The knives are becoming swords in frozen Saigon. R———, some sort of devilish character I anticipate recurring frequently in my diary entries over the coming days, weeks and months, has been causing still more mindless trouble. It’s not just that he’s initiated a whispering campaign behind other people’s backs about the military kitchen where I work and if I am frank has become something of a beloved institution to me. It’s not just that he’s set up a rival mailing list to that used by the kitchen’s volunteers: something which I suppose he has a right to do although it’s petty. He did it because he was expelled from that list for spreading disinformation about the kitchen so now he’s copied the mailing list so he can continue spreading unpleasant information. There’s really very little he can do about that. Last night, I published an article in the Lviv Herald, www.lvivherald.com, about moving the capital of Ukraine from Lviv to Kyiv. This was rather a tongue-in-cheek piece, intended really as an expression of dismay in the undemocratic and dysfunctional operation of Kyiv politics. So move the capital to somewhere that does more to uphold European democratic standards; that was the idea.
After I wrote this, I tramped across town to Mano’s Bar, pleased with my work, only within an hour or two to have found my mobile phone awash with dozens of scorning vile and in some cases revolting messages threatening me with various things, accusing me of various things and one even threatening me with the GRU (Russia’s feared military intelligence assassination unit). For writing an article contemptuous of Kyiv’s politics, a perspective shared by virtually every Ukrainian I know, this all seemed rather an overreaction. I also noticed that all the people berating me with these criticisms in a public electronic forum were foreigners; none of them were Ukrainian. So apparently I was a threat to the Ukrainian internal security order because I had written a piece criticising the government in Kyiv as being undemocratic; hardly news, it’s a concern on the lips of every European and American politician and one of the points being discussed in the relentless conversations about aid to Ukraine. The fact, of course, is that it’s difficult to be democratic during a war; you’re just trying to survive. What Kyiv really needs is a government of national unity until the war is over; but that’s an essay for another day.
After having had the shock of all these incredibly unpleasant messages, I patiently replied to the group that I would not be deterred by threats, defamation or intimidation, but that anyone who wanted to write a reply to my article, explaining why they disagreed with it, would be most welcome. Of course the ranting mob didn’t want to do that, because they know nothing about the politics in Kyiv; they’re just a bunch of fools who don’t know much about Ukraine at all. Instead they just wanted to berate me and reinforce one-another’s prejudices, which is what mobs do, whether physical or electronic mobs, and therefore you just have to let them get on with it. It transpired that R——— had put them all up to this, and his motive in getting a group of feral electronic dogs to hunt in packs on the attack against a journalist is because I am associated with the kitchen that he so thoroughly despises.
The reason he despises that kitchen is because they had a public falling-out with him, in which concerns were raised about where money he had been raising for them had gone. Now I don’t want to say much more about this seedy story in the pages of this diary, but I certainly do know more about it. In the meantime, R———, who is trying to re-establish his reputation in Lviv after it was publicly trashed by the Ukrainian managers of the kitchen over financial issues, seems to think that the best way of establishing himself once more in this town is to attack a journalist associated with the kitchen. Well, I can assure you that this isn’t going to work. He may have some sort of transferred malice onto me from the Kitchen, but I don’t see how organising teams of people to hurl threats and insults at me is going to assist him in his task of rebuilding his reputation that has been so comprehensively discredited. All this does is reinforce the Lviv community’s distaste for so disappointing a person.
The evening went on. Some drunk woman who is friends with him came to abuse me in person. By this point I was laughing. Then the administrator of the social media network stepped in and ejected a few people from the group, and deleted all this billions and revolting content. There was still a bit of it this morning being mopped up. The person who runs this social media group is a cool, calm-head Czech fellow with a fine sense of balance, and I like to deal with such people but the entire incident does rather remind one of the dangers of social media as tool for vile actions and personal attacks upon people. I don’t think I’d ever really been the victim of an online “trolling” (is that the word?) before but I quickly learned calmly to ignore it. It turns out that my mobile phone has a “silent” option for certain sorts of social media so you just don’t receive these messages anymore and that is its new default setting for this kind of social media thing.
One vastly more principled and reflective individual has offered to write a response to my article, with his own views, expressing nuances and critiquing what I have said, and of course I have agreed. That is precisely the way that debates ought to be conducted in politics: through reason and passion, rather than via packs of feral electronic dogs. I have also added a series of principles of editorial integrity to the Lviv Herald website: that every author has the right to their independence of expression; that we will not hesitate to condemn authority or the abuse of power; and we will not be coerced by intimidation or threats. If these values ring true with you, please contact me and become one of our volunteer journalists.