Russia will conquer Europe not with tanks and jets

This Saturday, March 5, 2016 Jānis Sārts, director of NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, based in Riga, Latvia, told the Observer that Russia had a track record of funding extremist forces in Europe, and that he believed there is now evidence of Russia agitating in Germany against Merkel.

Insisting that he could talk only as an expert, and not as a spokesman for NATO, Sārts said: “[Russia] is establishing a network that can be controlled. You can use it as they have tried to do in Germany, combined with the legitimate issue of refugees, to undercut political processes in a very serious way. Angela Merkel has been a very adamant supporter of continued sanctions against Russia. If it was just punishment, that would be OK – but it is testing whether they can build on pre-existing problems and create a momentum where there is political change in Germany”.

As I’ve been monitoring the process of Russian narratives promotion to the European information space, this is at least fourth affirmation of the fact that Russia interferes in the internal affairs of European countries, that is ignored by European society.

In October 2015 Jānis Sārts said that NATO suspects that a third party working in the hidden fomenting xenophobia in Europe. Information warfare experts tried to find those behind the campaign, but actually we all understand who can benefit from the weakness of Europe.

Many Ukrainian and German experts has assumed that New Year eve sexual attacks on women on the Cologne railway station square were planned and organized by the third party. And their main aim was to change the attitude of Germans to the migrants.

In the end of January 2016 the alleged rape of a 13-year-old Russian-speaking girl in Berlin, supposedly by asylum-seekers, has fuelled anti-migrant protests from Germany’s large Russian community. One of their demands was to change the politics of Angela Merkel up to her resignation.

Members of Netherlands parliamentary party D66 have made a request on how Russia can influence Netherlands policy because of the deep concern after US-based investigations on European parties funding by Russia.

As I can see, the participants of almost every conference on propaganda issues are trying to define and figure out the narratives of Russian propaganda towards European countries. There are many of them, but the most efficient ones are very simple and widespread. They are based on the prior needs of every human being – the safety and security. And to activate these needs in people, you should assure them in some real threat threatening them. This is how Kremlin uses refugee crisis to scared Europeans and make them guided by fake ideas, like “refugees attack, insult and rape women”.

Memetic warfare

One of the contributors of Defense Strategic Communications journal issued by NATO Stratcom COE, Jeff Giesea defines memetic warfare as “competition over narrative, ideas, and social control in a social-media battlefield. One might think of it as a subset of ‘information operations’ tailored to social media. Information operations involve the collection and dissemination of information to establish a competitive advantage over an opponent”.

In Jeff’s opinion “memetic warfare could also be viewed as a ‘digital native’ version of psychological warfare, more commonly known as propaganda. If propaganda and public diplomacy are conventional forms of memetic warfare, then trolling and PSYOPs are guerrilla versions”.

Jeff Giesea also says that this methodology is being actively used in political campaigns. And this is true. The most interesting last cases of spreading memes for changing of political situation are, for example, Twitter hashtags #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain, when American comic John Oliver has launched anti-Trump campaign, or #BundyEroticFanFic, when American actors tried to prevent the glorification of farmers that used their guns to fight for their land (which was perfect illustration of how USA were built).

But, in my humble opinion, memetics is far broader issue then only social media management method.

Vladimir Vernadsky, the first president of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, considered the founding father of the noosphere theory. This is the kind of environment in which the whole conscious intellectual activity of mankind is going on. It is believed that a third-party unceremonious intervention in this environment, which is not fully studied and understood, carries a great danger. Just like human intervention in the nature processes is a serious threat to the ecological environment.

Implantation of ideas is the ancient willing of humanity. Perhaps only for this the religion was created, not to mention things like hypnosis, NLP or “black PR”. The main charm of implanted ideas is that the “object of implanting” considers these ideas as his own. And that’s why they have such a devastating effect. After all, people are often willing to die, and more often – to kill for their beliefs. This destructive force is shown in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”.

Memetics is a theory of mental content based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution, originating from the popularization of Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene. The meme, analogous to a gene, was conceived as a “unit of culture” (an idea, belief, pattern of behaviour, etc.) which is “hosted” in the minds of one or more individuals, and which can reproduce itself, thereby jumping from mind to mind. Thus what would otherwise be regarded as one individual influencing another to adopt a belief is seen as an idea-replicator reproducing itself in a new host. As with genetics, particularly under a Dawkinsian interpretation, a meme’s success may be due to its contribution to the effectiveness of its host.

Naturally, the most “powerful” and adapted to the environment memes survive. This fact brings us to the idea that if we can shift the organism’s genetic material by environmental conditions manipulating in biosphere, so we can change the noosphere and bring new leading ideas as a result appropriate to us, which will change the people’s behavior.

Richard Dawkins himself says: “Strictly speaking, the idea of parallels in the evolution of language and of living organisms was first expressed by Charles Darwin in the 14th chapter of his “Origin of Species

Weaponisation of information space

Investigating the use of memetic technology in the modern world, I came across the phrase “memetic weapon” in Irina Lebedeva’s article (Russian anti-American publicist) on the website of “Strategic Culture Foundation” (Russia). Back in December 2011 Lebedeva says that Gene Sharp (known by his “colored revolutions”) and his colleagues participated in the development of memes, aiming to achieve regime change in Russia.

For example, the author says that one such “combat” memes was the phrase “The party of crooks and thieves”. It refers to the ruling Russian political force “United Russia”. This meme was very actively broadcasted by Aleksey Navalny during his presidential campaign.

