Ukrainian Peacebuilding School. Time to Build the Roads and Repair the Bridges

Presentation for Debates on Europe. Kharkiv, December 11, 2015.

Which objects are being destroyed first during the war? Roads and bridges. Communication infrastructure is the first thing to be repaired to build peace. Ukrainian Peacebuilding School focuses on building the roads between the people and repairing the bridges between the communities.

Steven Spielberg, when presenting his new movie “Bridge of Spies”, said that for him not much has changed since the Cold War epoch. For Ukraine, the change is huge. The Wall between the two worlds moved 2000+ kilometres eastwards and now it is our turn to guard this Wall and Bridges between the two worlds. The Wall now looks differently too. Compare Berlin and Mariupol.

Since September 2014, the Ukrainian Peacebuilding School works in the most difficult regions of Ukraine, bordering occupied territories, frozen conflicts and past bloody conflicts. For a year, I have been a coordinator of this project in Donetsk oblast and spent much of my time travelling the roads and bridges there. I spent less time at home in Kharkiv than in towns and villages adjacent to occupied territories, speaking to thousands of people.

I will tell you my opinion of what is happening in the Eastern part of Ukraine and our future based on my field experience and experience of dozens of my colleagues – our project managers.

What is going on in Ukraine now? The centuries old fight for independence of Ukraine has turned into a bloody war with Russia. I am confident the war will end someday with these very words written by someone from Moscow at Maidan in Kyiv “Forgive for everything!”

What I do not know is how much more Ukrainian blood will have to be sacrificed until that day.

This photo of my colleague who is responsible for Donetsk oblast in our project now shows the symbolism of Ukrainian red and black flag – national blue and yellow flag covered by blood, the flag of warriors. The flag is centuries old.

Was the Russian occupation inevitable? That is a most frequently asked question during our trainings.

Yes, it was inevitable and our research explains why. We identified four major conflicts in Ukrainian society, which are relevant to the explanation.

Identity conflicts. Ukrainian society in the east identifies itself as Soviets, Ukrainians or Europeans. Soviet and European identities are diametrically opposed.

You may wonder why I did not mention Russian identity. Because the conflict with the Russian World fits into the conflicts based on ethnicity or religion. Modern Russian ethnicity and religion accepts and turns the cult of Stalin into icon. The Ukrainian political nation is actively opposed to this threat. This very typical photo from a march shows Ukrainian Jewish and Islamic leaders with a slogan “Go Away, Moskali, from the Ukrainian land!”

Most Ukrainians remember their history and the destructive role in it of a Russian state. However, most of the population of eastern Ukraine remember a different version of the history. Most old cemeteries in Donetsk oblast demonstrate the conflict of historical narratives in the heads of the population. See the combination of the communist star and the cross, symbol of religion persecuted by the communist. It is rusty, has no name and abandoned. However, it is still there and influences the opinions.

Most important conflict we address in our work is the conflict of the visions of the future. What common vision of the future could have the brothers and sisters of these Protestants savagely killed by the occupants in Slovyansk in 2014 and the people who still support the occupants?

The polls conducted within our project and the other polls confirm that Ukrainian citizens living in the Ukrainian controlled territory are not divided really. Their opinions differ no more than in other European countries. Most people just want to live in peace.

However, the above mentioned conflicts could lead to a divided society if not addressed timely.

We studied the conflicts with some similarities to ours. Like with Israel, Russia does not recognize the Ukrainian nation and the right to a Ukrainian State.

Like in Northern Ireland, our conflict with Russia has centuries old history.

However, the conflicts inside Ukraine are not that fundamental and have to be transformed into civilized processes.

You see the historic photos from Kharkiv of January 12, 2014, where we experienced the model confrontation, which was staged later during the occupation of Donbas. I was present there, these are my photos and I can show you why the attempt failed.

On the right – the peaceful assembly of participants of first Euromaidan Forum. On the left – the supporters of president Yanukovych. Two sides were divided by the police. The hooligans were trying to throw stun grenades towards Euromaidan people, the ruling Party of Regions side tried to silence us with high level loudspeakers, the standoff was colourful, noisy and emotional, but peaceful. Notice the both sides were using Ukrainian national flags, both sides were using Ukrainian music. Look at the photos – do the sides look as enemies?

Russia tried to ignite the conflict in Kharkiv later during the so called Russian Spring of 2014 and failed. They did not find enough local active people ready to fight for the ideas of Russian World neither in Kharkiv nor anywhere but in Donbas. Russians did not really know Ukrainian society. It turned out that the number of supporters of Russian World in Ukraine is low and is absolutely dependent on regular brainwashing of Russian TV.

