A Russian-language Toronto newspaper against the war, no matter what

Publications on Russian-language newspaper platforms Nasha Canada, in Toronto, leave no doubt about his team’s opposition to the Russian invasion. Even pressure from Vladimir Putin’s government, of which editor Zhana Levin claims to have been a victim for several years, has nothing to intimidate her.

Nearly 150,000 people follow the Facebook page of the bi-weekly newspaper, where caricatures of the Russian president and memes mocking the Russian army have recently been published. “Even though we publish in Russian, we have always supported democracy and the Ukrainian people,” says Zhana Levin, herself Ukrainian.

The position of the newspaper attracts wrath. According to the editor, the Russian embassy sees Nasha Canada as a threat and would have filed a complaint against platforms to force the closure of the editorial accounts. “We became aware of this newspaper thanks to your e-mail”, the embassy nevertheless replied when contacted by The duty. In September 2018, just over 500 people signed a petition calling on News Media Canada to shut down Nasha Canada since its content “offends feelings linked to Russian nationality”. News Media Canada president Paul Deegan says his team has no recollection of such a complaint; nor does his organization have the power to shut down a media outlet.

Anthropologist Anastasia Rogova, who spent a year in Toronto between 2016 and 2017 as part of her doctoral thesis on the political identity of the Russian diaspora, estimates that few people within the community of some 120,000 Torontonians of Russian descent support the invasion. According to Zhana Levin, supporters of the war make up just under half of the community.

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It is this population that the publisher says she wants to reach through her newspaper, which has been delivered to Russian and Ukrainian markets in the Toronto area since 2001. “We are trying to break down the wall of [désinformation], we are doing our part to communicate the truth,” says Zhana Levin. Members of the community, even young people, have been “brainwashed” by constantly checking Russian media, she says.

disparate community

According to Anastasia Rogova, Toronto was the first Canadian city to welcome a significant number of Russian immigrants, beginning with Soviets of Jewish origin who arrived in the early 1970s. Today, the community is a disparate group. “Sometimes the only thing that unites them is language,” explains Anastasia Rogova in an interview with The duty.

In his dissertation, the University of British Columbia graduate anthropologist writes that the Russian community was rather quiet in Toronto until 2014. The constant coverage of Russia in the English media that year, particularly in reason for the invasion of Crimea, “was interpreted as a threat to cultural identity”, writes Anastasia Rogova. The Russian-Torontoers then began to mobilize politically.

In 2015, the Russian community organized for the first time the “Immortal Regiment”, a parade in honor of the Soviet soldiers who defeated Nazi Germany during the Second World War. The next year, Nasha Canada, analyzes Anastasia Rogova, offensively mocked the second edition of the parade. Such displays are often seen as a reflection of political allegiance to Russia and President Putin, she writes, when the reality is more nuanced.

We try to break down the wall of [désinformation]we are doing our part to communicate the truth.

Marcus Kolga, a disinformation researcher at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, describes the marches as a form of Russian propaganda. Zhana Levin is of the same opinion and even advances that they are organized and financed by the Russian embassy. The embassy denies the allegation, as does Anastasia Rogova, who attended meetings of the organizing committee. “There are organizations and Facebook groups here that do Russian propaganda and we fight against them,” drops Zhana Levin.

More free

In June 2021, the team of Nasha Canada celebrated a victory when she learned that her Twitter account was becoming “certified” — identified with a blue badge, accounts are recognized by the social network as public interest and authentic. Zhana Levin says the diary page was sometimes temporarily suspended, which no longer happens now that the account has a blue check mark. “Now the whole world is going to see what’s going on,” she said.

Nasha Canada could also benefit from the departure of Russian media to Canada. Last week, television service providers Bell and Rogers decided to stop broadcasting the state news channel RT (formerly Russia Today). “The propaganda tools that the Russian embassy had until a week ago are rapidly disappearing,” says researcher Marcus Kolga.

Zhana Levin will not stop her work, despite pressure from the embassy and web crawlers in Russia, she says, who post comments under her posts. “We are not afraid, we have never been afraid,” she said. The propaganda machine is “monstrous”, continues the editor. “Their philosophy is that if you speak Russian, you have to be loyal to the country. »

This story is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative, funded by the Government of Canada.

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