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Valdai Papers

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War Is Peace
Andrei Bystritsky

War Is Peace

There are a lot of stereotypes prevalent mostly within the intellectual milieu and related to an
extremely nave understanding of the modern world in general and of Russia in particular. One of
these intellectual clichs is the claim that Russia is losing some information war waged in recent
years by the West in the broad sense of the term and led by the United States, especially since the
onset of the Ukrainian events. It is noteworthy that this common liberal concept characteristic of
several dozen thousands people, who live predominantly in large cities, is extremely controversial: On
the one hand, liberals claim that this aggressive propaganda is being conducted by the Russian
media while Western media are only honestly fulfilling their professional duties, but on the other,
there is a war, that is, confrontation, and Russia is losing it. In other words, there is no war but
nevertheless there are both winners and losers in it.
I believe that this oddity results from a misunderstanding of the modern world.
As a matter of fact, my thesis is this: Russian media are definitely not losing the ongoing information
competition between various media that are in some way or other nationally or territorially attributed
(Russian, US, British, European, Western, Asian, Chinese, and so on). Neither Russia nor the Russian
media are suffering a defeat in this complicated process, known as information war. Quite the
contrary, they are acting successfully and achieving some impressive results. Incidentally, a lot of
Western politicians and analysts are saying this in so many words. Plenty of quotes can be cited to
that effect.
However, to understand why the Russian media in general and Russian political journalism in
particular is enjoying success this information war should be structured.
First, analyze where, in what domain this confrontation is unfolding, what the modern informationcommunication space is and how it is organized.
Second, understand on what fronts the war is being fought, what is being won, where and by whom,
and what is being seized or ceded if it is a war.
Third, what kind of a world is it where such wars are possible? For instance, the network society is
a very popular concept that is reduced to a system of social media although in reality the concept of
the network society emerged before any social media came about (Georg Simmel actually introduced
this concept, and even used the word web on the threshold of the 19th and the 20th centuries even
though Emile Durkheim, essentially the father of modern sociology, wrote about something like that
before him). So the creation of social media was not a cause but effect of the evolution of the network
society.

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War Is Peace

The media space: old and new media


Even if there was a media revolution, it is effectively over now.
A new hierarchy has been established in the new information and communication environment that
is dominated by professional media that have digested and integrated all the latest communication
achievements.
There is a myth popular with the broad public, including many civil servants, to the effect that the socalled new media, especially social media (i.e., such as VKontakte or Facebook) have some special
power and are gradually winning the information space from traditional media. I do not believe this
is the case.
First of all, the very definition of new and social media is rather relative. In addition, all the elements
of these media existed before.
Basically, my thesis, which is without a doubt debatable, is that social media have enriched human
communication but have not changed its essence or given it any new substantive qualities.
Social media could be compared to the exoskeleton that is now used by some armies in the world. The
exoskeleton, of course, gives man additional power, enabling him to lift concrete blocks or jump five
meters high but it is only a quantitatively strengthened projection of man as such. Unlike the
exoskeleton, the car has changed human life far more drastically.
It turns out that social media have simply multiplied kitchen gossip, which is interesting in and of
itself, but suggests that the appearance of new Luddites those who consciously minimize their
presence in the social media if only for security considerations is imminent. Because during the
Nazi occupation of the Netherlands or Russia in the middle of the past century, it was far more
difficult to catch a person pasting up leaflets with information from the BBC or the Soviet
Information Bureau than it is today to identify some malicious young or old man engaged in cruel,
jealous trolling. The example of Snowden or Arrange is a lesson for everyone.
So this raises the question: Is the creation of social media on par with the invention of the wheel? A
steam engine? For example, nuclear power proved to be important above all as a military threat.
Thus, on the one hand, it enables countries such as North Korea to play all sorts of tricks and on the
other, it is the most important element of mutual deterrence. Nevertheless, nuclear energy has not
played such an important role in the economic domain. Are social media a kind of nuclear power an
apparently exciting, great thing but not very practical? Cosmonautics is marvelous of course, but
humankind has in effect abandoned it. And it acts boorishly on earth. Isaac Asimov wrote The End of
Eternity, a novel about the choice between the control of time and the control of space flights. It is
amusing that according to the author, nuclear power is an asset that can be useful or it can be useless.
In other words, social media do not eliminate the principal challenges: horrible wars, the hunger for
power, and cruelty. Nor did I expect them to do so.