Identity conflicts in Ukraine exist but they are purely virtual.

Perception of Russian World is based on TV image made in Moscow and not real life experience. Life in Russia does not resemble this glamorous picture. Opinion polls confirm the amount of Russian World fans is very low in Ukraine.

The Soviet Union does not exist any more and will never return. The Soviet identity is strong in eastern Ukraine, however Russia failed to monopolize it and this identity is predominantly Ukrainian. Kharkiv was the first capital of Soviet Ukraine. It is impossible to remove “Ukraine” from this history.

The perception of Europe is virtual for majority of eastern Ukrainians because majority had never been there and had no contacts with Europeans at all. Only 17% of young Ukrainians visited Europe.

It is easy to manipulate virtual identities and Russian propaganda machinery does it. When the propaganda channels influence is restricted and people return to real life the identity conflict becomes marginalized.

However, the threat of escalation of identity conflicts still exists. We do not want a divided future of Ukraine.

Ukrainian Peacebuilding School develops strategies of transformation and prevention of borderline conflicts.

We defined the four major problems of Ukrainian society as bad communications, inability to plan the future proactively, misunderstanding of security, and the absence of common criteria of evaluation of reality.

Look at this photo and think about the purpose of this fence? It is a very typical fence inherited from Soviet times.

I will elaborate in these four problems. Most define security as the absence of threats. Misunderstanding of security by active Ukrainians is a security threat by itself.

The very basic idea that Ukraine is not Russia still requires confirmation and affirmation especially in territories adjacent to occupation. This picture however shows a more fundamental problem with security in Ukraine. What you see is the WWII German fortification on the strategic heights above Kramatorsk renovated in summer 2013 and ready to be used as… real fortification.  Local activists classified this event as public money stolen by city government and did not pay attention that it was a military infrastructure object ready to use.

Genocidal history of Ukraine explains why people are unable to plan the future proactively. The cult of death enforced by the Soviets seriously damaged the social consciousness.

I will quote the recent Nobel lecture of Svetlana Alekseevich. “I lived in a country where we were taught since our childhood to die. We were taught the death. We were told that the human exists to give themselves, to burn, to sacrifice themselves.”

Her whole lecture illustrates that the value of life in the Soviet Union was almost zero. Old Russian saying, “Women will deliver more babies” always reflected the price of life there. Still does.

Ukrainians are different. History taught us to count every life – saved and sacrificed. We are chanting, “Heroes do not die”.

Now we have to communicate this difference to the world and to all our citizens. We also have to build the bridges allowing people who are willing to live in the Russian World and who share its values to go to Russia, to emigrate in a civilized way. Right now, it is not that easy. Roads to emigration both ways looks like these pavements.

Bad communications in Ukraine were inherited from past empires and pertain both to physical roads and to the interpersonal and intergroup communications. Society in eastern Ukraine is atomized; both physical obstacles and Soviet mental traditions determined low mobility. People in Donbas rather used money to buy expensive clothes than travel abroad or even to the neighbouring region.

I will show you physical bridges but I ask you to think about the human relations.

People living nearby are sure that the Ukrainian government does not repair these bridges because there is danger to waste money and have them destroyed again in the next stage of war. Sure, it undermines their confidence in the possibility of peaceful future. It does not help them to plan for the future, it frames the escape to the land where there will be no war eventually. Ukraine suffers from one of the greatest displacements in history. Broken bridges encourage further displacements.

Sometimes temporal structures are built to facilitate passage. Old popular Soviet saying declares, “There is nothing more permanent than a temporary structure”. Temporary solutions do not boost the feeling of security.

I will use a success story from Kharkiv to demonstrate what should be done to give people hope and build communities. The old fragile temporary bridge stopped being a transport venue long time ago. It was destroyed and a new solid beautiful bridge was built somewhere close to the old one.

Ukrainians have problems agreeing on what is good and what are the indicators of progress.

When this bridge was in construction there were many voices questioning the purpose of the bridge and suspecting city government in stealing public funds.

Citizens accepted it is a good bridge together with a new adjacent park and renovated riverbank when it became a most popular wedding site and a recreation place. It happened quickly, only a year of a new beautiful and friendly public place functioning was enough to establish a new, very European Kharkiv city tradition.

People tend to agree on evaluation of broken bridges as visible problems and popular recreation zones as successes; however, the process of building bridges or building peace or reforming society takes time. There are no common criteria of evaluation of transformations.

