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Tactics and tools How Russian propaganda uses clichés with no gist to achieve its goals

Clichés without gist are short, commonly used phrases that are supposed to alleviate cognitive dissonance and break critical thinking. It is used to stop arguments, discussions, to move away from difficult issues, or to turn attention to other things.

American psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton coined this term in his book Brainwashing Technology: The Psychology of Totalitarianism to describe the language used by the Chinese Communist Party as “the beginning and end of any ideological analysis”. The Chinese government used clichés without gist to prevent people from questioning the party's actions and prevent dissent or rebellion.Lifton explained that by using these phrases, interlocutors “disrupt the conversation and prevent people from thinking deeper about important issues”.

This method of propaganda was used in both the Soviet Union (which inspired George Orwell to write 1984) and modern Russia to impose conformity on people, to compress the most complex and serious problems into short, simplified and clear phrases with which to end an unpleasant conversation. During a full-scale invasion, the use of clichés is actively used by Russians who support Putin and the war against Ukraine and by Ukrainians who are influenced by Russian propaganda.


- “We will never know the whole truth”, “everything is not so simple” - clichés used as an answer to any real fact. An example of practical application can be seen during large-scale Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities, when Russian propaganda creates opposing versions of the incident (for example, a missile attack on Chernihiv), causing cognitive dissonance. A person under the influence of propaganda and in order to avoid cognitive dissonance will not try to find a truthful version of reality.

— “Life will put everything in its place” — a response to evidence of crimes committed by Russians in Ukraine. This cliché negates any possibility of discussion, because a person does not perceive facts and arguments, and does not want to think about the problems being discussed.

- “Where have you been for eight years?”, “Kyiv regime”, “Ukrainians are Nazis” - these clichés are used to redirect attention to an inconvenient issue, that is, “turning the tables” on the fictional shortcomings of opponents.

- “This won’t change anything”, “I’m out of politics” - is used to reject a person’s participation in some matter, as if the person is insignificant and nothing depends on his or her actions. With this phrase, Russians answered the question why they did not go out to rallies after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

— “Politicians want to quarrel us” is the answer of people who are trying to dissociate themselves, to remove collective responsibility for the actions of Russians or for missile strikes, shelling of infrastructure and the death of Ukrainians as a result of their actions.

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