being done to create the impression that there aren’t any journalists who can’t be bought.
“Publications connected with the regime are engaged in this. We know that money is allocated for discrediting people; listening devices are used; emails read. On the other hand that shows that the regime is for the moment losing out to those whom it’s trying to counter. “ He suggests that the opposite effect may be seen: if some venal journalist tries to hurl mud at somebody, readers assume that the person is doing something right.”
He explains that the regime pushes the idea that there are no journalists who can’t be corrupted, yet he’s travelled around the country and has met many such people. Yes, they have to look after their families, but they refuse to become “information hired killers”. He suggests that efforts by the regime will merely lead to more Ukrainians understanding that this is just a ploy to throw mud at people who constitute a real threat to them.
Will this be purely about information to discredit them, or could it get as far as arrests and criminal prosecutions?
It could get to anything. That depends how brazen the regime is, and on their level of imagination. They could think up not only “bugs” but something else as well. Imagine that when the police arrive without a warrant to carry out a search and with torches look for “bugs”. They can find what they’ve brought in their pockets. We remember occasions in 2002-2004 when identical grenades were found on activists – they were even in standardized bags.”
He believes they could go further, seeking to discredit individuals. They can use any number of things and suggests that civic activists and journalists need to be prepared.
Rybachuk says that those in power have a comfortable relationship with the political opposition, since they share a lot of interests, and can make deals about spheres of influence. They can’t make such deals with civic groups. The numbers are greater and the motives cleaner with people harder to control. Those in power, he notes, have not yet understood that money can’t achieve everything. Those with loads of money, for example, did not manage to take the electoral districts in Kyiv. Their spin doctors, he believes, are beginning to understand this and the elections in May to the Kyiv City Council will be a big challenge for them. Among the activists there are people who influence public thinking and the authorities may seek to discredit them.
Asked if this could activate civil society, Oleh Rybachuk said that civil activity could only be raised when people feel that they are the majority, that they can unite, and – most importantly – that they can be successful. They need to feel, for example, that they can force MPs, to vote personally in parliament (instead of the present situation where one MP may press any number of buttons for party colleagues – translator), to be too scared to become turncoats. Such success stories will form the main motivation.
“At present there are a lot of efforts to create qualitatively new broad civic-political movements which stand out because each member of the movement must meet honesty criteria. This is an attempt to demonstrate to our politicians that there are in fact so many honest people that they can unite and if not come to power, then create fundamentally different political movements. I know of such initiatives and know that this year they’ll make themselves known at the local elections. I hope they’ll get support”.