It pays to invest into public spaces. During the Soviet times, we used to say that it takes centuries to trim the lawns to make them suitable for public recreation and safe for kids to play. Well, here it took just a year. Places and technologies connecting people, facilitating and encouraging the communication are the best security strategies and peacebuilding tools.

How to build sustainable peace in Ukraine?

  1. Set and affirm the mental border with Russia as a state and Russian World as an ideology
  2. Establish and foster personal friendly contacts with people across the Ukrainian border with Russia.
  3. Foster and promote true multiculturalism and security aware tolerance. Promote open peaceful Islam like we do have and cherish in Ukraine.
  4. Educate as many active adults as possible on conflict studies, dialogue practices, social psychology, and behavioural economic, human security. Those people will build the bridges to minds of the others.

Those people will be able to negotiate peace with neighbours. In occupied territories, in Russia. Using the values and interests, not the conflicts and differences, as negotiation starting points. Like in the history pictured in the “Bridge of spies” movie. “We have to have the conversations our governments can’t”.

That is what the Ukrainian Peacebuilding School is doing and that is what gives us hope and confidence that someday we will break that Wall.

Nataliya Zubar, Maidan Monitoring Information Center, Chair

Donbas 2015 Mission – Monitoring of a number of cities in Eastern Ukraine

Monitoring was performed based on Cooperation Agreement https://www.nik.gov.pl/aktualnosci/historyczne-porozumienie.html , concluded among Najwyższa Izba Kontroli (NIK, Supreme Audit Office, Poland)  http://www.nik.gov.pl , Maidan Monitoring Information Center NGO (ММ) http://maidan.org.ua  and Stowarzyszenie 4 Czerwca (S4C) http://s4c.org.pl/

The monitoring mission was performed based on point 1.4 of the agreement approved at the meeting of the parties mentioned above in Warsaw on October 17, 2014.

Mission was co-financed by NIK and by Ukrainian Peacebuilding School project http://peace.in.ua, which is implemented with the support of the British Embassy in Ukraine and partly funded by MM.

Piotr Kulpa, expert from NIK, Nataliya Zubar, Oleksandr Shevchenko and Vitaliy Ovcharenko from MM, and Zbigniew Bujak from S4C participated in the Mission.

Cities and villages monitored:

Dnipropetrovsk region: Dnipropetrovsk

Donetsk region: Krasnoarmiisk, Oleksandrovo-Kalynove, Kostiantynivka, Druzhkivka, OleksievoDruzhkivka, Kramatorsk, Sloviansk, Sviatohirsk, Krasnyi Lyman, Kryva Luka, Prelesne.

Kharkiv region: Barvinkove

Mission objective was to identify main problems and mechanisms of functioning of authorities (both the central and lower level ones), civic groups, independent media, state controlling services, controlling services of the local authorities.

The mission lasted for 7 days (July 1 – 7, 2015). The mission members had a number of meeting with representatives of local authorities of Krasnoarmiisk, (mission members have not been to Selydove, Dymytrov, Rodynske but had a series of meetings with their residents), Oleksandrovo-Kalynove, Kostiantynivka, Kramatorsk, Sloviansk, Kryva Luka, NGO activists from the above list of villages and towns, members of Antiterrorist Operation HQ, leadership of the State Regional Military Civilian Administration in Kramatorsk. Our assessment of the situation was also affected by conversations with other people who appeared to be interested in our mission and whom we had unscheduled meetings with.

The main issues identified are listed below. The order of their listing does not necessarily reflect their importance for a particular region.

1.     Property right (particularly in relation to agricultural lands)

A special need for agricultural land protection arises as a result of a well-known and widespread practice of exploiting these lands by planting cultures, such as sunflower and rapeseed, which, from the perspective of sound agricultural technology, lead to farming out of lands. Such practice allows tenant farmers make more profit but at the same time it destroys soils. Land lease system does not encourage tenant farmers to preserve the quality of soil.

Another factor is a fundamental belief that Ukrainian black soils are extremely valuable. Therefore, privatization mechanism for such lands as well as rules regulating land ownership and market require a cautious approach. Such caution is also coming from the fact that the amount of the existing world capital allows to monopolize ownership of agricultural lands at any scale.

It should be added that Russian capital may be used as an additional instrument in the hybrid war against Ukraine, as land buy-out may be used with a purpose of reducing agricultural potential of Ukraine.

