Cinema as a weapon in hybrid war

The world has entered the new year of 2023. In Ukraine, the bloody Moscow aggression continues, and the Ukrainian army is successfully crushing the occupiers. However, this war is also largely a war in the information sphere, where no less fierce battles are fought. Today, we would like to talk about the information component in the field of film propaganda with the well-known Ukrainian movie director Taras Kalyandruk. Mr. Taras, what can you say specifically about the information war that Putin’s Russia is waging against Ukraine?

First of all, I would like to note that our previous interviews on this topic have received wide publicity around the world. In particular, one of the consequences of our conversation about the attempts of Moscow agents to promote the image of Ukrainians as bandits through cinema around the world was last year’s recall from distribution of the cult British director Guy Ritchie’s film “Operation Fortune: The Art of Victory”, where the international mafia that threatens world order is baselessly depicted as Ukrainian. Guy Ritchie, who was probably a victim of unethical consultants, realized the unfair representation of Ukrainians as world-class criminals, and in the re-edited version of the film, which is currently being released on the big screens, there are no offensive narratives towards Ukrainians.

Regarding the information war, in my books, articles, and films, I have been trying for many years to open the eyes of Ukrainians to the bestial nature of Moscow ruscism, which has long turned into a threat of a planetary scale. Finally, the entire civilized world has witnessed that Moscovia (using the terminology of information symbols) is not a gentle Olympic bear, but a bloodthirsty and raging bear-shatun. As is known, shatuns are bears that unexpectedly wake up from hibernation in the middle of winter due to natural anomalies. Such hungry and frenzied animals destroy everything living in their path. Today, heroic Ukraine has found itself in the path of this bloody Moscow shatun, which is striving for world domination. The entire world is amazed at the heroic resistance of Ukraine to Russian aggression.

However, when it comes to the information war, the situation is much more complicated than on the front lines. Today’s war in Ukraine is not just a struggle for territory or economic benefits, but also for the consciousness of citizens, which is why it is called a hybrid war. Putin’s Russia considers the hot phase of the war as only one component of this hybrid war against Ukraine and the collective West, as indicated by the provisions of the infamous “Gerasimov Doctrine”, developed by the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov. This doctrine is based on the concept of a new generation of war, on which the general staff of the aggressor state relies when planning its military operations. I would like to quote from it: ‘The emphasis of the methods of resistance used is shifting towards the broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military measures, which are implemented with the involvement of protesting potential of the population. All of this is complemented by military measures of a secret nature, including the implementation of information warfare measures and the use of special operations forces.’ In this information war, a significant importance is given to the cultural component. That is why we are witnessing unprecedented destruction of Ukrainian identity and historical memory on the occupied territories: the total closure of Ukrainian schools, disconnection of Ukrainian TV channels, burning of Ukrainian books, looting of Ukrainian museums, persecution and killing of Ukrainian cultural figures, and so on. In other words, this is about the total destruction of the identity and historical memory of Ukrainians.

This cultural pogrom is accompanied by wild anti-Ukrainian propaganda.

As we know, propaganda is a shot in the brain, which leaves a person alive, but makes them think and act as required by those who launch this propaganda. Therefore, despite the enormous losses in the war, economic sanctions, and the economic downturn, the Russian nationalists invest insane amounts of money in propaganda. An integral part of Russian propaganda is the film industry because cinema as a means of propaganda is capable of exerting an extremely powerful emotional influence on the viewer, creating the necessary picture of reality in their imagination. It is no secret that in Russia, cinema has long been turned into a powerful tool of information aggression, and with the beginning of the war, the Russian film industry has been actively working against Ukraine, trying to demonize, discredit, and deny the right to exist for everything Ukrainian.

Evidence of the unprecedented growth of military propaganda in the occupying country is the creation on June 7, 2022 of the Foundation for Support of Military-Patriotic Cinema under the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. The main tasks of the fund are to provide financial assistance to film producers on military-patriotic themes. According to the Kremlin’s plan, this fund is supposed to significantly strengthen the activities of Goskino with its multi-billion dollar funding of film production in the information war against Ukraine. Furthermore, as it became known, even the infamous international terrorist Prigozhin, the leader of the bloody PMC “Wagner”, after the Kremlin’s order also established his own separate fund that finances propagandist films. Therefore, in this hybrid war, the production of Ukrainian patriotic (especially historical) cinema is no less important for victory than the production of missiles or shells.

Why is historical cinema important in propaganda?

 To answer this question, I will use the words of the famous Winston Churchill, who said, “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.” If Ukrainian society, especially its leaders, had carefully studied history and learned its lessons, they would have been much better prepared for the attack on our country. As historical facts show, all of Putin and his gang’s aggressive actions are by no means original. Similarly, the Kremlin acted during the time of Ivan the Terrible or Ivan Kalita. And such “special operations” were constantly carried out by Moscow against all the surrounding peoples. Let us remember at least the famous Republic of Veliky Novgorod, which was completely destroyed precisely with the help of a similar special operation.

If you’ve already mentioned Churchill, how can we not recall his response to the finance minister who proposed increasing defense spending at the expense of funding culture during Hitler’s attack on Britain? Winston Churchill then replied, “If we cut our culture budget during the war, then what are we fighting for?”

