Barry McNamara  |   Published May 11, 2022

Predicting Ukraine

Concerns about Russia expressed in senior C.J. Bonifer’s first-year research now happening.

SCHOLARS DAY: At the 2019 event, a young C.J. Bonifer posed with his faculty mentor, Robert Hinck... SCHOLARS DAY: At the 2019 event, a young C.J. Bonifer posed with his faculty mentor, Robert Hinck, displaying his research poster titled “Russian Media Appeals in the Baltic States."MONMOUTH, Ill. – An independent research project that Monmouth College senior C.J. Bonifer of Columbia, Kentucky, completed three years ago proved to be an accurate glimpse into the future, although slightly off geographically.

As a freshman, Bonifer worked on a project under the guidance of former communication studies professor Robert Hinck. Titled “Russian Media Appeals in the Baltic States,” it made the observation that signs were pointing to the distinct possibility of Russian military aggression in the region.

“Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Baltic States – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia – have been at the forefront of Russian attention and coordinated media attacks,” wrote Bonifer at the time. “This series of events have not been highly publicized by U.S. media outlets, so research showing these actions is ever important.”

The propaganda game

Specifically, Bonifer studied how Russian media was constructing its interests in the Baltic States and how those narratives changed over time. He also studied how those narratives were resonating with Baltic audiences.

“I still have the research poster. Literally, everything you can see in it is what happened (in Ukraine). It’s very surreal.”
— C.J. Bonifer

Although Ukraine is just south of the geographic region Bonifer studied, many of the same implications have turned out to be present there, including the need for those nations to “create narrative projects bolstering identity to fend off Russian influence” and “strengthening NATO narratives and promotion of common identity.”

The flip side, said Bonifer, was Russia’s intent to create a sense of Russian nationalism among Baltic Russians and painting the United Nations, NATO and the European Union negatively, all while building up its military and naval presence.

“I still have the research poster,” said Bonifer. “Literally, everything you can see in it is what happened (in Ukraine). It’s very surreal.”

Award-winning research

Bonifer jumped at the chance to work with Hinck after hearing about the research he was working on at the time. Hinck had received a grant to work with the Strategic Multilayer Assessment community, which focuses on examining foreign media reporting on issues critical to U.S. strategic interests. The project led to Hinck receiving the College’s prestigious Gundersen Junior Faculty Scholarship Award.

“I approached him after hearing about it, and he explained it to me and told me the process behind it,” said Bonifer. “The work that he and his colleagues were doing was helping to solve problems that government officials didn’t have time to solve.”

“He said, ‘Why don’t you do an independent research project with me?’ I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ Looking back, I remember that I didn’t think I would be doing that type of research as a freshman.”
— C.J. Bonifer

Bonifer told Hinck of his interest in the Baltic States, which fit right in to Hinck’s goal of finding Monmouth students interested in tracking foreign media.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you do an independent research project with me?’ said Bonifer. “I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ Looking back, I remember that I didn’t think I would be doing that type of research as a freshman.”

The experience was one of many academic opportunities that enriched Bonifer’s Monmouth education. The public relations major will graduate on May 15 and go to work for J&L Marketing of Louisville, Kentucky.

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