A preliminary general review of the land ownership issue shows that this is a broad, complex and challenging problem from a legal perspective.

There is a need to study and address ownership issues related to the lands controlled by the following entities:

  1. enterprises (public, private, limited liability companies, joint stock companies, cooperatives, etc.);
  2. special state services (Ukrainian Armed Forces, Ministry of Interior, Security Service of Ukraine, State Border Service, Customs Service and their particular units, etc.);
  3. government bodies (ministries, local councils and their separate subdivisions, etc.);
  4. Ukrainian railway (state and private);
  5. motorways (national, regional, municipal, driveways);
  6. municipalities (local territorial communities or their communal property);
  7. ‘civic’ organizations inherited from Soviet times (trade unions, ‘pioneer’ organizations, veterans’ associations, etc.);
  8. large farming enterprises (agricultural lands);
  9. small family farms (agricultural lands);
  10. condominiums, public self-organization bodies and housing cooperatives;
  11. churches;
  12. educational Institutions; and
  13. academic institutions

The lack of a legislative regulation of the land ownership issue will be one of the biggest obstacles to the development of Ukraine’s economy at the national level, and at the level of individual regions, cities and agricultural areas. At the same time, lack of regulation and standardization of this issue leads to corruption, which constrains or even prevents the development of fair business. Unregulated right of land ownership continues to fuel organized crime. Profits from speculations in this area could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Appropriate models for resolving this issue could be found in Europe. We should rely on the lessons learned from the country that went through the most turbulent and diverse experience and which had, nevertheless, managed to resolve the issue of land ownership both smoothly and effectively. The most useful is the German experience, especially in the context of integration of German lands over the 19th century. This includes regulation of property rights in the aftermath of wars (with France and Denmark) in the 19th century, resolving the issue of land ownership in cities (and not only), destroyed during World War II (in view of their reconstruction), as well as resolving the issue of ownership (including agricultural lands) in the former East Germany after the country’s reunification.

German history provides examples that could be used as a model for resolving problems resulting from the complicated history of Ukraine. Centuries-old tradition of Magdeburg Law in some parts of Ukraine is very important.

While dealing with issues of land ownership (particularly, agricultural lands) serious attention should be paid to the fact that this process will involve a very strong emotional background and draw a considerable amount of public attention, and in some cases, even lead to civic resistance. Therefore, any reforms in this area should be implemented based on the widest possible social dialogue.

In our opinion, resolving this issue requires:

  1. carry out professional and complete audit of this issue in all parts of Ukraine. The audit should be performed by a newly reformed Accounting Chamber of Ukraine (equivalent of Polish NIK), with the engagement of experts (auditors) from other countries (Germany, Poland, and the UK);
  2. compile legal report/s, indicating legal methods for addressing issues as identified in the report;
  3. conduct public debates to discuss all issues that have been identified and best practices of dealing with all stakeholders (farmers, entrepreneurs, municipalities, etc). The debates should be aimed at concluding Social Contract, which has the same significance as the Constitution. Ultimate result should be a law (laws) and additional related regulations (laws or rules) regulating additional (related) issues (such as land cadaster /registry) and their transparency.

Local governments are interested in regulating municipal property rights as it is their main capital and the most efficient instrument of local budget funding. Municipal property will allow ensuring investment attractiveness. At the same time, municipalities face an important task of delimitating their borders in agreement with neighboring municipalities, as in many areas, towns and villages municipal borders have not been clearly defined. Wherever there is a conflict of interest a dispute settlement mechanism needs to be established. Such mechanism or institution can also be adapted for regulating other local disputes and conflicts. The need to establish a dispute settlement mechanism at the lowest level of public administration may serve as a starting point in establishing a judicial authority on the model of British magistrates, who are elected by people.

2.    The need to establish a system for assisting in reconstruction of structures ruined by war

The war destroyed numerous public, municipal, private and corporate buildings, hospitals, schools, community centers, cultural sites and restaurants. Roads, bridges, private houses, office buildings and buildings that belong to authorities of all levels, water and natural gas supply pipelines, power and telecommunication networks were also destroyed.

Concerns and questions are rising among citizens, civic activists and local officials as to who, how and where makes decisions on assistance in reconstruction of devastated areas.

At the initial stage, it is required to take prompt decisions to protect damaged facilities from further destruction (repair roofs, windows, doors).

At the second stage, the issue of infrastructure reconstruction (roads, bridges, water supply, and natural gas and electricity supplies) needs to be resolved.

