Guarding Democracy: The Unseen War of Narratives and Foreign Interference

It is striking how both Russia and China use the same narratives in their “cognitive war” against the West. Taiwanese activists and officials have shared their experience fighting Chinese interference in the recent presidential elections in Taiwan during an open discussion in the European Parliament hosted by Petras Austrevicius.

This kind of interference would be considered an act of war in authoritarian states, but in democracies, it is just a challenge. Civil society’s resilience to foreign interference in Taiwan, the EU countries, and Ukraine is sometimes taken for granted. 

I witnessed Russian interference in the presidential elections in Ukraine in 2004. The results of the elections were falsified – Victor Yanukovych was announced as president, and Vladimir Putin congratulated him too quickly. The Orange Revolution that followed corrected this injustice, but after years of “cognitive warfare” (a term used by Taiwanese activists and officials) and infiltration of Russian agents into Ukrainian society, Yanukovych was elected in 2010. This time, the elections were sort of democratic, but the people had not recognized that they had suffered from indirect influence by Russia years before the elections. The “democratically elected president” was, in fact, a marionette of the Kremlin. He signed Kharkiv agreements to give up the Black Sea Fleet to Russia (the latter could place its military there till 2042), put his rival Yulia Tymoshenko in prison, and finished it all by rejecting European integration entirely. This all happened in the order of a foreign country. Yanukovych served foreign interests, and that led to the occupation of Crimea and then to a full-scale war on Ukraine. The country is today liberating itself from infiltration that has been happening for decades, if not centuries, and doing it with the blood of its sons and daughters.

Russia and China use cognitive warfare beyond the borders of their territorial objectives. They spread ideas regarding American Biolabs, American ownership of Ukraine and Taiwan, or narratives that “NATO is approaching.”

At the same time, silencing is not a solution in democracies as it may compromise the legitimate political landscape and thus impact the falsification of the results of debates, voting, or elections.

Factchecking by the people, open discussion and the inclusion of ideas are the basis for resilience to foreign interference and manipulation of national discourse.

Having said that, I believe that parties and members of parliament who are caught serving foreign governments should be investigated and prosecuted. All over Europe, there are politicians who harm their own people on the payment from the Kremlin or from China. The ideas that they have been promoting should be tested, and the main question here is: who is the ultimate beneficiary of it all?


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