A routine propaganda incident in Kuressaare


Last week it was reported, that some tags had been scribbled on a memorial dedicated to victims of Fascism in Kuressaare Lossi Park. It is not known exactly when the drawing of the graffiti happened. According to an article published on Thursday, June 6, in the Saaremaa newspaper, Meie Maa the police inspected the site on Monday June 3. As the graffiti was not political in nature, they did not consider it of importance.

However, the Kremlin’s propaganda machine thought differently. The incident was immediately responded to and several news articles on the graffiti incident were published in the Russian media on Thursday. They tried to make the incident seem more serious than it actually was. On Friday, June 7th, the Russian Embassy in Estonia wrote on its Facebook account calling upon the local authorities to honour the memory of Nazi victims, to clean up the monument and prosecute the perpetrators. The Russian media further amplified the Embassy’s posting.

The incident is characterized by:

You can be sure that when the news is „Soviet“ and „a memorial monument“ it is a Russian media propaganda event, using techniques to blow it way out of proportion and make it as big a propaganda attack as possible.

The Kremlin propaganda representatives in Estonia are constantly monitoring keywords and responding to them immediately. The first stories about the graffiti appeared in Russia at 10:58 on Thursday, shortly after the Meie Maa article came out. The incident was not widely known about in Estonia but the Russian media was already discussing it. Photos were quickly found and released on the Russian Embassy’s Facebook page.

Foolish treatment
Propaganda releases are not limited to investigating the incident but try to pump up things in accordance to Kremlin talking points. For example, a wrongly translated headline, reading as if the police officer had said that the monument was of little value. In fact, the police officer said that the case is being dealt with under subsection § 218 of the penal code „offenses against property of lower value and proprietary rights“. There are references in the stories that such defacement of property is common in Estonia where Russophobia and fascism are encouraged. Imposing wording is used: „vandals“ „defiled“ the monument.

There are tens of memorials related to the Soviet past in Estonia (see, for example, one Russian-language list here), all of which can be used with propaganda events.

How should people deal with the situation if they are at the centre of such an incident in the future? These may include local police officers, municipal officials, journalists or passers – by.

Here is how:
-the incident must be recorded but any markings or graffiti should be cleaned up as soon as possible. If there is no media coverage of the event, it is much more difficult for propaganda to emotionally make anything big of the incident. For example, in the case of the Litsmetsa incident in the autumn of 2018, the monument was quickly cleaned up and this prevented the propagation of propaganda.

-A competent person who is aware of the potential propagandistic context of their words should comment on what transpired. The comment should be brief and the wording should be such that they could not be misused or allow misunderstandings.

In this concrete situation, Propastop believes that despite the Kremlin’s efforts, the story will not escalate. For this, the story’s circumstances are of „low value and non-consequential“.

Here you can find references to earlier propaganda incidents related to monuments.

Pictured: screenshots of the Russian Embassy Facebook posting.