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War Is Peace

For instance, does the Islamic State (of Iraq and the Levant) need social media? Well, probably yes
to disseminate the picture of the execution of journalist [James] Foley. However, an automatic rifle is
a more convenient control and mobilization tool.
So, in order to comprehend the effect of social media, several tiers can be singled out to see what
changes have occurred in recent years.
If we look at societys political life, social media have not made a significant impact on it. There is
ample reason for saying this. Recent surveys show that television and radio (in their traditional
definition) is a far more potent instrument of influence on society than social media. Thus, according
to Eurobarometer, the radio remains the most effective European integration medium regardless of
the way it is disseminated. In Russia, Europe and the United States, according to various services
(Arbitron, TNC, the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion on Social and Economic
Questions or the Levada Center) television remains the main source of news and information. In all,
around three quarters of the population uses TV as a source of information.
In other words, human behavior is far more stable than it seems to be. Thus, the events on Tahrir
Square in Cairo the Internet was shut off were mainly attributed to the mobilizing role of the
mullah and the mosque. In Istanbul (social media are prohibited in Turkey), the main mobilizing
institutions were student organizations and trade unions.
In 1848-49, a revolutionary conflagration erupted in Europe. There was no internet, radio or
television there at the time. A few newspapers were published while mail was delivered mainly by
horse and carriage.
When the Soviet Union was crumbling millions of Muscovites took to the streets without any
independent television or radio, let alone Twitter. Despite the fact that residents in the capital city are
closely involved in social networks the opposition has been unable to gather more than 10,000 people
while average indicators are far more modest.
There are also other vivid examples of what is happening. As I previously wrote, at critical moments,
the self-defense forces in Ukraine and the military in Thailand do not attack bloggers apartments or
their servers but attack TV and radio stations.
That is to say, social media cannot replace traditional media. The reason must be because social
media largely divide society and do not create an explosive effect. Needless to say, Facebook has a
bigger audience than any TV channel, but this audience is, as a general rule, divided into small
segments. A blogger who has 100,000 subscribers usually gets only a few reposts so the wave
subsides very quickly. And even though there are a lot of such waves there is no cohesion between
them.
So, the volume of relevant knowledge, common to all, about ongoing developments disseminated by
social media is very small. Particular sets of perceptions and facts circulate mainly among the
relatively small, actually subcultural communities formed as social media branches.

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War Is Peace

Of course, there are circumstances that should be taken into account. Although they are not critical
for my concept of the role of social media circumstances are essential.
First, the correlation of credibility and responsibility in social media. This is a common
communication problem of course: as a matter of fact, lies appeared because of communication.
Remember that Satan is the father of lies.
However, social media have greatly exacerbated this situation. The amount of unreliable information,
half-lies and outright lies is enormous. It is impossible to cope with this problem. Moreover, the
greater the need for accurate and reliable information, the higher the level of lies.
Second, the over-simplified access to various databases, libraries, collections, and so on.
Even though this is actually an achievement of the new information-communication medium (the
Internet) it is perhaps one of the most essential manifestations.
Social media have provided a unique opportunity for the dissemination of valuable knowledge, but
human nature has cleverly turned social media primarily into a method of disseminating incredible
intellectual garbage. As a result, the general structure of human consumption of valuable knowledge
has almost not changed.
Third, a crucial change in content consumption models. Notably, new content consumption
models are relatively independent of the content generation method. Simply, what was technically
very difficult has become generally available: the multiple dissemination of content, delayed
consumption, the creation of an individual information profile and so on. Of course, all of these
phenomena were in some form or other available before: for example, it was possible to compile
dossiers with newspaper clippings or record a favorite TV program but the capabilities of the present
content dissemination system are incomparable to the old capabilities.
Overall, I believe that media development entered an evolutionary and in a way controllable stage. At
the top are professional media, which account for the lions share of content and at the bottom is a
complicated and highly fragmented system of additional content dissemination among social media
users. In other words, to reiterate, social media are technically perfect structures the role of which,
however, adds up to ensuring long established types of communication. It is important to understand
that over the past 10 years, professional media have mutated, mastered all the achievements of the
new information-communication environment and turned into a symbiosis of new communication
and content generation technologies.
As Manuel Castells wrote, what has changed is not the kind of activities humankind is engaged in,
but its technological ability to use as a direct productive force what distinguishes our species as a
biological oddity: its superior capacity to process symbols.

