The day started full of hope when the President of Ukraine, Zelensky, visited our country during the commemoration of the dead. But it is disturbing that Russia accuses him of Nazism, given his family history (Zelensky lost several family members during the Holocaust and is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor). This shows that the fight against fascism is far from over, and we must remain vigilant. This alarming thought was reinforced when I received a disturbing video after posting a tweet about Zelensky. In this video, I was informed that I am on a “list.” It is shocking that such threats still exist, and people like me could be targeted. I am only now coming forward with my story after discussing it with friends and deciding that it is time to speak out strongly against it. It is crucial that politicians, journalists, and analysts take this alarming development seriously. Previously, it was politicians and experts in the field of COVID-19, but now it seems that people involved in the war in Ukraine are becoming the next victims. Although I am personally affected now, we all must stand up to protect freedom of speech and publication.
I received a disturbing video in which disinformation about Ukraine was spread. I had little problem with that, but it quickly escalated. It then focused on me personally, and I was told that I am on a list “just like the Gestapo had a list.” It was emphasized that “people like me will be taken care of, because we have patience.” It is often said that we should ignore these kinds of threats and not give them attention, but precisely because it concerns people like me without significant media status, we must pay attention, for I was not the only one. Investigative journalist Robert van der Noordaa was also intimidated in a similar and threatening manner.
I graduated from the University of Amsterdam only a year ago and now try to inform people about Eastern Europe as a freelance historian through my website and other channels. I get a lot of energy when people appreciate my work on Twitter and elsewhere, but at what cost? If people like me are threatened, and our work is restricted, is it still worth it? I do this work mainly because I enjoy it and get energy from it, not because I make a lot of money. If I want to make money, I’ll apply somewhere and you won’t hear from me again. But that will come at the expense of time to emphasize incorrect frames and new perspectives, and that’s why I love doing this work. I only publish on my website or for other media because I enjoy it and nothing else.
No longer ignore
That is why I want to emphasize that threatening videos against freelance journalists and publishers are a big problem. There is no employer behind me; I do everything myself, and with intimidation and threats, I can usually do little. I have to report it myself, and the legal costs are entirely my responsibility. That is why I am not making a report (yet). It is important that we are aware of these threats and that we protect our freedom of speech and publication, so that we can continue our work without fear of reprisals.
It is not an easy decision to file a report against the senders of the disturbing video that I received. Reporting requires a lot of time and effort and can be costly. Moreover, I have no legal background, making such a step extra difficult for me. But I want to be very clear: this kind of intimidation is absolutely unacceptable. It is not about criticism of the content of my articles or me personally, but a gross form of intimidation that comes across as a threat. This is where I draw the line.
If these kinds of threats occur more frequently, I will certainly consider taking legal action. In the past, I have been bullied, belittled, and intimidated, but I have always solved my problems on my own and never went to the school authorities. But this situation is different. This is not about disagreements, insults, or personal attacks, but about a severe form of intimidation. The idea that I am on a list and that they will take care of me is going too far. We must speak out against this type of intimidation and protect free speech, which otherwise would be seriously endangered. Regardless of whether you agree with me or not, intimidation and threats are unacceptable and must not go unanswered. Therefore, I draw a clear line that I will not accept this.
Phone conversation with Sylvio
On Wednesday, May 24th, I had a phone conversation with Sylvio. He shared a very personal story with me and explained why he took offense to my message. Ultimately, he clarified that the term “te grazen nemen” (Dutch expression meaning “to take down”) never implied any physical harm. Although I could clearly perceive that Sylvio viewed the war in Ukraine from a Russian narrative and absorbed Russian disinformation, the direct intimidating aspect dissipated after this conversation. However, this incident made it evident to me that addressing disinformation is of utmost importance and ignoring it is futile. It can potentially lead people to engage in actions that others perceive as intimidation or worse. Therefore, it is crucial to tackle disinformation since it also fuels polarization.