BERLIN — At the beginning, many people in journalistic circles reacted with dismissive grins, if at all, to the handful of so-called 'Monday demonstrators' who gathered in some German cities. It was the beginning of 2014, and Putin had just annexed Crimea.
Left-wing and right-wing conspiracy theories fused to form a self-appointed, propaganda-loving "freedom movement" that was pro-Kremlin and branded every other opinion a "press of lies." Of significance too were constant references to the "mainstream media."
But when journalists were murdered in Paris earlier this month, the grinning stopped. The path from word to deed can be frightfully short. The origin of the expression, "press of lies," illustrates that in exemplary fashion. A "press of lies" — particularly in the expression's full form, a "Jewish-Marxist press of lies" — was used by Nazi Germany's Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to defame the critical press.
And just as the route from word to deed was short back then, the line between, on one side, propaganda that attacks a pluralistic culture of opinion and, on the other, acts of violence against its infrastructure and authors is frighteningly thin.
It's now not just a few dozen Vladimir Putin apologists spouting the "press of lies" slogan but also thousands of people in Dresden and elsewhere. From the Putin apology grew a flat rejection of the federal government and parliamentarism.
It's not necessary to consider the Islamophobic Pegida movement and the flourishing contempt of media and politics in its wake massive in order to fear the phobia of pluralism that it engenders.
Great harm will come from failing to see this movement for what it is. The world exists only through our perception of it, and that perception is mainly transmitted via the media. It therefore follows that the media is the target of populists and ideological fanatics who have broken away from the reality of a pluralistic media landscape.
Insofar as that goes, the ideologues within Pegida who are hostile to pluralism look very much like their most critical opponents. Radical Islamists also espouse terms like a "press of lies."