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War Is Peace

War fronts
Regarding the successes or defeats in the information war, it is, as a minimum, necessary to identify
the war fronts, for example, geographically or by the kind of information sources they use.
In geographical terms, here is a comparison of the situation in Russia and the United States.
American society practically does not trust its media. At any rate, according to Gallup, since 1994,
public trust in television has fallen from 36 percent to 22 percent and in newspapers from 30 percent
to 18 percent, in 2014. Meanwhile, the Internet started out with 21 percent, reaching 19 percent in
2014. It is indicative that 34 percent [of respondents] believe that their media are more or less
balanced, 44 percent say they are too liberal and 19 percent regard them as too conservative.
Translated into human language, strangely enough, this points to a wide gap between what the
audience expects and what the media offer it. I would pay special attention to the 44 percent of
Americans who regard their media as overly liberal. We will revisit this later on, as I believe that it is
a very significant indicator.
In Russia, quite the contrary, there is a kind of a consensus. According to Gallup, 76 percent of the
Russian public believes that the Russian media are quite reliable in providing coverage, for example,
of the events in Ukraine. Characteristically, only 30 percent believe non-governmental media are
credible and only 5 percent say so in respect to Western media. Even though these indicators are
nothing more than food for thought, still, they are significant and interesting indicators.
Yet, even more significant are the same indicators with the breakdown by socio-educational status.
Thus, Russian young people are neither better nor worse than people over 60. There is practically no
difference in the level of trust between the 15-44 age brackets and those over 60 74 percent and 75
percent, respectively. It is only those over 45 but under 60 who show a higher level of support and
trust 80 percent. Of course, these indicators apply to the coverage of the Ukraine events but they
are not in conflict with other data from other organizations.
Put simply, Russian society is quite cohesive and united in respect to information sources. In other
words, there are no losses on the domestic front but only gains, both in essence and in comparison to
other countries.
Sure, it can be argued that this is inside [the country] but what about outside? How is the Russian
point of view presented on the world information market?
Yet even there the situation is not bad at all. This despite the very simple fact that Russia has a rather
modest lineup of international media outlets broadcasting at least in English.
Nevertheless, the general consensus at reputable international political forums is that the Russian
media are winning the information war. Thus, at a forum in Aspen, Angela Stent and Stephen
Hadley stated that in no uncertain terms; moreover, they lamented the low effectiveness of the US
media. Of course, these remarks are a bit disingenuous what with the intention to conceal a certain
measure of surprise over the way the world public perceives the situation in the world and the banal
wish to boost funding for some media outlets.

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War Is Peace

Of course, the Russian media in the international information space do not have a very high citation
index, but something else is more important here: The Russian media have proved to be in effect the
most formidable opponent even though opposition is often covert. A good case in point is not even
Ukraine but Syria the coverage of which has ended up in a kind of a quadrangle formed by US, West
European, Arab and Russian media. For example, it turned out that Russian media, both those
targeting international audiences and the predominantly domestic ones, have set the tone that
brought about a change in the agenda on Syrias chemical weapons. A coherent account of the
specifics of the Syrian opposition and a realistic description of its moral state and internal
contradictions ultimately prevailed. Nothing could be further from my mind than the nave idea that
all of that happened only thanks to the Russian media but there is little doubt that they made a
significant contribution to that.
It is equally important to note the Asia Pacific, especially the Indian information market. For all the
scarcity of resources funneled into media support in the region one can only be amazed by the
effectiveness of the regional media. Of course, the general mindset in the region is important but
when you read, for example, Asia Times you have little doubt that the authors of this Hong Kong
based publication are closely watching reports coming from Russia.
In short, I believe there is hardly a market where Russian information is not actively used and is not a
substantial component in the information debate.

