Russia weaponises cultural awards: It’s not all the same who is awarding a prize
The uncritical stance of individuals, institutions and non-governmental organizations towards the award of various prizes related to the Russian Federation on top of the quite non-analyticial, even disinformative approach of media in the course of dissemination, can have far-reaching and serious ramifications on citizen’s perceptions of the Russian aggression on Ukraine, and from a more general viewpoint, on the value system offered by the EU and Vladimir Putin’s regime
The uncritical stance of individuals, institutions and non-governmental organizations towards the awarding of various prizes related to the Russian Federation on top of the quite non-analytical, even disinformative approach of media in the course of dissemination, can have far-reaching and serious ramifications on citizen’s perceptions of the Russian aggression on Ukraine, and from a more general viewpoint, on the value system offered by the EU and Vladimir Putin’s regime
Author: prof. Mirjana Najcevska, PhD, an expert on the rule of law and human rights
According to the aggregator Time.mk, a dozen portals reported that the writer Venko Andonovski was awarded “Golden Knight” of the International Literary Forum in Russia. For example, portal Republika published:
The writer Venko Andonovski won the greatest award for dramaturgy “Golden Knight” on the Thirteenth International Literary Forum that takes place in October in Russia ever since 2010. The forum awards prizes for several artistic areas, and this year 428 works arrived from 12 countries.
At first glance this is a very positive piece of news. Namely, a Macedonian writer wins a prestigious award – cultural cooperation with a large country such as the Russian Federation is being further developed and North Macedonia is being promoted on cultural grounds to the wider public such as the Russian.
This is one of the pieces of news published in Macedonian media without any explanation or analysis beyond the current moment, the global context or events (even with disinformative remarks). Behind this ostensibly positive information, a propaganda attack is luring (to say the list) and confusing the public, securing space for far-reaching negative impact on the development of democracy, promotion of liberty and civic rights as well as to the European orientation of North Macedonia.
These media reports fail to note the crucial context fact – that the prize was awarded when the Russian Federation was identified as a military aggressor by all EU Member-States, almost all European countries and most of the global population (finally resulting with the recognition of the Russian Federation as a terrorism sponsoring state).
In addition, Russia’s threats to North Macedonia are being ignored, from threatening bombing in 2018 to embassy making black lists of Macedonian citizens in 2022, including the information that last March the Russian Federation put the Republic of North Macedonia on the list of countries deemed as “hostile”.
Secondly, absent from the Macedonian media reports are any kind of attempt to shed light on the organization awarding this prize. Namely, the mission of this organization states that it aims at implementing national policy (Russian Federation):
“The Slavic Art Forum “Gloden Knight” is practically the embodiment of national cultural policy affirming traditional, spiritual and moral values. The purpose of the project is to consolidate positive creative forces of the art and cultural masters of countries from the Slavic World as well as all regions of the Russian Federation.”
In its mission statement this organization states that it supports the regime of Vladimir Putin, which means that it supports the restriction of civic fundamental rights and freedoms policy and all forms of propaganda directed towards the promotion of this value system.
Moreover, one can see on the official website of the organization an “Open letter from film workers, participants on ХХХI ICF “Golden Knight” – against Nazism” to the President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin (sent end of May 2022).
The letter extends support to Putin to:
“Continue the fatal planetary mission of denazification and demilitarization, including the fight against Russophobia in the World and proceed with the amendments of the Decree “On the Basics of National Cultural Policy”.”
The letter further states:
“Nothing will change unless Russia adopts NATIONAL IDEOLOGY, escaping from the lenient policy that prevails since the beginning of the Perestroika and if the functionaries continue to award grants for anti-historic, anti-Christian films and plays such as “Matilda”, “Tanhaser”, plays promoting same gender love, Russophobia and anti-Presidential attacks to the participants.”
At the end it even promotes an open call for censorship:
“Liberals and representatives of the “fifth column” are terrified from the words “ideology” and “censorship” although these words mean the following: “ideology” – science of the ideal, and “censorship” – strict assessment, strict criticism.”
To accept a prize awarded by an institution that supports the military aggression of the Russian Federation of Ukraine means extending personal support to this aggression.
To accept a prize awarded from such an institution means supporting the values represented by the organization (restricting freedom of creation, thought and expression, state censorship, restriction of civic rights and freedoms, denying equality).
The fact that in this case the award goes to a well-known writer, а full professor at the oldest university in North Macedonia, a regular columnist in the respectable newspaper “Nova Makedonija” and current promoter of important cultural events in the country not only means direct and powerful influence over the Macedonian public which is opposed not only to the officially proclaimed position supporting Ukraine and condemning the military aggression of the Russian Federation, but is also contrary to the fundamental value system accepted as the basis for the democratic development of the country.