At the third stage, investment in municipal and public facilities (schools, community centers, cultural centers, libraries) is urgently needed. One should take into account that restored cultural center or library may be used as a venue for public meetings, discussions and debates on the strategy for further reconstruction of the city or the whole region. Consequently, this will also contribute to introducing new culture and methods of governance. Before introducing such practices, one should redesign the facility specifically for this purpose.

In parallel with the above, a system needs to be developed to support citizens, who incurred losses, with a specific program to support businesses (small, medium and family businesses). Direct support of citizens and their business projects should be reviewed on a competitive basis as the primary support strategy for Ukraine. At this level, we observed a high level of integrity, i.e. doing business on the basis of mutual trust (this means low costs of transactions). It is small and medium businesses that continue to support the fighting army, help refugees and organize civil defense.

The establishment of an efficient mechanism for resolving these issues will be an evidence of the efficiency of the state and local authorities. This will be a factor of local communities’ integration and will help strengthen the Ukrainian identity as a creative force and a counterbalance to the phenomenon of ‘separatism’, as well as Moscow’s agents and propaganda.

The inability of the state and local authorities to resolve these issues will help preserve the phenomenon of ‘separatism’ and even lead to the development of terrorism. In order to assess the efficiency of public administration at all levels appropriate performance evaluation criteria have to be developed, i.e. Good Practices Code. The Good Practices Code should promote such a mode of decision making by the state authorities that transforms the ways the authorities cooperate with the civil society and encourages citizens to cooperate and share responsibility for the decisions adopted at the local level.

The reconstruction must go on with due regard to the Cossack traditions. Civil society organizations may become allies in this process. Their contribution is important, particularly, in creating a shared space, whenever it’s possible and whenever there is a need for it, according to the latest European (but not Soviet) models and experience. In this respect, we may take advantage of the destructions caused by war as an opportunity for rebuilding cities, towns, and villages in compliance with the best modern urban design practices and achievements in construction and architecture (high energy saving standards, modern energy supply technologies, modern waste management  and recycling systems, etc.).

Lessons learned, while doing that, should be applied during the next phase of reconstructing postindustrial abandoned areas (often right in the city center) and industrial waste sites, polygons and slagheaps (such activities will require an environmental evaluation, hopefully, an international one).

Slagheaps, dumpsites and polygons may be valuable resource, as they, usually, contain minerals and a great deal of various useful materials making these places economically efficient in terms of their recycling potential.

Mechanisms of post-war reconstruction proved to be effective in Berlin. An important part in this experience was a skillful engagement of citizens in decision-making process, strategic planning and establishing of funding mechanisms and institutions.

A network of Civil Accounting Chambers, modeled on Polish Regional Accounting Chambers (RIO), will have to take control of infrastructural reconstruction.

3.     Internally displaced persons (IDPs). Assessing needs and defining models of dealing with IDPs

Cities, towns and villages located close to the area of Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) are full of people who fled abandoning their houses and apartments in fear for their own lives and lives of their loved ones. In some cities, the number of IDPs has reached thousands, and even tens of thousands people.

While on mission, we met people who cope with the new situation on their own. They have found places where to live, work and set up business after they have fled their homes and are not planning to go back any more (1st group).

A lot of people also cope with the new situation independently, find jobs, adapt to new communities, but they are ready to go back home as soon as the circumstances allow them to do so (2nd group).

Another large group of people live on humanitarian assistance (3rd group). Often they live with the knowledge that their houses or apartments have been destroyed, household equipment, furniture and other personal belongings have been lost. At their new places they don’t even try to find a job. Their current life model is based on paternalistic policy of the former leadership and employers in Donbas. Their new situation requires proactiveness, which is alien to them both culturally and emotionally.

  • The first of the above groups is very important as such people clearly demonstrate that in a new situation it is quite possible to live a normal life, work and ensure sustainable future for themselves and their families. It is worthwhile, therefore, to develop a support program for this IDP group modeled on ‘New Way’. It may be based on classical models focused on small and medium businesses. Their success will serve as a positive example for others. In the future, such people may be helpful in ‘backfilling of trenches’ now separating the conflict zones from the rest of Ukraine.
  • The second group is particularly important as it may serve as a bridge between the communities of the free part of Ukraine and those living on the occupied territories. This connection is very important for dealing with the consequences of Russian propaganda, which residents of the occupied territories are susceptible to. Members of the second group should be prepared to occupy administrative positions in liberated areas and cities in the future.

