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Political Narratives on Crimea in German Language Media

November 13, 2019
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In crisis situations political narratives develop rapidly. Supported by political (media) propaganda, these narratives can change within a short time period or disappear completely in favour of dominant narratives supported by propaganda. Quite rarely are narratives the result of rational analysis; rather, they arise from the coincidental confluence of wishful thinking, value judgments, day-to-day politics, and the adherence to the order government elites have invented.

By Ulrike Reisner, freelance political analyst, lecturer and journalist, based in Vienna, Austria

Original material in Russian is available here.

crimea_journalism.pngPhoto: neweasterneurope.eu Whenever questioning narratives, historical and socio-political references have to be taken into account. Whenever questioning political narratives that have (again) emerged for the past five years in connection with the Crimean peninsula, questions about earlier narrative references and their historical context cannot and must not be avoided. Before 2014, German language media reporting built on the historical references of the Crimean War of 1853-1856 and the significance of Crimea in World War II, above all the Yalta Conference, which set the course for the new order of Europe. Almost exactly 70 years later, Crimea suddenly catapulted itself back into the headlines of international media. Since its affiliation / secession / annexation [1] in the course of the Crimean crisis in 2014, the peninsula's political status has been controversial. Russia, which has since exercised de facto control over Crimea, regards it as two of its federation subjects, while Ukraine and the vast majority of the international community continue to regard Crimea as the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and part of Ukrainian territory. A detailed discourse analysis of dominating political narratives on Crimea in German-language media was published in “Крым: Память. Право. Воля. 1954-2014. 2014-2019”, published by the Moscow based Fund for Historic Perspectives in late spring 2019 [2]. The focus was laid on the years 2014 and 2019 (January-April). The aim of this study was to determine which narratives dominated the media discourse in Germany, Austria and Switzerland during this time period and whether and, if yes, which changes could be observed between 2014 and 2019.Decent classification is still lacking For the discourse analysis of political narratives on Crimea in German-language media, a total of 720 headlines (479 for 2014 and 241 for 2019) in five different media were analysed. The following key findings can be summarised: a) Overall, a differentiated picture emerged in connection with political narratives of Crimea. Particularly in February and March 2014, it was observed that economic narratives, such as the threat of sanctions and the associated effects on the economic and financial world, outweighed political narratives, such as the distribution of power or the institutional framework for the affiliation of Crimea to the Russian Federation. b) Only from the early summer of 2014 onwards, with the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the number of political narratives – although diminished – was constantly recognisable. These narratives qualified the affiliation of Crimea as aggressive Russian behaviour, as an intervention in the political and military order of Eastern Europe, as a violation of international law, and as an attempt of legitimisation of power in view of Russia's ongoing economic and domestic crises. These narratives could also be found in the period of January to mid-April 2019. c) Significant is the radio silence in German-language media regarding the political interpretation of the events in Crimea in February and March 2014. Statements from EU government circles were just as sparse as official statements from NATO. Only with the official announcement of US sanctions did this phase of eloquent silence slowly come to an end. Overall, it was found that Crimea-related reporting in leading German-language media was very inconsistent and showed remarkably little substance in the facts. A classification of the events in Crimea into large subject areas of contemporary historical, political and geostrategic nature is still almost completely lacking. For this reason, it is all the more interesting to list a few exemplary questions in connection with Crimea that have not been asked by German-language media yet: a) Why was there a radio silence concerning the political assessment of the affiliation of Crimea to the Russian Federation? b) Why have so few strategic military links been highlighted, such as the importance of the region for the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation? c) Why was it not shown which significance the Black Sea and the Bosporus have in relation to pipeline-bound networks or transnational trade routes for raw materials? Why was it not shown which interests - apart from Russian and Ukrainian interests - are still affected in this region? d) Why was there hardly any evaluation on which political, military and economic consequences a prolonged, widespread crisis in Ukraine would have had for the whole of Europe? It can be assumed that such and similar questions are well known not only to the government elites of the European Union but also to journalists in leading German-language media. Therefore, it can be assumed that the inconsistent picture of political narratives in connection with Crimea is an expression of the accompanying political garbage can process of European government elites. The political narratives on Crimea are not the result of rational analysis; rather, they arise from the coincidental confluence of wishful thinking, value judgments, day-to-day politics, and the adherence to the order government elites have invented. For this reason, the present analysis can be regarded as a reliable indication that a fact-oriented, holistic analysis of the events in Crimea in 2014 and a related political reassessment is far from complete for the German-speaking countries.

[1] This text deals exclusively with political narratives and does not contain any investigation or evaluation of the events of 2014 from the perspective of international law. For this reason, the three most common media terms in connection with the territorial changes of Crimea are chosen here. Subsequently, the neutral concept of affiliation will be used.
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