Commentary Magazine


Topic: Viktor Yanukoviych

The Dictator’s Script

Is there a dictator school somewhere in the world that trains aspiring autocrats how to talk and act? You would think so given the remarkable resemblances between the pro-government rhetoric in Ukraine and Venezuela–two countries separated by an entire world but united in a shared desire to squelch anti-government protests.

Anne Applebaum (whose husband, foreign minister Radek Sikorski of Poland, is in Kiev) has a useful column laying out the rhetorical tropes being employed by the Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych and his backers in Moscow. This includes referring to repression as an “anti-terrorist operation,” calling demonstrators Nazis or fascists, accusing them of trying to stage a coup d’état, and referring to Russian aid in repression as “fraternal assistance.” She might also have added Vladimir Putin’s favorite gambit, of referring to all opposition forces as being agents of the United States.

What is striking is how Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the late Hugo Chavez’s designated successor, is using nearly identical language to justify his repression of anti-government protests in Caracas. As the Wall Street Journal notes

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Is there a dictator school somewhere in the world that trains aspiring autocrats how to talk and act? You would think so given the remarkable resemblances between the pro-government rhetoric in Ukraine and Venezuela–two countries separated by an entire world but united in a shared desire to squelch anti-government protests.

Anne Applebaum (whose husband, foreign minister Radek Sikorski of Poland, is in Kiev) has a useful column laying out the rhetorical tropes being employed by the Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych and his backers in Moscow. This includes referring to repression as an “anti-terrorist operation,” calling demonstrators Nazis or fascists, accusing them of trying to stage a coup d’état, and referring to Russian aid in repression as “fraternal assistance.” She might also have added Vladimir Putin’s favorite gambit, of referring to all opposition forces as being agents of the United States.

What is striking is how Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the late Hugo Chavez’s designated successor, is using nearly identical language to justify his repression of anti-government protests in Caracas. As the Wall Street Journal notes

Mr. Maduro accused what he called “fascist leaders” financed by the U.S. of using highly trained teams to topple his socialist government from power. …

He said his foes were hoping to generate chaos to justify a foreign military intervention. “In Venezuela, they’re applying the format of a coup d’état,” he said.

In a speech Thursday, Mr. Maduro also accused U.S. cable channel CNN of producing skewed coverage of the protests and said he had begun an administrative process to kick the channel off the air in Venezuela unless it moved to “rectify” its coverage.

“They want to show the world that in Venezuela there is a civil war,” Mr. Maduro said. “In Venezuela the people are working, studying, building the Fatherland.”

All one can say is that Maduro needs to get a more original script. Simply because this rhetoric has worked for Putin does not mean it will work anywhere else in the world. It does, however, show just how brain-dead so many autocratic leaders are, parroting the same shrill script in the hope that their people are too simple-minded to see through their incendiary accusations. The beauty of the Internet, at least when it’s not effectively censored, is that it makes it easier than ever to expose, refute, and parody such heavy-handed and bombastic rhetorical assaults.

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