Polish members of the mission were surprised to find such a strong sense of connectedness and loyalty to the place of residence. For this very reason, the vast majority of IDPs want to stay as close as possible to their houses/apartments. Many of them seldom or never left their region or city. This may serve as a partial explanation of the efficiency of the information warfare.

This is also a valuable guideline for the future. Any kind of investments into educating these people, their meeting and experience sharing with other Ukrainian citizens, community leaders, entrepreneurs and economists from other regions of Ukraine, will help integrate Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts with the rest of Ukraine.  Tours involving teenagers are especially promising.

This idea has been confirmed by numerous accounts of IDPs’ changing their attitudes towards other Ukrainians, e.g. Western Ukrainians, whom they may have initially perceived as ‘fascists’, ‘bloody Banderites’ and criminals. Success stories of civil society organizations from Kharkiv or Dnipropetrovsk should be used for developing exchange programs, cross-contacts, educational programs; fine arts master classes, etc. Multiple training courses organized by the Maidan Monitoring Information Center prove that such activities are both necessary and effective. In addition to effectiveness of the above activities, lectures and workshops, participants (particularly from Luhansk and Donetsk regions) indicated that the most valuable thing for them was to meet and speak to activists from other regions of Ukraine.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) provide assistance to IDPs. Their deep knowledge of IDPs’ problems and the transparent funding system are their advantages. The system of public control over CSOs’ activities, accounting and reporting system for the funds raised and material assistance also work very well. Therefore, they should be immediate recipients of any humanitarian aid and other international assistance.

Ukrainian and foreign organizations specialized in training of leaders, business schools and local authorities of Central and Western Ukraine should be engaged as partners with the projects supporting the IDPs. European municipalities could also play a major role. The S4C’s previous experience has demonstrated that study tours and observation visits aimed at monitoring local authorities represent a very effective method of encouragement and training in the area of urban administration methods, management of local self-governments and state services (police, control authorities).

4. Monitoring of the army funding

Armed defense of the Ukrainian territory from external aggression has lasted for over a year. From the very beginning, participants and organizers of this defense were military volunteer units and CSOs, which provided these military units with food, medicines, hygiene means, clothing, etc. This system also operates today. Same as before, it still represents an important element of defending Ukraine. Units of Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ministry of Interior, still face problems with logistics and supplies. Both civic activists, supporting the military, who are fighting on the front, and common citizens show signs of disappointment in view of the insufficient supplies for the soldiers on the part of the state.  This disappointment is reinforced by the belief that problems with supplies may have resulted from the flawed manner in which the army was governed by Yanukovych’s government, and which has continued up until now.

Criticism of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff is widespread. It is accompanied by the belief that this war may end quickly and the occupied territories may be liberated if only the military leadership is improved. The nurturing of such ideas and their persistence represents a threat to the Ukrainian statehood. It is one of the elements that contribute to the domestic instability, which is in fact one of the main goals of the political and military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. The persistence and the nurturing of such ideas will also lead to demoralization and poor discipline in the ranks of the Armed Forces and the Interior, for when trust to the military commanders goes down the combat effectiveness of the fighting units also declines. Such situation may encourage the Russian Federation to launch renewed assault against Ukraine.

It is an absolute duty and task of the Armed Forces and Interior commanders, as well the civil society organizations supporting the Army – to build trust in the General Staff and the entire military governance and command system. The first and most important step in achieving this goal will have to be the introduction of public monitoring system of the Army funding.

The civil society organizations proving supplies to the combat units by now have a very clear understanding of what is needed at the front and in the rear. They also have a clear understanding regarding the costs of the necessary equipment and the efficient mechanisms for conducting tenders and negotiations regarding prices for supplies. These knowledge and skills in combinations with the knowledge of the needs at the front on the part of the military commanders allows building an efficient mechanism for monitoring the Army funding and ensuring efficient procurement of goods and equipment.

The Polish Supreme Audit Office (NIK) possesses a very good professional expertise in the area of control over the Ministry of Defense funds and management system. This institution, therefore, represents an ideal potential partner in developing a monitoring system and in training professionals who will be performing this duty. The current cooperation agreement between NIK and the Maidan Monitoring Information Center allows launching an appropriate project without unnecessary delays.

The Polish members of the mission have noted a high level of trust that Maidan Monitoring Information Center enjoys among the servicemen and commanders at the front. Therefore, the promotion of the military magazine ‘MYROTVORETS (Peacemaker)’ represents an instrument of informing public opinion, which earned a wide acceptance among the servicemen.

The potential as described above is deemed to be sufficient for building a system of monitoring the army funds and strengthening trust in the state system of governing defense and the armed forces.

