Information war in Lithuania: Five-pointed stars and computer games

Aurimas Navys
DELFI (D.Lauručio nuotr.)

Aurimas Navys, Captain of the Strategic Communication Department at the Ministry, gave a presentation in the conference “Tipping Point” in Palanga last Friday. He listed examples of how Russia was laying ground for further hostilities in Lithuania.

“The war is going on not just in Ukraine. The war is going on in the Baltic states, too. Granted, the war here is different from what you are used to,” Navys said in the conference. “A war in Lithuania is happening, not in sea or on land, but in our information space.”

Tulips and vignettes

Navys has listed many examples that he thinks illustrates intensifying Russian propaganda campaign in Lithuania, which focuses a lot on symbols.

In 2005, a Russian military jet – allegedly used for training – crashesd in the territory of Lithuania.

“Look what happens six months later. Talks are that the wives of the Belarusian and Russian ambassadors give a present to the city of Vilnius, tulip bulbs with precise instructions how they should be planted opposite the church of St Peter and Paul. In spring, the flowers grow into a five-pointed star. Interestingly, the Embassy of the United Kingdom is located there as well,” Navys describes efforts to introduce Soviet symbols into Lithuania’s public spaces.

He adds that symbols play a crucial role in information warfare.

“Interestingly, we suddenly witness a whole crop of TV shows that also use the star – like Lithuania’s Got Talent, Lithuanian Day, etc.,” says Navys, showing a frame from a vignette of one locally-produced TV show featuring a WWII military order for merits.

Navys says that Russian pop stars and bands, whose tours in Lithuania suspiciously often coincide with national holidays, are also part of information war.

Soviet symbols are also ubiquitous in computer games, as, he says, some 60 percent of all computer games distributed in Lithuania are produced in Russia.

“It gives easy access to teenagers and youngsters who always play these games,” Navys says.

As an example he quotes “PSI: Siberian Conflict”, where five-pointed stars feature prominently.

“The game is about aliens who land in Siberia. There’s also the Red Army. Interestingly, if you are playing on the alien side, you always lose, winning is impossible. You can only win if you play for the Red Army,” Navys says.

He also notes growing ranks of bloggers and social network activists who praise communism. The problem with social networks like Facebook, Navys says, is that they do not fall under Lithuania’s jurisdiction and therefore are not subject to the law forbidding public display of Soviet symbols.

However, he says, the bulk of propaganda in the country comes via television. Some 97 percent of people in Lithuania watch television regularly, 22 percent tune in Russian channels. This translates to 406 thousand viewers.

“Changing the constitution requires 300 thousand,” Navys says. “Imagine what would happen, if propaganda affected everyone who watched those channels.”

No such thing as Lithuanian nation

“Instances of falsifying history are ubiquitous. Russia’s neighbour Belarus, which is quite dependent on Moscow in this conflict, is pressured by the Kremlin to broadcast its history. If we took away the roots of our statehood from Lithuania and handed it over to Belarus, we would end up with a completely new formation. What is the Kremlin telling us via their Belarusian proxies? They are telling us that the Battle of Saulė was won by Belarusians, that Lithuania’s nobility was in fact Belarusian. Belarus is not doing very well right now [economically], but just think about where they get the money from to rebuild castles and erect monuments for [Grand Dukes of Lithuania] Vytautas, Mindaugas and others. All this is done to solidify the message of the Russian propaganda machine that two nations are in fact one,” according to Navys.

Regretfully, he says, monuments to occupying armies keep springing up in Lithuania, too. Navys mentions a monument to soldiers in World War One of the Russian imperial army that was recently unveiled near Marijampolė on the initiative of the War Heritage Institute, an NGO, and the Russian Embassy.

“I know not of a single other EU or NATO nation that keeps a monument for occupying armies. Here’s a monument that says – to Russian imperial soldiers,” Navys says.

He concludes that Russia’s strategy used in annexing Crimea – taking a piece of foreign land without spilling any blood – could be repeated elsewhere.

“What is Russia doing? It preps the society so that, later on, all it takes is bringing in an army,” the officer says. “The purpose of information war is to break a society’s will to resist.”

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