July 24, 2015

The Awakening of the Netherlands

AFP/Scanpix
People hold flags during a rally on July 17, 2015 near the Grabove village, in the Donetsk region, in memory of the people who died in the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.
People hold flags during a rally on July 17, 2015 near the Grabove village, in the Donetsk region, in memory of the people who died in the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

The Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and Poland announced of creating a Russian-language news channel this week, with which they hope to use for confronting Russian propaganda. According to the plan, the news channel should include television, radio and online news. The channel should start broadcasting next year and they hope to get financing from a donor conference held in Warsaw. Other EU countries can also contribute to the news channel and it has already been called the BBC of Europe.

In itself, the initiative of the Netherlands and Poland is nothing new. In the beginning of this year, a plan initiated by Estonia, Denmark, Lithuania and the United Kingdom of creating something similar to what Poland and Netherlands are doing drew some attention. The plan—or Estonia, to be precise—received strong criticism from Erkki Tuomioja, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland at the time, causing a small crisis in the relations between Estonia and Finland. But now, many seek opportunities to confront Russian propaganda. One example is the launching of ETV+ on 28 September 2015.

Peter Pomerantsev, who has worked for years in television in Russia and has also been to Tallinn, issues a warning in his recent article to Politico on how not to fight Russian propaganda. According to Pomerantsev, the Kremlin does not really care about counterpropaganda. Another aspect is money—in the article, Pomerantsev quotes Vassili Gatov, the former development manager of RIA Novosti, according to whom it is pressure to western companies that would help to hinder Russian propaganda, namely they should not sell commercials to Russian television channels any longer. Pomerantsev says that it is odd that the commercial breaks of television channels broadcasting angry messages against the West are full of commercial announcements of the very same western companies.

The fact that Poland, a long-term opponent of Russia, is leading the counterpropaganda against Russia is not surprising. But the participation of the Netherlands probably derives from the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines airplane above Eastern Ukraine and the Russian opposition to the international investigation team. 193 Dutch citizens died in the accident.

The participation of the Netherlands is even more notable since in 2013, the Netherlands celebrated 400 years of friendship between Russia and the Netherlands. Mikhail, the founder of the Romanov dynasty, sent a Russian ambassador to Russia in 1613. The Russian president Vladimir Putin’s office is supposed to have a portrait of Peter I who studied in the Netherlands. Also, one of Putin’s daughters lived in the Netherlands for a long time.

In spite of all this, the jubilee year failed and the Netherlands and Russia acknowledged no great friendship. But there was an even bigger PR disaster coming for the Netherlands, when the royal family and prime minister of the Netherlands went to the Sochi Olympics last year. When the Netherlands won their first gold medal, Putin visited them in the Holland Heineken House and he was photographed together with the king and queen while drinking beer cheerfully. It happened right before the occupation of the Crimea.

In relations with Russia, the Netherlands has been very pragmatic. The Dutch gas company GasUnie wanted to use Russian gas also via the Nord Stream gas pipeline. A speech given by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 2005 when Putin visited the country was a distinctive apogee of the friendliness with Russia.

Now this pragmatism has changed, but, unfortunately, 193 Dutch people paid the price with their lives, and the initiative of counterpropaganda by the Netherlands and Poland could expand to the level of Europe at best. In any case, it would be more useful if the European Union would join their forces instead of starting to fight the propaganda of Kremlin separately.
The text was aired on the European news of Retro FM on 24 July 2015.

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