Obviously, in modern society memes were used as the weapon of inciting hatred in Russia and Ukraine. Starting from 2011 Russian information space has switched on the spread of idea about “European decaying values and Russian spiritual buckles”. The story of Irina Bergseth, when she accused her Norwegian husband, his relatives and Norwegian authorities of paedophilia, became the base for this idea.

In some two years 2011-2013 Russian media and internet have tired up homosexuality and paedophilia with Europe very closely. Mainly, thanks to the homophobic moods and views among the majority of Russian people. In fact, Russian political and media establishment have been indirectly encouraging homophobic tensions in Russian society. And this became a base for the hatred of anything connected to European countries and their values.

Since the second half of 2013 subjects of fear, disgust and aversion have been tightly linked to homosexuality and paedophilia using online media. A majority also perceived it as inherent attributes of “European values”.

Then, after this, information space gradually moved to the European choice in Ukraine. Associative chain lined up (one of them) very clear: “Ukraine wants to integrate into Europe and in Europe – they have “European values”, which consist of paedophilia, homosexuality and incest. That is why – Ukraine is for incest and homosexuality”.

The same technology was used for the annexation of Crimea. Russian professionals in communications, public relations and non-governmental organizations work used enormous financial resources from the Russian budget to create the perception that everything connected to Maidan was made by ultra-right nationalists and neo-Nazis who were paid by American and European governments to weaken Russia.

One of the key points in the Crimea annexation story was the meme about “friendship train”. In February 2014, Igor Moseychuk, former representative of the one of right-wing organizations (now he is put in jail for corruption) said on TV that his counterparts will come to Crimea “to teach locals how to be faithful to their Motherland”. This meme, passed from mouth to mouth among the Russian-speaking people in Crimea, nurtured precisely the theme of fear, which is one of the most powerful drivers of behavior. Almost every Crimean was so frightened by this news.

Actually this was a repetition of the 1992 story about another “train” with right-wing activist that already went to the Crimea 23 years ago. In 1992 the main organizer of “friendship train” was the UNSO – ultra-right organization of Ukrainian nationalists, which had close connection with Dmytro Korchynskiy, who often appeared in information space during Euromaidan and even declared the war on Russia, when Crimea situation has started. In 1992 they could not even get to the peninsula, because they were stopped on the border of the region. But, in 1992 there was no mass propaganda on TV, no social media with its current level of development to “roll hysteria” around the need to “defend against the Nazis”. Though, it took 23 years and “Bandera friendship train” that could threaten only to himself, has grown substantially in Pearl Harbor and Tsushima together.

Constructive and destructive memes

Jeff Giesea in his article for Defense Strategic Communications journal, says thatmemetic warfare can be offensive, defensive, or predictive. It can be deployed independently or in conjunction with cyber, hybrid, or conventional efforts.

As for me in the broadest sense memes can be constructive and destructive. Destructive memes, like “fascists” and “banderovtsy” (for Ukrainian nationalists), “gayropa” (for European norms of tolerance), “crucified boy” and “Liza – the raped girl” (for spreading the unreal threat), are made to incite hatred between people, based on the security needs from the threats. And these memes are made manually to deepen the fear of those, who are aimed by them (Europeans, refugees, Ukrainian).

Constructive memes are made mostly naturally. They are born in information space themselves, people just start to use them. In Ukraine constructive memes are – the “Heavenly Hundred” (for those who gave their lives on Maidan for the freedom of Ukrainian people), the “Cyborgs” (for Ukrainian volunteers and soldiers, who died defending the Donetsk airport from terrorists’ and Russian Special Forces attacks).

The most famous European meme is “Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood”, but as we see it has lost its power long ago.

Their constructive role is very significant. For example, the “legend” says that “Heavenly Hundred” is watching us not only to defend us from the enemies, but also to prevent us from giving and taking bribes. This seems childish, but still this story is spreading along Ukrainian social media, saying that Heavenly Hundred will punish you if you misbehave while building new country.

We still did not make any researches on this, but in my opinion constructive memes are much more efficient than destructive ones, and more than that – constructive memes, if they are accepted by society, do not need any resources for spreading them in media, because they have very high virility.

Place of memetic warfare in modern society

As we know Strategic Communications subdivisions were made by NATO and European Parliament to counter the threat of Russian propaganda spreading. But, let’s face the truth, they still cannot find their place and mission in modern European information space. The overwhelming majority of their statements they made as “independent experts”, but not as the representatives of EU or NATO. Almost each message from them is accompanied with disclaimer.

On the other hand, they have made a huge work by launching this discussion in the Western world and bringing some terms and definitions to it. For example, the definition of “narrative” and “master-narrative” is very widespread. Experts all over the world try to figure out what narratives Russia is spreading and what counter-narratives Europe has to defend its territory of its senses.

And actually, we can say that the memes and the narratives are the same, but memes have more obvious and objective features to describe and explain them. Newly made project of the Concept of information security of Ukraine has another term to express it and it is “strategic content” (alongside with “strategic communications”).

Thus, memes have power that far exceeds social media. They contain answers to the questions like: “why should we defend our Motherland?”, “why should we not give or take bribes?”, “why do we have to be tolerant to other nations, races, genders or views?”, “why should we care about who is managing our country and how he or she is doing this?”

These are some of the most significant and important questions not only for Ukrainian society, but for any community that intents to develop in a democratic way. And that’s why the memetics and the possibility to develop constructive memes manually is the biggest interest of the Institute for Postinformation Society.