That’s right. It should not be forgotten that Churchill was a brilliant intellectual, the author of a number of historical treatises and journalistic articles, and his contribution to British culture is difficult to overestimate. Another famous phrase of his is worth mentioning: “In times of national crisis, the importance of myths cannot be overestimated.” As for the field of film propaganda, Churchill not only talked about it, but also took concrete actions. Therefore, despite the fighting, economic blockade, and the barbaric bombing of London and other British cities, with Churchill’s support, British cinema worked and produced incredible masterpieces, such as “One of Our Aircraft Is Missing” about the rescue of a British bomber crew shot down by the Germans, “In Which We Serve” about the heroic actions and tragic death of the crew of the British destroyer Torrin during the battles for the island of Crete. These films, released on the big screen in 1942, won international awards and were nominated for Oscars. And what about the blockbuster “Henry V” – an epic British adaptation of the play of the same name by William Shakespeare, made in 1944 by Laurence Olivier. Olivier was released from military duties specifically to film the movie, as Churchill’s government recognized the release of “Henry V” as an extremely necessary propaganda work aimed at boosting the patriotism and morale of soldiers. The film’s budget was £475,000, making it the most expensive British film ever made up to that point. The film made it onto the list of 100 best British films of the past 100 years according to the British Film Institute. It received an Oscar and many well-deserved awards. By the way, Mel Gibson was inspired by this film when creating his historical blockbuster “Braveheart.”

Similarly, this was done in other warring countries. For example, despite the fact that German troops were already in Stalingrad, dictator Stalin instructed director Sergei Eisenstein to create the propaganda blockbuster “Ivan the Terrible,” and despite the war, the film was still made. In 1945, the Germans also filmed “Kolberg” – an epic historical blockbuster about the heroic defense of German Kolberg from Napoleon’s army in 1807. Significant resources were invested in the film, and entire military units were used in battle scenes, and this was at a time when anti-Hitler coalition forces had already crossed the borders of the Reich. There are countless such examples. Instead, in warring Ukraine, state funds are spent on a comedy about the adventures of a German gay man in a Ukrainian family… or on a drama about a drug-addicted pervert who has an unhealthy attraction to his mother.

This is awful… but what caused this state of affairs?

 It’s caused by the internal occupation of the Ukrainian film industry. For almost 30 years of independence, the biggest cinema holdings and production centers in Ukraine worked not to develop Ukrainian culture, but rather for the aggressor state, producing an endless stream of TV series and films in Russian with pro-Russian narratives. Ukrainian patriotism and heroism in these productions were rejected. And even when something supposedly Ukrainian was produced, it was mostly supposed to be “inferior cinema,” where Ukrainians were depicted as second-class citizens. My good friend, the well-known journalist Igor Tkalenko, once told me about the roots of this policy. While researching the history of the Nuremberg Trials, he found transcripts of the interrogation of the Nazi Governor-General of Poland, Hans Frank. During the interrogation, Frank openly and cynically talked about the Nazi policy towards Polish culture, which, according to him, was to convey the hopelessness of the Polish nation. As for Polish cinema, only the most untalented and hopeless directors could be funded. All legal works of Polish culture had to be of the lowest quality. When you observe the development of Ukrainian culture for thirty years, you see similar trends. The same policy has been pursued by Muscowia toward Ukrainian culture. And representatives of the colonial elite, about whom Mahatma Gandhi wrote, help them in this endeavor.

‘Nothing harms a country’s development as much as a colonial elite created by occupiers’?” – Is this what you have in mind?

Exactly, today we quote a lot of classics, but it is extremely important for understanding the process.

Moreover, the situation is further complicated by the fact that in war-torn Ukraine, the Ministry of Culture and the State Cinema have suspended funding for Ukrainian film projects due to a lack of funds. Therefore, at a time when the right to exist as the Ukrainian nation is being denied by ruscist aggressors, Ukraine has little to oppose this unprecedented invasion by the occupying country in the information sphere. And it is the World Congress of Ukrainians, that is the last bastion in defense of Ukrainian identity, and support for Ukrainian culture is no less important than support for the Ukrainian army. In order to effectively counter this powerful information aggression from Russia, the Ukrainian diaspora should support the creation of historical-patriotic films aimed at supporting the spirit of fighting Ukraine.

Is that why you see the potential in creating independent cinema that is not reliant on state funding?

Absolutely correct. Right now, my team and I are working on creating a historical feature film “Konotop,” which has already become a national film project. Many people and organizations both in Ukraine and beyond are involved in its creation. Anyone who wishes can support the project with their finances, work, and talent, and this will be a contribution to the defense of Ukraine against the fierce aggressor who seeks to kill Ukrainians not only physically but also destroy our language, culture, traditions, and erase the name of Ukraine from the pages of history.

Tell us a little about the idea of your project.

The idea behind this project is to showcase the greatest victory of Ukrainians over Moscow occupiers 364 years ago. Essentially, we are preparing a film about the centuries-old tradition of resistance of Ukrainians to the bloody Moscow special operations. Just like Putin today, at that time, the Moscow tsar Alexei Mikhailovich wanted to denationalize, demilitarize, and even de-Cossack Ukraine. Moreover, during the invasion of Ukraine by Muscovites, they did not declare war on Vyhovsky but went to protect the population from the oppression of the hetman, so it was also not a war, but a special operation. The tsar also tried to bet on local collaborators like Barabash, Pushkar, Bespaly, and other collaborators. Various DPRs (Donetsk people’s republic – theorist muppet state created by ruscists) were also created in Poltava and beyond. Ukrainians were also scared that Ivan Vyhovsky wanted to involve the people in the then NATO and the European Union, i.e. the Commonwealth. Therefore, we want to show the world the resilience of our resistance to wild Moscow tyranny, which has been going on for many centuries.

I agree with you that this project is extremely relevant and important today, and I believe that it will be supported by Ukrainians all over the world and become a symbol of cultural resistance of the fighting Ukraine and the unbreakable spirit of our people. Thank you very much for the conversation!

 Interview conducted by Jaroszlava Hartyanyi.

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