Surely, the Russian agents will use all their influence and means in order to prevent the creation of an efficient system for monitoring the Ukrainian Armed Forces funding and supplies.

5.     Building internal security system

One of the objectives of the hybrid war is destroying Ukrainian internal security system. In order to achieve this, Russian agents have been infiltrated and managed to paralyze operations of the state security agencies. In all Eastern regions of Ukraine we have observed an extremely negative attitude to the local police. Although numerous (police forces in Ukraine number over 300 thousand in total), it responded extremely passively to separatists’ actions.  People very often complain of collaboration between the local police and separatists and Russian mercenaries.

In case of the Russian Federation’s assault on any part of Ukraine, there is a real threat that the ‘old police’ may become an instrument in the invaders’ hands. In addition, there are reasonable suspicions of possible collaboration with the invaders on the part of prosecution authorities, courts, old members of public administration and local council deputies, employees of agencies operating strategic facilities (TV/radio, railways, power supply facilities, water supply pipelines, sewage system, etc.).

Internal security system needs to be fundamentally reformed.  Police has to be responsible for detecting crimes and preventing offenses.

In order to build an appropriate internal security system, Ukrainian police and local self-governance system need to be reformed, in the first place. Wartime should be used to implement such reforms.

We consider the government’s actions aimed at police reform, which we are now observing, as a step in the right direction. The ‘new police’ battalions, such as Kharkiv-1, are formed of volunteers with high moral standards. Officers and servicemen of this battalion have good knowledge and proper approaches to the role of police in a democratic state (police seeking to protect citizens, and not only the government officials and their staff). In the new police force many officers have the necessary professional skills and education, including higher education in various areas. This is a very important factor of citizens’ contribution to raising new police effectiveness in the context of police reform. This will help strengthen trust between citizens and the reformed police force.

An important element in the reformed police structure will be its civilian administration. This role could be performed by the trained activists and volunteers.

Members of the new police force and CSOs supporting them need educational programs and contacts in the European Union member states. Today both parties need such contacts. Police in European countries has relevant knowledge, skills and equipment consistent with the tasks assigned by civilian authorities (including fight against terrorism). Their command system, logistics and international cooperation principles are important. On the other hand, the new police force already has accumulated its own experience of operating in the conditions of the hybrid war. The separatists and mercenaries use terror (planting explosive devices) throughout Ukraine. The hybrid war has demonstrated that the internal security policy needs rethinking of its principles and instruments. It is necessary to identify responsibilities of the police force, army, National Guard, special units and civilian authorities at all levels, as well as civil society organizations in the context of the hybrid war.

The cities of Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk can serve as the examples of a very efficient defense against separatists’ actions. All other territories adjacent to the occupied territories have also managed to defend themselves. These positive examples need to be analyzed deeply at an international level.

In Ukraine we are witnessing very challenging efforts to build up a system of territorial defense. It is important to realize that the territorial defense system based on citizens’ participation could be an efficient instrument of regulating public access to firearms, firearms registration, as well as constraining the huge ‘grey zone’ that currently exists.

A big problem is the current police administration, which as a result of reform is being reduced drastically (from 300 thousand to few dozen thousand).

6.     Local self-government reform and control over the local authorities

Ukraine does not have a municipal self-government in the sense of self-governing community (as a unity of citizens), where the municipality operates as a manager of common property (land, movable and immovable property), a regulator of local taxes, possessing the status of a legal entity. Upon this ambiguity of status and permitting and controlling functions a Soviet network of rayons (districts) is superimposed.

The conservation of this situation will block other reforms. Without the reform of the local self-government neither a system of domestic security could be created, nor the governing of the education, culture and health could be reformed, nor a civilized real estate and land market introduced (including the agricultural one).

Bodies of community self-government (the term ‘community’ is applied here as a generic name covering cities, towns and villages) should have the status of legal entities, possess legal independence, be the owners of their territory, establish local taxes and levies, and manage the immovable property that belongs to the community. Only then will the community be able to effectively resolve local issues and participate in joint national projects and programs along with a number of other communities. The local self-governance represents a realization of the EU constitutional principle of subsidiarity. This principle stipulates that each state function that could be performed at a lower level of governance should be delegated to that level. The local self-government is the best example of such decentralization.

Local self-government legislation should take account of a great diversity that is part of traditions of specific regions of Ukraine. These traditions include the experience of cities governed on the basis of Magdeburg Law (mainly right-bank Ukraine) and cities with the tradition originating in Cossack fortresses and settlements.