“Founder and President of the International Literary Forum “Golden Knight” is Nikolay Burlyayev, worldwide known film artist who, inter alia, played the main roles in the films “Ivan’s Childhood” and “Andrei Rublev” of the great societal actor Andrei Tarkovsky.”
None of the media published the data that Nikolay Burlyayev was one of the intellectuals who in March 2014 (during the annexation of Crimea) signed a letter of support for the President of the Russian Federation, Putin, regarding the military aggression in Ukraine, and a current member of the Russian DUMA, one of those on the list of the EU for whom restrictive measures have been imposed.
This is not the only example of its kind, not even far. In the last year, several media stories can be found on awarded prizes, cultural and sport achievements, recognitions that the Russian Federation has awarded to citizens of North Macedonia.
In the last year, another professor was “honoured” with a Russian prize (in the spike of the military aggression of the Russian Federation on Ukraine). What is specially striking is the fact that the prize was awarded within the framework of the celebration of the “National Unity Day” that, according to Russian media ”will take place in the background of the special military operation”.
Professor Trajce Stojanov, winner of the award named after Dostoevsky
“As part of the reception on the occasion of National Unity Day of the Russian Embassy, Sergey Bazdnikin presented a commemoration medal from the Ministry of Culture of “the Great Russion writer Fyodor Mihaylovic Dostoevsky 1821 – 2021” to the Professor from the University Goce Delcev Trajce Stojanov – author of numerous scientific works and publications revealing the philosophical component of one of the pillars of World’s classical literature. As stressed by the Ambassador, this prize is a deserved assessment of professor Stojanov’s contribution to the preservation and popularization of the heritage of the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky.”
That same professor offered public elaboration/justification of Putin’s actions on 22 March 2022.
“Frequently Putin calls upon those same reasons when talking about the fall of the USSR as the biggest “geopolitical disaster” of the 20th century! In his last speech he mentioned somewhat of a variation just before the attack of Ukraine. Because with the fall of USSR and the irrational politics of the leadership at the time, Russia lost its strategic advantage in defending its fatherland by losing the Baltic countries and Ukraine. Hence, the enormous Russian territory, that could have been accessed only through its “heartland” was left undefended! Putin wants to correct, as much as he can, that “historical mistake” and “geopolitical disaster”! That is the reason why Ukraine for him is “to be or not to be”!… The only “gateway” that stares wide open towards the “heart of Russia” is through Ukraine! In a geopolitical sense, that is the essence of the happenings!”
Exactly this kind of “explanation” of the aggression of Ukraine is diluting the perception of Russia as an aggressor and creates the seemingly shared guilt vision as the basis of a future compromise.
And this is not the only case of such or similar character.
“Phantom Foot” of Blaze Minevski published in Russian language in Moscow
In the same period the media published the information that:
“The novel ”Phantom Foot” from Blaze Minevski was published in Russian language in Moscow. The translation from Macedonian into Russian language for the publishing company “Rudomino” was done by Olga Pankina, thoroughly knowledgable of both languages and a person that has made Macedonian cultural values popular in Russia.”
And again, the problem is not that work of a Macedonian writer has been translated in Russian language. Indeed, Olga Pankina has translated several works of Macedonian writers in Russian. The problem however, is that this was promoted as a cultural achievement of the Russian Federation midst the Russian Aggression of Ukraine and in a period when UNESCO was counting cultural monuments and libraries destroyed by the Russian aggressors in Ukraine.
The contradiction of these events, the possibility of mystifying the happenings in Ukraine and the attempt to balance the destruction of cultural heritage of a given country with the cultural promotion of another are elements not depicted in either of the media that affirmed the translation. And, again, it is just one member of the Macedonian artistic community who has a great deal of influence in forming public opinion and the general public perceptions with his work and presence.
Not leaving Russia – Sara Ristovska staying in CSKA Moscow next season!
In the same period, the media were promoting the achievements of the Macedonian handball player Sara Ristovska, who according to the information:
“Successfully wears the colors of CSKA Moscow, and expects that to be the case in the future. She extended her contract with the Russian Vice Champion for next season and will remain in Moscow at least one more year.
Ristovska and CSKA Moscow are continuously winning in Russia. CSKA with perfect five out of five is on the top of the list, i.e., shares first place with Rostov and Zvenigorod.”
Again, the media see no need for putting this story into context of current happenings, nor analyzing it through the viewpoint of possible influence on the publc, especially seen from the value system promoted in the country. This is happening in the period when: “on the meeting of 18 clubs competing in Euro-leage, on the occasion of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, it was decided, inter alia, to postpone the match between CSKA and Barcelona, scheduled for Sunday, 27th February”.
“The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that all international sport federations should either cancel or re-schedule all sport events that should take place in Russia or Belarus due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
In the same period, many other athletes were leaving Russia (ready to bear the damage on their own that they need to pay in such circumstances) or were judged by the sport public for covert support or neutral attitude towards the aggression. And, of course, this was happening in the period when Ukraine was publishing the names of killed Ukrainian athletes.
