Sadly, Ukraine sometimes seems determined to beat Russia at its own game using similar tools.
The latest came this week, when Ukraine’s State Committee for Television and Broadcasting introduced on its website a list of 38 books apparently banned for import to Ukraine. The committee requested the State Fiscal Service of Ukraine to include the books in the list of goods banned from entering Ukraine from Russia. The State Fiscal Service in turn published the list, explaining that the ban is needed to protect Ukrainians from “information warfare.”
The list contains a wide range of authors, mostly Russian, and genres, from pro-Kremlin analytical works to questionable pseudo-historian materials to science fiction. A compilation of articles by an independent Russian journalist, covering events from Maidan to the war in the east, somehow also ended up on the list. All of the books are Ukraine-related.
Ukraine has taken similar controversial steps in the past. For example, eight months ago, the Ukrainian government set up a Ministry of Information Policy, quickly dubbed as the “Ministry of Truth” by Ukraine’s outraged journalists. Its creation coincided with a wave of reports by human rights groups and media about abuses by Ukrainian forces in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Bloggers and journalists across Ukraine protested the new ministry, fearing it could lead to the authorities exercising censorship and controlling information. Ukraine also banned all films made in Russia after January 2014 as well as any films made after 1991 that portrayed the Russian military in a positive light. Several prominent and lesser known Russian singers and actors have been “blacklisted” or “whitelisted” in Ukraine based on which side of the conflict they claimed to be on.
It’s not clear how the book ban will be enforced. Will someone carrying a banned book across the border in their suitcase be fined? Arrested? What about people in Ukraine who access these books online?
But even bringing clarity to these issues will not help to hide the obvious: that the best antidote to malicious misinformation is truth, and such lists and bans violate freedom of expression and cast a shadow of doubt over the image of a country that proclaims to uphold democratic values.