The Western Media’s Portrayal of the Israel-Hamas War Articles Middle East & North Africa

The Western Media’s Portrayal of the Israel-Hamas War

There has been a significant number of articles criticising the reporting by the Western media on the Israel-Hamas war. This article addresses some of the more problematic tendencies in this…

How did the media die in Iraqi Kurdistan? Articles Middle East & North Africa

The Decline of Independent Media in Kurdistan Region

The Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle once called the media the “Fourth Estate of the Realm”. According to this principle, which is, almost two centuries later, still very relevant, the media…

The Russian quasi-philosopher Aleksandr Dugin has frequently been labelled “Putin’s brain” in popular English-language media. The tabloid language suggests that Dugin is responsible for whispering the most extreme of ideas—expansionism, ethnic cleansing, even fascism—directly into Vladimir Putin’s ears. When Dugin was briefly at the forefront of global news after the assassination of his daughter Darya—a fellow ethnonationalist media personality—in a car bombing in Moscow in August 2022, Dugin hysteria seemed to completely overtake the Western media. Yet Aleksandr Dugin, despite several decades of public prominence, has likely never met Vladimir Putin and has never held an official position in the Kremlin. Indeed, judging by Dugin’s apparent paltry social media following, one might imagine that he is an altogether irrelevant figure. On Telegram, the fragmented social network that is the major source for Russians looking for news about the war in Ukraine, Dugin’s channel has lain fallow since late August 2022 and counts a mere 11,800 subscribers. Even at its height, the channel’s most popular posts reached only 40,000 readers. Those figures pale in comparison to state-approved war correspondents like Sasha Kots, who has 661,000 subscribers and whose posts reach, on average, 260,000 accounts. Even on the VK social network—a Facebook-like site favoured by Russia’s older generations and purportedly the country’s largest social platform—Dugin is a fringe player, with just 52,000 followers. As a result of his disconnection from the centre of power, some academics and journalists are keen to downplay Dugin’s influence altogether. Indeed, he himself embraces this line of thinking, asserting that: “Those who think that I stand on the periphery of power are correct…I have no influence. I don’t know anybody and have never seen anyone. I just write my books and am a Russian thinker, nothing more.” However, Dugin is not a wholly peripheral figure. Rather, his influence—like that of dozens of other extreme nationalists allowed to operate through state and social media while liberal voices are relentlessly attacked—has enabled the Kremlin to embrace right-wing nationalism and drag Russia’s broader political culture towards a messianic apocalypticism that defines the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Dugin, now in his sixties, has been promulgating ever more extreme ideas about Russia’s national destiny since the 1980s when he devoured nationalist and Nazi literature. In the 2000s, he became widely known as the proponent of the fascist philosophy of “Eurasianism,” which is defined by the notion that Russia is neither European nor American but part of a unique civilisation. In the minds of Russia’s Eurasianists, Russians should lead an authoritarian, religious, ethnonationalist state—a state not afraid to expand by any means necessary to assert control over its “rightful” spiritual lands, which extend from the Pacific into Central Europe. Tinged with apocalypticism and notions of rebirth through chaotic destruction, Eurasianism is the closest thing today’s Putin regime has to a ruling philosophy. While Aleksandr Dugin is not the Eurasianist philosophy’s architect, he has been its most prominent public proponent. It was Dugin who made regular appearances on television to preach the Eurasianist gospel in the 2000s. It was Dugin’s 1997 book “The Foundations of Geopolitics”, which sees Russia surrounded by racial enemies in a constant war, that was added to university curriculums. It was Dugin who was appointed chief editor of the Kremlin-approved ultra-nationalist orthodox TV channel “Tsargrad”, whose viewers numbered in millions on its launch in 2015. Dugin may not have been working in the Kremlin, but he enjoyed a large public platform—one that allowed him to set up sizable youth groups and other networks. Dugin’s vision of Eurasianism has become ever more extreme. Today, he preaches racial hatred against Ukrainians, whom he declares, in line with the state’s propagandists, to be “Nazis”, stating, “Russophobia is almost