Michael McDowell: Respect for truth is being hacked to pieces
Diversion of Ryanair flight by Belarus a reminder of contempt for democratic values
Roman Protasevich in detention in Minsk. Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius carrying the journalist. Photograph: Telegram Channel Nevolf/AFP via Getty Images
I am reading the recently-published Surviving Katyn by Jane Rogoyska, a riveting account of the lead-up to and aftermath of the liquidation by Josef Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria of 22,000 Polish officers captured by the Soviet Union in the 1939 carve-up of Poland with the Nazis. As is well known, some of their mass graves were uncovered by the Nazis in 1943 after the tide had turned for Operation Barbarossa.
After the discovery, a grotesque propaganda war ensued between the Nazis, who were all the time engaged in the horrific mass exterminations of the Holocaust, and the Soviets, who had only recently completed horrific mass exterminations of their own citizens during Stalin’s reign of terror. Sad to say, liquidating 22,000 Polish prisoners was small beer to both the Nazis and the communists.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, papers in the Communist Party archive in Moscow (which I have had the pleasure of visiting myself) revealed that the massacre of the Poles was fully and personally authorised by Beria and Stalin, down to the exact numbers of men to be shot in the head.
This did not prevent Beria and Stalin from waging a relentless propaganda war to attribute the liquidation to the Germans. Nor did it prevent the Soviet’s allies, Britain and the United States, from going along with that monstrous lie, notwithstanding their suspicions as to the true perpetrators.
This week we witnessed the same propensity on the part of the Belarus regime of Alexander Lukashenko and his Moscow puppet-master Vladimir Putin to issue a flurry of lies for home consumption, claiming that the hijacking of a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania had been caused by a bomb scare generated by Hamas of all people. That grotesque lie serves the odious regimes in Minsk and Moscow in their relentless campaign of repression and violence towards anyone standing for democratic values.
The apparent detention and beating up of Lukashenko’s quarry, journalist Roman Protasevich, is as brazen as the hijacking of the aircraft. Some commentators in Moscow have praised Lukashenko’s criminal behaviour – forgetting the official Kremlin position that what happened was a well-intentioned intervention to avert a bomb threat to the Ryanair flight.
Obviously communist and post-communist regimes have no monopoly of war crimes, stealth assassinations and modern barbarisms
Protasevich – and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny – rot in jails as human reminders of the lengths that Moscow and its puppets will go in the suppression of free speech and dissent. Protasevich had fled Belarus; Navalny had bravely returned after Putin’s goons tried to murder him by nerve agent.
The apparent involvement of the same team of Russian agents in the Salisbury poisoning of Georgy Skripal and the destruction of a Czech Republic ammunition store reminds us that Russia remains as happy to kill its exiled opponents as Stalin was when he arranged for the prewar murder of Leon Trotsky in Mexico.
Totalitarian regimes share utter contempt for bourgeois notions of truth. That contempt is sewn into the fabric of the Marxist-Leninist world view today. It does not matter how outrageously unlikely the big lie may be or how powerful contradictory evidence may be. Regimes that believe in maintaining the dictatorship of the proletariat and the authority of the party rank loyalty to the party line as the supreme virtue practised by their Marxist adherents.
Thus, we have the brazen denial by the Chinese communists of both the intent and extent of their cultural liquidation and demographic suppression of the Uighurs. Uighur men have been loaded on to cattle trains to serve as slave labourers in distant parts of China; Uighur women are rounded up for compulsory sterilisation. Their ambassador in Dublin blandly denies this as western invention.
Obviously communist and post-communist regimes have no monopoly of war crimes, stealth assassinations and modern barbarisms. The Iraq war and the cruel fate of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank show that even those who trumpet righteousness sometimes have hands steeped in blood.
But there is a fundamental difference in the approach of liberal democracy and that of the communist and post-communist regimes as regards allowing the truth to be known and disavowing propagation of brazen falsehoods as politically convenient truth.
Apart from the rule of law and the ballot box, there is the additional differentiating factor of a free press and media.
That is why the present craven, repugnant conversion of the American Republicans to propagating the big lie of a stolen election is such a serious matter. That is why Murdoch’s Fox News – their preferred outlet – was, and is, so malign.
That is also why we must wake up to online the threats Ireland faces. It’s not only the Health Service Executive that being hacked or Ryanair hijacked – truth and respect for the truth are being hacked down.
We ignore these events at our extreme peril.