Putrid lies and other unpleasant odours
We all know how smells permeate. Once the pong has penetrated every corner of the house locating its source is no easy matter. This doubtless suits those whose real objective is also less than sweet-smelling.
Following an article on an Internet publication and an extraordinarily misplaced display of vigilance from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a quiet-looking pensioner from Zaporizhya gained fame – or notoriety – in both Ukraine and Russia.
Distressing to knowingly repeat myself in public, but when there’s no escape from the smell which is spreading fast and triumphantly leaping borders and linguistic barriers, what choice do they leave me?
On 29 November 2007, the Internet publication MIGnews.com published a short article in which they claimed that the Head of the Zaporizhya Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists Vasyl Tymchyna had told a gathering that “Our time has come and the Dnipro will become red with the blood of Jews and Russians*!” It’s difficult to even quote such shocking words so one can understand that a journalist should be most appalled that “none of the numerous representatives of the Security Service [SBU], law enforcement agencies or Prosecutor’s office said a word”.
In an extended version of the report from 30 November with the telling headline: “There’s a directive! Jews and Russians will be drowned in the Dnipro!”, there is a clear insinuation that surprise at the silence might not be warranted.
Before considering all kinds of alarming conclusions, we should clarify one or two points. The first may not seem so significant, yet in view of the serious nature of the accusation, it can hardly be called a mere detail. The report mentions a speech “yesterday”, at the opening of the memorial to the victims of Holodomor. On that occasion, Mr Tymchyna was quite simply not there. As alibis go, you must admit it’s not one of the weakest.
There was however a remembrance gathering on 24 November which Mr Tymchyna did address. Although both the primary source and all those sites which repeated the “information” mention the opening ceremony and muddle the dates, since MIGnews is not Ukrainian, it is possible they weren’t bothered about such nuances. This seemingly is how the SBU and the Zaporizhya Prosecutor were thinking since they investigated both dates in search of the alleged crime. They viewed a video recording of the addresses given, and reported – publicly – that neither Vasyl Tymchyna nor anybody else had said anything of the sort.
Had the Mignews team carried out the investigation they so loudly promised, they could have allayed their readers’ anxiety as to why all the authorities were silent. Forgive such banality, but it is difficult to foam with indignation over words not spoken.
The conclusions of the Prosecutor’s office were posted on the Internet and reported by several agencies. On 24 December the UNIAN news agency http://human-rights.unian.net/ukr/detail/186730 stated that the Prosecutor had instructed the Zaporizhya SBU to find out who had provided MIGnews with false information. The first suggestions that this information was if not pure, certainly fiction, had, incidentally been voiced on reputable sites much earlier.
New articles appeared in January on the sites http://www.2000.net.ua/print?a=%2Fb%2F44511 (with the telling title: My murder is already planned) and http://time4news.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2114&Itemid=31
In fact, a simple Google search will bring up a very large number of publications both on Russian and Ukrainian sites, most of them repeating the original incorrect information.
Most disturbing in this respect is the fact that the author of the monthly bulletin “Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia and Minority Rights in Ukraine” reported the details as given by MIGnews, as a factual occurrence http://www.kngu.org/KongrUkr/12-07/likh-11-07.html It seems incredible that he saw no need to at least sniff around such a sensational report, and has not felt the need to retract the information.
What do we have?
We have a person accused of a crime (inciting ethnic enmity). No criminal investigation, no court case, nothing, and the Prosecutor has publicly said that the crime Mr Tymchyna is accused of quite simply never happened. Now clearly, I can’t guarantee, that in his own home, maybe in front of his cat, Mr Tymchyna did not say those appalling words (and the cat remained silent!). He did not, however, make the imputed speech and all those publications repeating defamatory information are now openly in breach of the law and violating his rights. Vasyl Tymchyna should seriously consider lodging civil suits against those Ukrainian websites so brazenly libelling him.
We have the enforcement agencies maybe or maybe not investigating the source of the original false information. We have no evidence of any results or any sign that they are seeking to have the offending articles publicly refuted, including many published after their public statement that the information bears no relation to the truth.
MIGnews has ignored our request for information about their “investigation” into the alleged incident and their plans for retracting defamatory information now that the said incident has been proven to be fictitious.
We have one more slur on Ukraine’s reputation which is being manufactured before our eyes. A crime which never took place is being used widely to “prove” how anti-Semitic and russophobic Ukrainians are.
We have a considerable number of people who trained as journalists. We would like them to be proud of their profession. It is an honourable calling. It is also one which bears with it great responsibility.
And there’s you and I. It is our right to information which is being violated, our right to know the truth and to not be subjected to cheap manipulation and grubby disinformation. It is also our reputation which is tainted by many of the allegations hurled about.
I believe it is time we stopped wincing with distaste and averting our gaze from appalling lies and subterfuge, and began asserting our right to the truth. If the food item you bought in a supermarket proves rotten and smelly, you don’t just, so to speak, swallow it. Why accept information which is no less toxic and of dubious quality?
Where you see articles which you are certain are knowingly false or manipulative, do not stay silent! At very least, contact us at email@example.com. However, better still write first to the publication involved. Ask the Editor politely where they received the information. Keep records of your request and, obviously, of any answer received. If you are not satisfied, contact the Prosecutor’s office – ask them to examine whether there are any legal grounds for preventing such material being published. Write to the Ukrainian Media Trade Union (www.profspilka.org.ua), ask them whether they regard such journalism as acceptable, and whether anything can be done to ensure that attempts are not made in future to mislead you.
Nobody likes to admit that they made a mistake. Yet when the mistake is quite so lethal, and there can only be harm done to the country and its reputation, then reluctance to retract false information is especially unwarranted. The conclusion seems called for that we are again seeing painfully familiar and no less dishonest attempts to rewrite history.
Freedom of speech without respect for others’ rights all too easily turns into a licence for arbitrary rule and a threat on our inalienable right to live without lies.
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
* the words for both Jews and Russians are offensive
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