Why so
I earlier mentioned the navete of some Russian intellectuals who are prone to simplification
malignant simplification of reality. This simplification originates either from the unwillingness or the
inability to take into account some very serious changes that are taking place in the world.
Incidentally, these changes have a technological, partially informational-technological basis. As I said
earlier, the network (and global!) society emerged before any social media did. Naturally, this global
development was based on electronic communication. The Internet is only a later albeit pampered
child of communicational evolution. This evolution led to a situation where the world system started
operating in real time, went online. It was based on the telegraph, which later substantially developed
into the radio, television, and finally the Internet.
These achievements have put the Russian media into a unique position. It is not the result of some
extraordinary talents of Russian journalists but of one very important circumstance: Russia today is
in the process of evolution of its political, Russian nation whereas countries of the Western world are
going through a totally different stage of their existence.
The key word here is identity. I understand identity as a process where the individual becomes aware
of himself as some historically unique subject, as an answer, moreover a personal answer to the
question: What I am in the universe?

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War Is Peace

Here is another quote from Manual Castells, a thorough analyst of modern information-political and
information-social processes:
Political systems are engulfed in a structural crisis of legitimacy, periodically wrecked by scandals,
essentially dependent on media coverage and personalized leadership, and increasingly isolated from
the citizenry. Social movements tend to be fragmented, localistic, single-issue oriented, and
ephemeral, either retrenched in their inner worlds, or flaring up for just an instant around a media
symbol. In such a world of uncontrolled, confusing change, people tend to regroup around primary
identities: religious, ethnic, territorial, national. Religious fundamentalism Christian, Islamic,
Jewish, Hindu, and even Buddhist (in what seems to be a contradiction in terms) is probably the
most formidable force for personal security and collective mobilization in these troubled times. In a
world of global flows of wealth, power, and images, the search for identity, collective or individual,
ascribed or constructed, becomes the fundamental source of social meaning. This is not a new trend,
since identity, and particularly religious and ethnic identity, has been at the roots of meaning since
the dawn of human society. Yet identity is becoming the main, and sometimes the only, source of
meaning in an historical period characterized by widespread destructuring of organizations,
delegitimation of institutions, fading away of major social movements, and ephemeral cultural
expressions. People increasingly organize their meaning not around what they do but on the basis of
what they are, or believe they are. Meanwhile, on the other hand, global networks of instrumental
exchanges selectively switch on and off individuals, groups, regions, and even countries, according to
their relevance in fulfilling the goals processed in the network, in a relentless flow of strategic
decisions. There follows a fundamental split between abstract, universal instrumentalism, and
historically rooted, particularistic identities. Our societies are increasingly structured around a
bipolar opposition between the Net and the self.
I should note that this network is not Facebook or VKontakte.
So we should draw some conclusions about understanding Western society and the way it is
influenced by information. It is essential to single out three segments and all of them are internally
divided.
First, the elites. These are very deeply divided, both in Western Europe and in the United States.
Concerning the information war, it has evidently become a powerful catalyst of the intra-elite
debate. A prominent European politician agreed with me in that the fundamental issue that is being
addressed by the elite, at least the EU elite, could be formulated as the 14 or 38 question. In other
words, what model can describe the conflict in Ukraine? If it is 14, i.e., 1914, then the situation is not
so bad, as on the whole, World War I was a kind of misunderstanding. If it is 38, or 1938, then the
situation is far worse and more dangerous while the ongoing conflict can reach overwhelming
proportions, jeopardizing the very existence of civilization. But then the question as such originates
from the identity issue. This is why the claims about Russias isolation, about its loss in the
information war are false. This is why Russias proactive information policy prompts Western elites to
maximize contacts in order to identify the situation, modern Russia and even themselves. The
division line within the Western elite lies precisely between those who doubt the typology of the
current identities in the world and those who believe that these identities are a given and will remain