The role of a significant part of intellectual and cultural public is made relative
At the moment when the Russian Federation was intensively bombing Ukraine and when such actions threatened the life of millions of people in Ukraine, the question about the traditionally established relations or events involving representatives from Russia can be put forward.
One such event is the International Slavistic Science Gathering in organization of the Faculty of Philology of the University “Ss. Cyril and Methodius” in Skopje that took place end of September 2022. Visibly dominant were the representatives from Russian universities on this event and no message was sent – not even a symbolic one – from this gathering related to the Russian aggression of Ukraine (regardless of the fact that Russian representatives were present on this gathering who openly opposed the military aggression of Ukraine).
Similar is the case with the Facebook page of the Macedonian-Russian Economic Chamber where information on the economic movements in Russia is shared. The Internet page of the Chamber even has an analysis that emphasize that:
“The Macedonian-Russian Economic Chamber had significant and close contacts with the Economic Chamber of the Russian Federation, with chambers of specific internal regions. These links have been cherished for a long time, but now they will subside. A great deal of time and effort will be required to revitalize these links again.”
Even the positive trends in the relations with Russia are stressed:
“For months now a high value of the exchange between the Republic of North Macedonia and the Russian Federation is being maintained. At the end of July, the exchange was two and a half times bigger compared to the same period last year. In this period, Russia is the thirteenth trading partner of the country, before, for example, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, USA… For the seven months this year, the total exchange between the two countries amounted up to 245,8 million US Dollars (in the same period last year 99,5 million US Dollars), which is an increase of 247,2 percent.”
The support that Russia has supposedly ”extended” to North Macedonia can be identified in various places. The media published the information that Russia supports “Open Balkan”, quoting unverified claims by Russian foreign minister Sergei relayed by Serbian media:
“Apparently, Brussels leaders did not want Russia to confirm its position on Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), to express support for Belgrade’s initiative for Open Balkan and to talk about the interests for improving the relations between the countries in the region.”
This could be put in context of the analysis related to the possibility for influencing Russia through this structure and in context of the recent EU reservations stated for the initiative.
This and such activities related to the Russian Federation, by Macedonian individuals but also institutions and non-governmental organizations, topped by the uncritical and unanalytical approach of the media or even their disinformative approach in the course of disseminating the information can have long-term and very serious consequences on the perception of the citizens of Russian aggression of Ukraine, but also, in general, the value systems offered by EU and Russia (Vladimir Putin’s regime).
Firstly, these kinds of activities (especially of famous persons in North Macedonia) create elements that will be embedded in the historic memory of this period and acts of the Russian Federation diverting the attention from the Russian military aggression on Ukraine. Exactly these activities can further be utilized for making an issue out of the term aggression, for ambiguous interpretation of the events happening (on a level such as denying the existence of the Holocaust or denying the occupational character of the presence of the Bulgarian Army in the area of Macedonia during the Second World War). They change the general perception of the entire situation and shift the attention from the current quite homogenous and unambiguous judgement of the aggression by all democratic countries.
The second consequence is the relativisation of the role of significant portion of the intellectual and cultural public in Russia in relation to the survival of Vladimir Putin’s regime, while it’s conducting the aggression against Ukraine. Every prize winning event and every cultural, sport and scientific activity by organizations that publicly support the aggression policy of Vladimir Putin or the policy that does not condemn such an aggression represents a form of support of this regime, thus the value system that is opposed to the human rights concept i.e., value system that, allegedly is respected and applied in Macedonia.
The third consequence is normalization – establishing a seemingly normal outlook. By presenting activities that are usual for normal relations between countries, a situation is created that seems like everything is the same as always, while the aggression of Ukraine is some kind of a side effect (very partial and with limited influence) that has nothing to do with the relations with the Russian Federation. Seemingly, the “normal” relations and the relations of a “side” effect that does not concern these relations and dealings are separated.
Fourthly, the cumulative consequence stemming from the overall sum of activities and the media presentation thereof is the creation of conditions for accepting the aggression of Ukraine as something that requires argumentation, for which both justification and explanation exist. The illusion of equity/guilt-sharing for the “undesired” situation is created by both sides, including the possibility of divided opinions with equal weight of the arguments in conditions when the EU has proclaimed Russia as a threat to Europe and global peace and Russia itself has officially declared North Macedonia as a hostile country.
Fifthly, the public is deprived from the means and opportunities of condemning the aggression, along with the tools and possibilities to support intellectuals and artists from the Russian Federation opposing the aggression thereby distracting the attention from the ongoing great violations of human rights and fundamental liberties, the enormous destruction of Ukraine’s cultural heritage, and the devastation of a country with far-reaching ramifications for the development of the whole continent and wider.