Evgeny Paschenko, professor of the Ukrainian language and literature at the Zagreb University and former Ukrainian diplomat, sees the concept of Orthodox brotherhood between Serbia and Russia as a product of a kitsch culture of Balkan Slavism, a myth not supported by fact. In an interview with RFE/RL, Paschenko also said that only a small number of Serbian intellectuals actually know that Russia has never seriously been helping Serbia.
RFE/RL: States that emerged from the ex-Yugoslavia are not high on the list of Russian priorities, but Russia pays great attention to this area. But why?
Paschenko: Russia is a great plagiarist in politics. Here is proof: When they bombed Belgrade [in spring and summer of 1999], [Russia then used] this model …in the [October 1999] bombing of Grozny. And they would now like to use the way post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina was built as a model for Ukraine after the current intervention. On the other hand, I think that the former socialist countries are not very important to Russia because they are not influential. Russia was removed from the Balkans and now, when they cancelled the South stream they are not showing any interest for these countries because they are not relevant to business. Now we are witnessing Russia frantically grabbing Greece in the … scuffle and attempts to draw to their side a NATO member state. It seems that they are playing a serious game in that direction with Greece and Turkey.
RFE/RL: And what about Serbia? Many say that Serbia is trying to play a "non-aligned" role between the European Union and the United States on one side and Russia on the other side. How is such a position possible and what are Russian interests in Serbia?
Paschenko: I think there is no Russian interest in Serbia because Serbia [does not meet the]… key Russian criteria, the financial one… It is a country in a very difficult economic situation. I think that the Serbian authorities are trying to use this folklore and myth of Russia for their own political aims. Only a small number of intellectuals in Serbia know that Russia never seriously helped Serbia and that Serbian Orthodox support to Russia is more a product of a kitsch-culture of the Serbian/Balkan Slavism. It is more a problem for the Serbian authorities to strengthen their domestic policies. Of course, Serbia has always been pro-West oriented, even in Tito's socialism. Of course they are hoping for Russian financial assistance, but Russia has repeatedly shown that their cooperation might end at any time. It is truly fictional and there is invented sympathy and brotherhood from both sides.
RFE/RL: Many are warning that Russia has developed a great propaganda machine regarding the Ukrainian crisis. What are the consequences and how to tackle them?
Paschenko: It is a deliberate and powerful strategy in which they are exploiting the ignorance regarding the situation in Russia and particularly that Ukraine. There are also lobbying groups in Italy and Germany. They are [trying to generate] mass sympathy …toward this folkloric relationship. Even in Spain and elsewhere Russia is successfully achieving Russian goals and promoting a negative opinion about Ukraine based on certain historical models [You find this in catch-phrases like] “Ukrainians are fascists and anti-Semites”; “Ukraine is an American toy.”And these things have a stunning effect in the media. On the other hand, in some countries there is inertia and indifference … [and the masses are vulnerable] to this massive Russian news invasion.
In addition, in the countries they are interested in, the Russians managed to bring to the media very powerful stuff with a very good knowledge of Italian and German and they make an impression that they are winning in this confrontation. Strategic structures in the West have recognized that Russia is very efficient so far in this information aggression and that they should try to fight back. Now [Ukrainians] have opened a channel “Ukraine Today”, but the question is to what extent this channel will be recognized. The problem is that Russia has a very good communist tradition of lies. Russia was built on the propaganda of lies and now they are effectively using these models in other countries -- in Germany, Italy and even in Poland, where a pro-Russian party is formed, not to speak of Hungary . Money is behind all that. Russian structures believe that money can win everything and they still believe that they can achieve this media intervention with money.
RFE/RL: [On another subject], organizers of the rock festival in the Polish town Oswiecim, which is held in memory of the victims of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, withdrew their invitation to rock star Goran Bregovic because he played in Crimea. They believe Crimea is an illegally annexed territory, and he failed to condemn the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, which they have stated is in contradiction to the values promoted by the founders of Life Festival. How do you comment on that?
Paschenko: I am not a fan of his work. I am indifferent to these Balkan melodies. However, this is a very strong example of identification of the cultural worker with ideological extremism. There is much of this going on in Russia - a full range of local stars agree with what Putin does. And his hands are covered with blood! Bregovic shares this Serbian vision of the idealization of Russia as some sort of savior. Therefore, I don’t support those so-called stars that are identifying themselves with the crime. That deservedly should result in a negative attitude towards them.
RFE/RL: In your appearances in Croatian media, you are pointing out that Russia is fighting European values in Ukraine. Can you explain this?
Paschenko: With its information aggression, Russia is trying to impose on Europe its version of Ukraine. We already have said that, unfortunately, there are countries that don’t know anything about Ukraine and therefore they accept this Russian vision of Ukraine. However, I think that the international community now recognizes Russia through Ukraine--its aggressive character. The current Russian administration doesn’t offer anything new and it remains founded on two extinct symbols - the double-headed eagle and the red star-- and I call that necrophilia! One opposition leader said after Nemtsov’s murder in Moscow: “One sect is in power in Russia and it worships one idol.” The sect is financial oligarchy and the idol is money.
[Russia’s] intervention in Ukraine is an attempt to grab Ukraine! They used Yanukovych as a corrupt person to discredit Ukraine, and when Yanukovych fell, suddenly Moscow began calling Ukraine's pro-European option - fascism. It's a lie! We need the world to understand the danger coming from Russia and to help Ukraine. That would lead to the expansion of Europe and that would eventually help Russia to free itself from all its negativity.