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War Is Peace

immutable. It is noteworthy that many modern Russian liberals categorically deny their own country
the possibility of both a new identity and a new global comprehension of the world.
Second, Western society as such, which is deeply divided. Those 44 percent of Americans who believe
that their media are too liberal correlate well with the million-strong demonstrations in Paris against
single-sex marriages. This is not about whether these marriages are good or bad. After all, what's so
great about homosexuality! Even geese have it! This is about identity. People are searching for an
answer to the question: What are we? Where do we come from and where are we headed? This is why
Marine le Pen, according to the latest polls, comes second in the French presidential race (in the
second round!). Meanwhile, she is rather right-leaning, almost a radical figure. At this point a
mechanism that many Western analysts write about kicks in: The image of new Russia has
consolidated many rightist, nationalist political parties. Strangely enough, for them, Russias new,
emerging identification aimed at consolidation around the relatively conservative values is very much
in demand while some right-leaning European politicians even regard it as a model. This is why there
is a division in the perception of Russia. Yes, of course, the majority of Western Europeans, for
example, are critical and wary of the Russian Federation today, but definitely not all of them.
Third, finally, the Western media. In my opinion, this is a totally separate subject even though it is, of
course, closely connected both to the elites and to society in the broad sense of the word. Western
media leadership is mostly leftist, concerned with human rights issues and is a little hypocritical. This
is why despite the fact that the media in many countries are almost completely dominated by leftists,
the followers of the late [far-right] Dutch [gay politician] Pim Fortuyn have amazing indicators. Of
course, tolerance is a big talking point but when a politician is stabbed to death by an Islamist or
when Christian girls in a small English town are raped for years the somewhat evasive and
hypocritical position of leading media outlets, prone to glossing over the nature of the conflict,
irritates a significant section of the population. Angela Merkels famous remark about the collapse of
multiculturalism originated from the fact that a new, acceptable identity for a new, united Europe has
failed to materialize.
This is why the principal gain made by the Russian media in the present situation is that they position
Russia as a country with a new identity, a new balance between globalization and national specifics.
This is why despite their mixed nature all the three segments the elites, public and media had to
respond to that. The events in Ukraine only became a catalyst in this process, exacerbating it, but the
process started before, possibly even before the breakup of the USSR.
Castells writes: It is significant that fundamentalism, whether Islamic or Christian, has spread, and
will spread, throughout the world at the historical moment when global networks of wealth and
power connect nodal points and valued individuals throughout the planet, while disconnecting, and
excluding, large segments of societies, regions, and even entire countries. Why did Algeria, one of the
most modernized Muslim societies, suddenly turn to fundamentalist saviors, who became terrorists
(as did their anti-colonialist predecessors) when they were denied their electoral victory in
democratic elections? Why did the traditionalist teachings of Pope John Paul II find an indisputable
echo among the impoverished masses of the Third World, so that the Vatican could afford to ignore
the protests of a minority of feminists in a few advanced countries where the progress of reproductive
rights contributes precisely to diminishing the number of souls to be saved?

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This question was not asked yesterday but the answer remains unchanged: The fact is that
globalization does not allow an individual to answer the question about identity. Globalization
obliterates personality, as it were. In the not so distant past personality lived in a small world. People
lived in a system of multiple hierarchies. Two hundred years ago a person could have been a
successful poet or (butcher) in a small African town and felt as happy as another poet (butcher) in a
neighboring town. The communities of both towns were self-sufficient and comfortable for the poets
self-fulfillment. In other words, the world consisted of a plethora of socio-hierarchical pyramids.
Today there is only one pyramid. The lack of space for personality is in fact the answer to Castells
questions. The network society is tricky.
Raymond Barglow points to the paradox that while information systems and networking augment
human powers of organization and integration, they simultaneously subvert the traditional Western
concept of a separate, independent subject: The historical shift from mechanical to information
technologies helps to subvert the notions of sovereignty and self-sufficiency that have provided an
ideological anchoring for individual identity since Greek philosophers elaborated the concept more
than two millennia ago. In short, technology is helping to dismantle the very vision of the world that
in the past it fostered.
This crisis is far more serious than the Western-Russian confrontation over Ukraine. It concerns the
individuals position in the modern world. This individual is hungry for information. He is looking for
guidelines and anchors. We I mean the people of Russia should not be provincial in our
perception of the world. There is no center anymore and so there is no periphery. At any rate, such is
the trend.
In short, Russia is not losing any information war if only because there is not an information war
but a full-blown world civil war going on. Practically the entire world is involved in it. Thank God, it is
a sluggish, relatively low intensity war but still, it is a real war. What is at stake in this war is how,
within the network world (not to be confused with social media), our identities and our relations will
evolve, what systems of values will coexist and in what hierarchy. During this world civil war all
identities religious, national, ethnic, etc. are being intermixed. The outcome of that is a big
question.
However, here is what is reassuring:
The present world civil war will end in peace or there will be no world. So war is peace.

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