French filmmaker adopts Putin’s ’Ukrainian fascist hordes’ line for Canal Plus
If anybody wants a quick reminder of how easy it is to mislead film viewers, they should watch Paul Moreira’s ‘Masks of the Revolution’. They may then wish to ask France’s popular Canal Plus cable television channel why it has collaborated in the making of such a film and why it has scheduled its broadcast for Feb 1.
Only part of the film is available here, but that has been widely distributed, together with the words describing it. Both are packed with manipulative reporting and outright lies. Judging by the written trailer for the film, Moreira believes that the Western media have muffled crimes in Ukraine because “in the new Russia vs. USA cold war, Ukraine is a strategic pawn to contain Putin’s ambitions.”
Moreira’s title ‘The Masks of Revolution’ was originally used by the Kremlin-funded Russia Today. It is now supposed to reveal the details about what he considers “the blind corner” allegedly not reported by other media.
The assertion that the role of right-wing, and even far-right groups in the events of the last two years has been underplayed is already contentious. There have been numerous reports, both in Ukraine and abroad, about the role of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector and far-right VO Svoboda party during Euromaidan. There has also been considerable coverage of the Azov Battalion and other volunteer battalions fighting against Kremlin-backed militants and Russia in Donbas, with many reports focusing on the ideology espoused by at least the battalion leaders.
Attempts to overplay the role of far-right groups, to explain Euromaidan as US-supported ‘paramilitary militias’ or ‘street fighters’ are not just dishonest, but foolishly so. Moreira is following a tradition begun by the Viktor Yanukovych regime and pushed by Russian President Vladimir Putin who tried to justify Russia’s interference in Ukraine’s matters as being because of ““the orgy of nationalists, extremists and anti-Semites on the streets of Kyiv”. Those lies have been consistently refuted by, among others, prominent representatives of the Jewish and Crimean Tatar communities and the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group.
The initial images and accompanying script in Moreira’s version show violent scenes with ‘street fighters’ during Euromaidan reported only to have overthrown President Viktor Yanukovych. Only much later do we learn of the over 100 deaths with these wrongly claimed to have usually been “members of the militias”.
There is no mention at all of the reasons for Euromaidan, for the repressive measures against peaceful protesters. Nor is there any explanation that the activists killed were gunned down by the Yanukovych regime.
It is from the end of Euromaidan, in the film, that distortion and omissions turn into falsehood.
The viewer is shown an image of young men running, then obviously ready for battle and is informed that “after their victory, they never went home. Heavily armed and powerful, they became a threat to the government. Their parallel armies took the streets and imposed their own new order”.
At this point, the viewer sees men in camouflage gear with the Azov emblem.
What the viewer never hears is even one word about Russia’s invasion of Crimea and military aggression in Donbas. That is the real reason that many of the activists on Euromaidan indeed “never went home” but volunteered to fight for their country in Donbas. Many were killed.
It was their sacrifice in the face of immense danger to Ukraine’s very existence that made many observers, including the author, careful in making simplistic judgements. Concern was expressed where Right Sector activists were seen to be involved in criminal activities, or when neo-Nazis like Andriy Biletsky and Ihor Mosiychuk were elected to parliament because of their war effort, not their political views. Biletsky remains an MP, but has interestingly modified his tone altogether. This probably doesn’t indicate a change in his ideology, but is a cheering sign that he has to conceal his views before the public.
Moreira has unfortunately chosen to present an extremely distorted version of the events in Odesa on May 2, 2014. It is clear that they were in possession of the facts since Moreira actually contacted Tatyana Gerasimova from the 2 May Group, a civic initiative made up of journalists and others which has investigated the tragic disturbances and fire in Odesa on May 2. She was startled that Moreira asked only for commentary on scenes with members of Right Sector and the police doing nothing, and showed no interest in the undisputed fact that the disturbances were provoked by anti-Maidan activists. If he was so interested in police inaction, why did he not at least cover the open shooting by anti-Maidan activist Vitaly Budko which almost certainly killed the first – Right Sector – victim, Ihor Ivanov?
Gerasimova assumed that journalists producing a film for Canal Plus were interested in the truth and now feels understandably deceived.
Moreira has followed Russian propaganda in claiming that far-right paramilitaries “slaughtered in full impunity” people. Even the number of fatalities is given incorrectly. 42 people lost their lives in a fire caused by activists on both sides of barricades throwing Molotov cocktails at each other. Specialists from the bipartisan 2 May Group, as well as the International Advisory Panel studied hours of video footage, forensic material and witness accounts and have concluded that there is no way of knowing whose incendiary device caused the fire, and certainly no evidence that there was any intention to cause death. The fatalities were due to the fire brigade taking 40 minutes to appear.
This was clearly not what the French filmmaker needed. He was quoted by the Russian RIA Novosti back in December 2015 as follows: “In September I went to Ukraine and shot a film called ‘Masks of the Revolution’. I wanted to get to the bottom of the Odesa massacre – it was totally muffled in Europe, and nobody knew anything about it, including me. When I arrived, I was stunned – 45 people were killed in the centre of Europe and nobody knows!”
If you arrive wanting to make a film about a ‘massacre’ that never happened, you have two options. The 2 May Group would have happily assisted him in providing a truthful account. He could have also watched their film, available in Russian, English and in German. He unfortunately chose to use selective and highly deceptive video footage and biased witness accounts to push a false massacre narrative. The trailer, for example, presents one pro-Russian ‘witness’ claiming that it “was like when an animal smells blood and goes crazy”.
Moreira’s version of events around Crimea is also music to the ears of Russia’s leaders. A picture is shown with Russia, Ukraine and Crimea all in different colours (with Crimea closer to the Russian colour, then merging with it in the next shot). The viewer is told that most of Crimea’s population is Russian and that after the Ukrainian revolution “the inhabitants voted massively in a referendum to join Russia”.
That assessment was in fact debunked by Russia’s own Human Rights Council, and Russia invited only far-right or neo-Stalinist politicians to ‘observe’ the so-called referendum which did not give the option of retaining the status quo.
The same deception is applied with respect to the Crimean Blockade which was initiated by Crimean Tatar leaders with very specific human rights demands, including the release of Russia’s Ukrainian political prisoners. None of this gets any mention at all, with the blockade supposedly because “Right Sector took upon itself to starve Crimea”.
With respect to the blockade, there are negative things that can and are reported about some of the right-wing activists involved. Nonetheless, any presentation which conceals the initiators and aims of the blockade, the grave human rights concerns and the real nature of Russia’s land-grab, constitutes propaganda, not a documentary film.
Such propaganda has become standard in the Kremlin-loyal Russian and pro-Russian media. The line pushed is that the West – with the USA as main villain – has countenanced a far-right coup and sought to conceal its ‘crimes’. Concealed, in fact, the version presented by Putin about “fascist anti-Semitic hordes in Kyiv”. This has been repeatedly debunked, not by ‘the Americans’, but by Ukrainian Jewish religious and other leaders who could have only one reason for denying it, namely that it is a cynical and provocative lie. Whatever Moreira’s views about the USA, such propaganda has no place in a supposed documentary shown to French viewers who have no way of knowing that they are being misled. This is not media pluralism, but deception, and Canal Plus would do well to reconsider showing the film.