Media


The apotheosis of mediawar

News… News pursue us everywhere and, whether we want it or not, they influence us essentially and specifically. No matter whether we spend hours browsing the news feeds or whether we have thrown away our TV from the window many years ago, whether we live in the non-virtual reality isolated from external information sources or whether we meticulously select what we are going to watch, read or listen, they do, they do, they do… Yes, we are still subject to the influence of media. Even junk information and fake news settle in our brain and create stereotypes which have much more in common with the medieval superstitions than with the way of life of modern humans. Maybe, you live the life of a hermit in a Tibetan monastery remote from the whole world… Otherwise, this text may trigger some speculations.
 © Kate Trysh I have not had a TV for already ten years, I rarely buy newspapers or magazines, I read news in the Internet, but even this I do irregularly. Despite all this, I keep feeling that I am permanently exposed to news headlines, notices and experts’ comments. In the mornings, as I stand in the local bakery waiting for my coffee, I listen to radio news. I travel by metro and stare at monitor where the main news is played for the passengers in the version of the transport services of Berlin. I buy cigarettes in a round-the-clock kiosk round the corner and see the headlines of the newspapers placed at the counter. In fact, I am constantly manipulated, and although it seems to me that I am rather sensible, I sometimes feel that I cannot control all this. In a relaxed democracy, like Germany, for example, I may sometimes feel mad at it, but it will hardly make me feel anxious or exasperated. In my native Moscow, where media have long become a propaganda tool, the situation is totally different.

I


 © Brandi Redd Panicking, my mother informs me that the Polish army is stationed on the Ukrainian border, as I am trying to pack the remaining clothes into my suitcase. She heard it in the news. She does not remember where, it just flickered. I also heard something like that. For example, I heard it is not recommended to go to Ukraine with the Russian passport. Yet, this is what I am going to do. I am going to fly from Berlin to Budapest, from where I will cross Hungary by express train within five hours. The distance between the last Hungarian settlement and the Ukrainian border is four kilometers, and the distance as far as the goal of my trip, the city of Uzhgorod, the administrative center of the Trans-Carpathian region in the west of Ukraine, is 15 kilometers. The city is picturesque, surrounded by hills, towers, and four EU countries: Poland, Hungary, Romania, and the Slovakia.

I am slowly walking inside an old blue carriage on the bridge across the Tisza River, which marks the border between Hungary and Ukraine. As I arrive, I leave the train towards the passport checkpoint. I accidentally notice that my knees are shaking. I live in Berlin, but I am a Russian citizen, and I have come to a country which is in serious conflict with my motherland — this is what the Russian media say. The residents of Uzhgorod, as I learn somewhat later, do not beat about the bush in search of expressions: “A war is being waged in our country”, — they say. And this is true. I tentatively pass my red passport with the two-headed eagle on its cover to the woman sitting behind the counter. Page after page, she is looking through my passport. The words of my mother are buzzing in my brain: “If they do not let you pass at the passport control, silently turn and go home”. My heart is pounding. “Welcome to Ukraine”, — the woman at counter tells me and returns my passport, smiling. That’s it.

The Russian propaganda reigning in the media is as far from me as Arctic is from Berlin; yet, fears and stereotypes are swarming in my brain, rooted in the products of those media. So, I decide to struggle with them in Uzhgorod.

II


 © Ron Dyar I am standing on a pedestrian bridge across the Uzh River in the Old Town. A young street musician is playing the song of a Ukrainian band Elza’s Ocean, and when it comes to the refrain, two college students nearby begin to sign together with him: “ I won’t give up without a fight”. This is the best moment to say ‘hello’ to my newly found favorite place. Uzhgorod is a city of coffee, and it seems to me that its fragrance imbues the walls of its buildings. No matter where you buy it, it will always be terrific — strong, fragrant, pure. The numerous coffee-houses of the city are always full of visitors. Anyone can afford one, two or even five espressos. The proximity of Vienna (only 555 kilometers) with its unique coffee culture and the Austrian-Hungarian past of the region are obvious.

I wish to order ‘kava’ (‘coffee’), and I suddenly realize that that I cannot decide in which language the order should be made. I do not speak Ukrainian, only Russian. Is it proper? Will they understand me? Will they brand me as the enemy of the state? While I am wondering how these stereotype-based thoughts have penetrated my brain, Dima, my partner, who was born in Uzhgorod, brings me my espresso. I share my fears with him about speaking Russian in Ukraine, but he only smiles in response. “More than half of my life has passed in speaking Russian, and my daily life consisted of a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian”, — he says. Maybe, you met someone who is a Madzhari, the Hungarian-speaking ethnic minority, which is rather widespread in this area, — “They speak only Hungarian, and they expect you to do the same”, — he laughs. Throughout the following weeks, I was fine speaking Russian. Even the local Roma people speak Russian, as well as Romanian and Ukrainian.

III


 © Jj Ying I met a journalist whose name was Victoria. She learnt from a common friend that people from Berlin had come to Uzhgorod and decided to interview us. We are sitting in a small office, and a speech recorder is lying on a little table in front of us. Victoria is asking us whether we speak Ukrainian. “No”, — I reply, therefore, we speak Russian. I wonder whether she is going to impose the Ukrainian translation onto my speech. She answers negatively. The mix of the Russian and Ukrainian languages is allowed in the Ukrainian media. Victoria asks me what surprised me most in Ukraine. She adds a comment to her question that perhaps, “I had a picture in my brain influenced by the media that did not match the reality”. Here we are, sitting opposite each other, two victims of the information war between our countries, and realizing that we had no reasons to fear each other, that we had much more in common than differences. But for some reason, media do not speak about it.

***


“I watch both Ukrainian and Russian channels, and all of them are inadequate”, — says the mother of Volodya, a law student. She is a retired history teacher, and she lives with her family in the outskirt of Uzhgorod, right on the border with Slovakia. The proximity with the border with the European Union creates the feeling of being protected, not from the information war but from the real war being now waged in Donbass. I notice young men wearing camouflage, men without an arm or a leg — a see a new memorial to the prisoners-of-war from Donbass, next to the T-34 tank from the time of the Second World War. I can see refugees from Donbass, whom the locals scrutinize with mistrust and from whom they distance themselves. They believe they have differences in the mentality. While the residents of Uzhgorod have a rather western European mentality, the residents of Eastern Ukraine are more inclined to the eastern mentality — this is at least what the Uzhgorod people say cautiously. As I return to Berlin, I talk with my German friends about Ukraine. They are very interested and surprised. “Is the war still going on? They almost do not talk about it in the news”.

Anastasia Gorokhova


Since her childhood Anastasia have commuted between Russia and Germany. Born in Moskow, grewing up in Karlsruhe, is she finding herself between East and West, which is also the focus of her work as a previous freelance journalist and today as a writer for radio, film and television. She is living in Berlin and studies at the German Film and Television Academy (dffb) since 2015.

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