"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it" - Joseph Goebbels used to preach.
An absolute master of generating propaganda, Joseph Goebbels knew it well that people have always been too sensitive and receptive to manipulation. Research on possible manipulation techniques commenced in the early twenties of the last century and was carried out on both sides of the Atlantic. Results have been kept secret. Research magically disappeared.
There's no question whether that research was successful or not, as today we are witnessing rather unsettling ramifications of it. Now, as the West has started a full-scale information war against Russia, we can state it with complete certainty that the manipulation of consciousness theory isn't really just a theory. It is a scary reality.
Growing up in Russia of the 90s to the idea of a free and democratic Europe, where justice reigned above all, I, like many others who had been through all the horrors of the perestroika, wanted to experience the wonders of freedom. For such a lover of words like myself, freedom of thought was the most attractive one.
After many years of romanticizing over utopian European values, I first moved to Germany, then Italy. But what I came to and what I've lived in for almost ten years was a sobering experience.
The first wake up call that disillusioned me happened in Italy in 2008. "Big blood-thirsty Russia" was "attacking its tiny defenseless neighbor". Back then in 2008, it was Georgia. Later, in 2013 it will be Ukraine, but the headlines will never change. "Putin is starting a new World War", or even better, "Adolf Hitler is back".
Italian newspapers sketched Russia as either an enormous blood-thirsty bear ready to attack its former Soviet partner or as a tank bigger than Georgia itself. Surprisingly, that didn't seem to bother anyone. All my attempts to plant a seed of doubt in people's minds or reassure them of the opposite were destined to fail.
Accustomed to receiving filtered information formed under the pressure from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, most Italians never question the written word. The evident absence of facts is replaced with a thundering voice repeating the same lie over and over again. Whether it is a new form of hypnosis or not, it serves its purpose.
The quantity of propaganda plots - working off a standard scheme where Russia is a predator chasing after former Soviet partners, a country that endangers the European integrity and its high moral values - starts turning into quality. Torn pieces of information and a constant stream of advertisement shorten the attention span and don't allow for the information to be perceived as a whole or to draw any logical connections.
Very rarely if ever in Italian mainstream media, Putin was presented as charismatic and Russia was viewed favorably or with interest. The standard plot created to camouflage and justify Europe's own international war adventures became real in the hearts and minds of simple people. And once that thought was planted inside someone's mind, it's nearly impossible to defy it.
Yet my question still remained unanswered. Why does Europe need the "authoritarian, big and scary" Russia? Why is Europe so desperately holding on to the "idea" of the Russian threat?
Thought purely as an economic union where the common currency and the notion of free trade were supposed to create a strong political force, the EU is essentially disintegrated culturally. Subdivided in different economic areas, where those who give reproach those who get, the union has been falling apart for years, occasionally patched up by some temporary remedies which were destined to leak in a short time. Countries who still enjoy the glory of their past, driven by pure egocentric ideas of still representing an empire, refuse to integrate with each other, or let their inner borders down to let the new in. Examples of countries like Italy, France, and Spain demonstrate their reluctance to grow into each other with one simple fact - they deny the need to learn foreign languages, including the most common one, English.
The solution to that growing problem came from out of nowhere. Returning back to the Soviet times, we can say there were three leading forces: the Soviet Union, the USA, and China, today we have them back (and it is very likely that India will join in and become the fourth one). Having gotten back on its feet after the economic dramas of the 90s and having turned into a politically strong country, Russia has been serving another purpose. The "Russian threat" has become a glue for the disintegrated Europe.
Shifting focus from its internal problems to the "Russian threat", Europe applied the double standard attitude when it came to the wars in Ukraine and Syria. Parading their own "democratic values", they do not apply the same rules to themselves.
Democracy, while good in itself, is evil if it knows no restraints. Russian international politics strongly opposing how Europe has been managing both Ukraine and Syria, is effective partly because it opposes the breeding idea of "missionary democratization". The West, while imposing their set of values, denies what a multicultural Russia has always welcomed, uniqueness and cultural identity of any given nation or people.
Anthropologist and one of the greatest Russian minds of the past century, Lev Gumilev warned about the dangers of European natural sense of superiority and drew a parallel with the discovery of America. Cultural misunderstandings and the lack of respect toward anything different led Europeans to think they were somehow superior to native Americans, and thus had a moral obligation to bulldoze the existing culture and rebuild it with a new set of rules.
The "Russian threat" while only being real in people's minds, is a very dangerous idea for the same reasons mentioned by Gumilev. Refreshing the long dormant primordial principles of division between "us" and "them" in the minds of Europeans, Russia, while still being a part of Europe, Europe it is not.
While in the past the discovery of the Asian Orient helped Europeans to identify themselves as Europeans ("orientalism" theory suggested by Edward Said), today's discovery of an allegedly dangerous and alien Russia (while ever still on the same continent, but so hard to reach due to its climatic differences) is crystallising European self-identity.
Just like little children on the playground keeping friendships against someone, so do European countries - befriend against Russia. In such circumstances, even a bad peace with a neighbor is still better than a possible absorption by Russia. The alienation of Russia is serving as a glue filling up cultural and economic cracks in the EU.
Every politician knows, that for a leadership to exist, a leader must operate on people's minds. And what means is better than a constant state of fear?