equally characteristic of the Nazis from Azov, the Jew Zelensky, or pro-Western liberals.” Today’s war, he argues online, is “a battle between Russia and the Antichrist.” In this vision, Russia must be willing to sacrifice itself—and a generation of young men—in order to fulfil the messianic fate some of Russia’s nationalists believe the country must live through in order to “save” the world against the threat of the West. This message of martyrdom received a public boost with Darya Dugina’s death. Her killing seemed to embody, for Dugin’s supporters, “a war in which we all, whether we like it or not, are taking part. There is no front and no rear ... we are certain that Darya’s martyrdom will not be in vain.” Dugina’s face, splashed across Russia’s state media, discussed again and again on state talk shows, and recycled endlessly in online fan groups, brought her father’s message of apocalyptic war to the forefront of the public imagination. Operating from the margins of the discursive community, figures in Russia’s media ecology are able to manipulate such one-off events to push their ideas into the public sphere rapidly. Dugin, for example, regularly appears in the state’s top news channels, including the newspaper of record, Pravda. He has used his platform in Pravda—which has expanded since Darya Dugina’s death—in recent months to call for the “mobilisation of the whole of our society,” to label anti-war celebrities “traitors,” and to assert that Russia is leading the charge in a war not against Ukraine but against “the devil” of the so-called “collective West,” a term both Dugin and Vladimir Putin have recently begun using to tar an amorphous group of countries that oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, while Dugin may sometimes appear to criticise Vladimir Putin, he is one of many figures on the right—the war criminal Igor Girkin is another leading example—who are tacitly permitted to continue to operate so long as they present more and more extreme versions of the state’s policies and so long as they broadly disseminate the language of the Kremlin. While the liberal opposition and liberal media have been totally obliterated by oppressive new measures in recent years, men like Dugin and Girkin push the political discourse even further to the nationalist right, providing a convenient foil and occasionally a boon for Moscow’s public justification of its increasingly aggressive behaviour. Meanwhile, the semblance of a polyphonic political debate is presented to the Russian public even as freedom of speech is severely curtailed. In the hunt for internal enemies and the destruction of external enemies, the state has presented the conflict in Ukraine as a final, spiritual battle against the non-Russian: a battle in which the state is willing, potentially to risk a nuclear war in order to ensure its ontological security. After all, say state TV hosts and Orthodox Church representatives, Russians may die, but they are sure to go to heaven. Those speakers may only unintentionally echo Dugin, but it is Dugin and his ilk who have introduced these apocalyptic, Eurasianist ideas into the post-Soviet Russian media ecology. They serve as an axis for the exchange of ideas between ephemeral nationalist groups and the Kremlin’s policymakers. Since the growth of internet culture, which, at least on the illiberal side, is permitted in a chaotic and haphazard way, many dozens of Russian nationalists have been able to penetrate the halls of power with ideas they have proposed on VK, Telegram, and other networks. Dugin may be one of many such “propaganda entrepreneurs” who float around the extreme right space in Russia, but in the occasional elevation of his messages from out of the miasma of influencers, fringe figures, and extremists and into the state’s (and its proxies’) social media accounts, television channels, web publications, and newspapers, Dugin’s influence spreads from the periphery to the mainstream and into the Kremlin. Aleksandr Dugin and Russia’s Military Propaganda Machine Articles Asia Politics & Governance

Aleksandr Dugin and Russia’s Military Propaganda Machine

The Russian quasi-philosopher Aleksandr Dugin has frequently been labelled “Putin’s brain” in popular English-language media. The tabloid language suggests that Dugin is responsible for whispering the most extreme of ideas—expansionism,…

Inefficient Information Control in Pakistan Articles Asia Politics & Governance

Inefficient Information Control in Pakistan

Media, primarily social media, largely contribute to the spread of skewed narratives and fake news. The digital revolution and the increasing rate of internet users have made individuals extremely vulnerable…

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