Troubling Distortions on the Right
When I first discovered the Epoch Times, I was stunned that such a gem of conservative reporting and commentary was not more popular. The Times’s website is chock-full of painstaking analyses by some of the best minds in America, and is doubtless an invaluable resource for conservatives in the Western world. Lately, however, there seems to have been an abrupt drop in the quality of its content, specifically on foreign affairs.
This troubling trend has culminated in the publication of one of the most misleading articles I have seen in a long time, “The ‘De-Russification’ of Ukraine,” by Australian professor Augusto Zimmermann. This hit piece presents outright falsehoods to cast Ukraine in the worst possible light. No matter where you stand on Ukraine and US policy towards that country, no conservative should want one of the best right-wing publications to put out content this deceptive. Without further ado, let us pick apart Zimmermann’s distortions.
Early on, the author states his thesis: “Do […] Russian-speaking Ukrainians have a right to celebrate their own culture, values, and heritage? Apparently not.” Do tell. What evidence does Zimmermann provide to support this claim?
Firstly, he writes, “the Zelenskyy government has just banned Russian books and even music from Ukraine. The new law states that only books published in Ukrainian or ‘the indigenous languages of the European Union’ can be published in the country.” He provides no source that actually states this, probably because it is utterly untrue. In reality, it remains perfectly legal to publish Russian-language books and music in Ukraine, as the legislation in question only applies to imports of those forms of media. According to DW, what is banned is the importing of books published in Russia, Belarus, or occupied Ukraine since the Russian invasion, as well as books written by Russian citizens, on the grounds that such materials could be used to disseminate propaganda. It is even still legal to import “Russian-language literature published in other countries” following approval by a special commission. Restrictions have also been placed on music created by Russian citizens, with “exemptions for Russian musicians who condemn Moscow’s aggression.”
Ergo, the legislation has nothing to do with “Russian-speaking Ukrainians” and their “right to celebrate their own culture.” It applies specifically to media from the aggressor states Russia and Belarus, whose imperialist war is killing and displacing those Russian-speaking Ukrainians first and foremost, since they tend to live in the east of the country.
Zimmermann continues: “On March 20, the Ukrainian government effectively concentrated its power when it banned all opposition parties in Ukraine.” Yet the article to which he links does not state that at all. Instead, the government, carrying out a decision by Ukraine’s National Security Council, temporarily suspended the activities of eleven political parties for as long as martial law was in place in the country. This decision was based on the parties’ ties to the Russian government. Most of the parties listed were minuscule, with only two even being represented in the Ukrainian parliament following the last parliamentary election in 2019. While Zimmermann accuses Zelenskyy of “failing to provide any evidence linking the opposition to the Russian authorities,” the links are quite obvious.
For instance, the largest of the parties suspended, the Opposition Platform – For Life, was headed by Viktor Medvedchuk – and Vladimir Putin himself is godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter. The only other party of the bunch with parliamentary representation, the Opposition Bloc, had only split from the Opposition Platform – For Life in 2019. Furthermore, while the National Security Council’s decision only suspended the Opposition Bloc’s activities, a court went further on July 8, banning the organization outright, which suggests that the initial suspension was justified. The ruling can be appealed at the Supreme Court of Ukraine.
Next, we get to the biggest whopper in Zimmermann’s article. According to him, “Zelenskyy enacted a decree to nationalise all TV channels into one state-controlled platform.” This is not even nearly true. You may read the actual decree – through Google Translate if you have to – and tell me whether I am wrong. It does not “nationalize” anything. All it does is oblige “all nationwide TV channels whose programming content consists mostly of information and/or informative-analytical shows” (not even “all TV channels,” as Zimmermann claims) to participate in a telethon known as “United News” and designed to boost morale and counteract Russian disinformation. Immediately after the invasion, the country’s four main media companies had voluntarily united to participate in the project anyway, so the decree merely broadened its reach. Furthermore, for a nation being invaded, a “unified information policy,” as the decree calls it, is crucial for an array of entirely pragmatic reasons. For instance, one of the networks involved, Media Group Ukraine, remarked that participating copanies “do not report military actions and explosions in real-time” within the framework of the telethon. Such a policy carries obvious tactical advantages. Finally, the government does not dictate what is to be broadcast during United News. Rather, according to the statement by Media Group Ukraine, “[w]e agree on the main [subjects] in the general chat of editorial heads.”
Zimmermann’s last major mischaracterization – this is a look at only the main ones – is that Zelenskyy passed the decree “citing his own martial law as an excuse.” While vague enough not no be considered outright wrong, it is certainly misleading to call Ukraine’s martial law Zelensky’s “own.” As Alesya Pavlynska notes in an article for the American Bar Association, the presidential decree introducing martial law at the outset of the Russian invasion was “approved by the Parliament.”
The final section of Zimmermann’s commentary makes clear his intent, which is to argue against the provision of military aid to Ukraine. He is distorting the truth to abet a genocidal war of aggression. Still, anger at him should not be the main takeaway from this debunking. Let us rather marvel at the character of the Ukrainian people, and many – though not all – of their leaders. The memory of the United States’ heroic struggle against Nazi Germany in World War II is forever marred by the internment of Japanese Americans. Yet now, while the Ukrainian people are forced to fend off an invasion on their own soil after eight years of simmering war, wondering what atrocities their compatriots are suffering in the occupied territories, Augusto Zimmermann can come up with no greater transgressions of which to accuse them than the fabrications refuted above.