The Endymion Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans.
Opinion by Joe Lindsley
Mayhem (noun): violent disorder
The news from afar about Russia’s latest threats increases the anxiety about Ukraine among foreigners especially and also among locals. Maybe this is good – a guard against complacency. But how well founded is the news?
There’s a history of dramatic sky-is-falling news about Ukraine in the global media.
In March 2021, Elint News, a Twitter account of mysterious provenance,began to report a Russian troop build-up. In every mainstream press account I could find, the original source was the same: Elint’s Twitter account showing videos of Russian military equipment going somewhere, along with text saying that the Russians were moving toward Ukraine.
Get out of Ukraine! said many Americans. Invasion imminent, or at least in the next couple months.
In March 2020, when the pandemic started, headlines warned that Ukraine would be one of the hardest hit countries (just as much of the media warned that Africa would be a disaster; despite the predictions the continent has fared better than elsewhere, it seems, though the reporting might not be accurate).
«The writing is on the wall,» Melinda Haring and Doug Klein wrote in the U.S. publication the National Interest 31 March 2020, just as the pandemic began. «Ukraine is headed for major catastrophe.» Europe’s «poorest country» with a «showman president» is so ill – equipped that soon the Coronavirus will destroy the nation’s economy, they argued.
Get out of Ukraine! said many Americans. You will die there!
Yet despite challenges and many bad things, life carried on here. Families gathered, festivals happened: just a few indicators of normalcy during a time when such things did not happen in many countries.
Lviv’s Market Square, rarely empty
This week in Lviv, I was just speaking with Lviv people who have friends and family in Austria, which is in lockdown.
«My [Austrian] friends are afraid to come here,» my friend said, as I looked at the people in the café around us: a family celebrating St. Andrew’s Day, some people working, lots of ease and laughter. «They want to stay locked in their homes in Austria, except maybe for a little exercise. They’re afraid because the lockdown isn’t strict here and because of Russia.»
Yet the reality right now is that life is free, energetic, and open here in Ukraine, with appropriate cautions.
«That revolution in 2014 – I think we see now – really did create a new mindset,» said my friend – and say many others.
The aptly-named Revolution of Dignity gave the people a confidence, a spirit of carrying on and not being afraid.
But the headlines: They scare others away. Think of all the global news of Ukraine: The narrative is that its beleaguered country – from Trump impeachment, Biden’s son’s corruption, oligarchs, Chornobyl. What positive or encouraging news have you read?
This is why we have a page at Lviv Now called Wealth & Democracy: not to ignore the difficult news but to showcase the enterprise, creativity, and even stability here.
«Mayhem in New Orleans»
I once had an incredibly direct view into the media paradigm that causes such perceptions and panics, as I discussed recently on the Attention Rebellion podcast with James David Dickson, a reporter with the Detroit News and a media critic.
In 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana – a city that like Lviv has cobbled streets full of music and festivity, I was with family and friends at one of the major Mardi Gras season parades, called Endymion, on a Saturday afternoon. Giant floats rolled by, some of them holding bands of musicians and all of them containing dozens of people in (pre-covid) Carnival masks throwing trinkets at the people along the way.
Suddenly amid the good emotions all our phones began to beep.
«Are you ok?»
«OMG, what is happening in New Orleans?»
«Are you safe? Say home!»
Damn, a crisis! The family and friends and strangers around me began to worry. What is happening? What is going to happen? Suddenly our pleasant evening was becoming something scary.
I looked around us: All was fine, as musicians played on the giant floats rolling by.
Then I looked at my phone; I pulled up Drudge Report. The all-capital banner headline on that Saturday night blared these words for all the world to see: «MAYHEM IN NEW ORLEANS.»
This is what it looked like in New Orleans while anyone reading the news around the world saw the headline «Mayhem in New Orleans.»
I clicked the story: Someone had driven into the crowd at one of the city’s simultaneous Mardi Gras parades.
I read further: It was our parade.
Wait, it was just one block from us.
Suddenly there was a small panic.
Then after the false panic the truth at last spread: A young drunk guy had indeed driven into the crowd a block away. He stopped, and no one was hurt.
But people far away spending their Saturday night on the couch watching TV or their phones in Kansas or California – not living their own lives – were upset about something that allegedly had happened one block from me.
So I see it in Ukraine: Whenever Russia decides to make some noise, potential visitors, investors, contributors turn away from Ukraine, because they only hear the threats and they do not see the reality. The threat from Russia is real: Russia has been invading Ukraine ever since 2014 when it occupied Crimea and supported rebels in Donbas in eastern Ukraine. But before deciding that a further Russian-invasion is a sure thing, before assuming that Ukraine is in serious trouble, we need perspective and information.
By Joe Lindsley
Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.