Text: Oliver Watson
The number of Ukrainians forced to leave their homeland due to the Russian invasion is both staggering and heart-breaking. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), over 4.2 million refugees have fled Ukraine as of 3 April. The Finnish Ministry of Internal Affairs forecasts that Finland will be receiving 40,000 to 80,000 refugees from Ukraine this year.
The war in Ukraine has sparked language ridden with double standards in political debate. People who have claimed to oppose all kinds of immigration in the past have now taken a 180 degree turn and advocated for open doors for Ukrainian refugees.
Criticising these double standards, if they happen on Ukraine’s behalf, is seen as criticism towards Ukraine and support for Russia, which hinders critical public discussion concerning the war.
One would assume that those who opposed the 36,000 refugees who arrived during the 2015 European migrant crisis would be shocked by the Internal Ministry’s prediction, but this could not be further from the truth. Members of the right-wing populist Finns Party have visibly expressed great hospitality towards Ukrainian refugees since the very beginning of the crisis.
”Anti-immigration” was racism all along
A prominent example of this is MEP and former Finns Party vice-chair Laura Huhtasaari, who prominently tweeted: “Refugees welcome.” After the Finns’ rise to popularity in the early 2010s as a result of a number of reasons including racist remarks and criticism towards immigration policy, one would expect that Ukrainians would get the same hateful reception. Her tweet would have been unimaginable in 2015. The reality, however, is exactly what one would expect – as long as they’re white, it’s all right.
I am not saying that Ukrainians shouldn’t receive the best possible treatment. I want all refugees to receive the same heart-warming welcome that Ukrainians have received from Westerners in the past weeks. Instead, the heated conversation style of the likes of Facebook and Twitter, leads many to assume that I would want Ukrainian refugees to receive the dismal treatment that other refugees have had to live with previously.
Fallacies in political debate
Another example of double standards in political debate regarding the war in Ukraine and a clear underlying theme is the prevalence of fallacies such as whataboutism. To a great extent, politics is about feelings. Fallacies are logical imperfections that remind us of how humans are certainly no rational creatures. They show us how strongly we feel about our values and how hard we try to defend them in politics.
A common fallacy is ad hominem tu quoque (you too), where someone’s argument is disproven based on the fact that their personal behaviour conflicts with their argument. Whataboutism is a variation of the tu quoque fallacy that has proven to be well and alive since the Russian army invaded Ukraine this February.
Discrediting the criticism Russia has received for invading another country from countries such as the United States, because they have once done the same, is an example of whataboutism that isn’t uncommon on social media platforms such as Twitter and TikTok. Russia has practised such propaganda for decades.
However, looking too hard for whataboutism can be harmful as well. A common pattern in social media is that someone starts a conversation by stating that it is unfair that people have not cared to take in refugees suffering in war in other countries as much as they have cared for the refugees from Ukraine. Then someone replies to the conversation, accusing the first person of whataboutism, by misunderstanding the argument (often on purpose) as if it were questioning the need to help Ukrainians at all.
Trying to point out whataboutism by force can freeze an entire discussion where both opponents likely agree on what should be done in the current crisis anyway. Polarising assumptions that stem from fallacies harm the already polarised public debate. The fast-paced, often exaggerating and sometimes toxic conversational style of Twitter and Facebook causes people to look for faults in each other and resort to personal attacks.
Misinformation on both sides
One final double standard is the way we perceive misinformation. We all know the way Russia has used disinformation to justify its attack on a sovereign state. However, due to the war’s status as the first “Instagram war” or “TikTok war”, much of the information regarding Ukraine is created and propagated by people who have very little knowledge of the situation.
For example, a very common misconception that surfaced on Twitter and TikTok during the early days of the war was that president Volodymyr Zelensky was fighting on the warfront in uniform with his fellow citizens. This false claim was mashed together from him turning down the U.S.’ suggestion to evacuate him and a photo of him in uniform visiting the military in Donbass in December 2021.
This kind of misinformation is difficult to question when the general climate is so strongly in support of Ukraine that any kind of criticism is interpreted as support for Russia. This issue, a fallacy of its own, must be overcome.
Building a future of compassion
It is typical to assume that bringing up problems and double standards concerning the crisis on hand would somehow equate to not caring about Ukrainian refugees or even to supporting Russia. We must let go of these assumptions and realise that debate that is critical towards both parties will ultimately lead to a better solution.
Racism does not bring harmony to public discourse, and neither does wilful misunderstanding. The attention Ukrainian civilians and soldiers have received shows that the world has the compassion and the resources to help those in need. I hope that the war in Ukraine ends as soon as possible but also that it serves as proof that the same can be done in other crises in the future as well.