These diverse traditions are based on values that have to be preserved. Such diversity calls for diverse approaches and mechanisms of resolving problems. These include issues of urban development, architecture, communication networks that exist in cities founded on the basis of Magdeburg Law and Cossack traditions. Municipalities that border on Russia will have to carry out specific tasks related to needs of state security system. Such differences need to be analyzed and accounted for. Conclusions arrived at on the basis of this analysis should give an impetus in the formation of identity of the community members.

The ongoing war with Russia is contributing to shaping such identity. This is obvious from the widespread citizens’ engagement in the provision of assistance to the IDPs, the Army and the construction of the defenses, etc.

A situation that requires ensuring the unity of state, providing for defense needs, coordinating investment in infrastructure calls for regional (oblast) bodies of state power. Their establishment and powers that should be given to them is a matter of specific public discussion.

Cities, towns and villages (villages often comprise territorial units with populations of a few thousand people) are sites of individual economic activity of citizens. Small enterprises should become seeds for broader and more robust manufacturing and trading entrepreneurship. Support in this sphere should be channeled to rayons of Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Today it should also include an effort to assist the IDPs in setting up and managing small and medium enterprises, family businesses, etc. Aside from training, there is a need for micro-crediting facilities, which would help sustain this entrepreneurial movement, including start-ups.

Immediately after the end of the war, reconstruction programs must be initiated that will help engage small and medium businesses into the renewal of the local infrastructure.

At the local self-government level (cities, towns and villages) we face multiple unresolved problems. These include issues related to land ownership and land use, urban development and architectural management, waste management, protection of historical monuments and cultural heritage, protection of wildlife areas, tree surgery in parks and along transportation networks, protection of rural areas and villages as an intrinsic value, etc.

Resolving these issues requires funding. Managing city budget will require new transparent procurement procedures, contracts and orders. Such procedures can become an effective tool in fighting corruption, but at the same time, the absence of effective control paves the way for further abuses of power. Therefore, a system of control at the lowest municipal level is needed.

Local self-government is inseparably linked to establishing its own system of internal control (audit). Controlling institution should be established as an organization independent of other systems, for instance, the Accounting Chamber, which is a state agency. Existing NGOs, supporting the army and helping IDPs, have already demonstrated that they are able to represent interests and report to donors and citizens in an efficient and credible manner.

Control of local authorities requires a much higher qualification. Each of the issues as listed above is unique and could not be resolved through the same decision-making procedure or the same negotiation method. However, it is important that today citizens and civic organizations are capable of transparent activities and self-control. They are the ones who could and should create Public Accounting Chambers.

In the EU, as well as in Canada, the United States and other countries of the Euro-Atlantic region one can receive training and learn how and to create and use ‘Code of Good Practice of Local Government Activities’. Such Code, adapted in line with the needs and specific issues faced by municipalities in today’s Ukraine, will be a powerful tool of reforms and fighting corruption.

7.     Problems of villages and small towns. The role of ‘metropolis’

As demonstrated by our monitoring mission, quality of life in a small town or village is extremely low. Infrastructure or community centers, libraries and museums are available. However, their activities do not go beyond a narrow circle of local activists. Local artists (painters, sculptures, music and dance companies) need broader contacts and opportunities to engage wider audiences.

If this situation remains unchanged, an outgoing migration of residents to larger cities will continue. Depopulation of rural areas and small towns may have catastrophic consequences for the state security in many areas (border control and security, food security, the deployment of human resources and troops in case of war, natural disasters, etc.).

Depopulation process could be stopped if large cities will be able to perform metropolitan functions.

Today, economic, scientific and cultural development is mostly taking place in well-functioning megacities. Well-functioning means that metropolitan government creates conditions for all kinds of intellectual activity and, at the same time, is able to build communication with villages and towns located within the megacity’s influence zone. Elite of a city, seeking to become a megacity, should be able to embrace the role of serving all the adjacent areas, including towns, villages and all their inhabitants. The serving refers to a series of activities that enable people from adjacent territories to present their achievements and compete with others (exhibitions, competitions, festivals, workshops, etc.).  It is the megacity’s task to promote achievements at the country level, in its capital and abroad.

Modern communication methods provide unlimited opportunities to perform metropolitan functions. One of those is the ability to extend and delegate responsibilities (local governments, functions, jobs) to the territories and local communities of the whole region. Such approach brings excellent results. Operational expenses are considerably lower beyond the big city limits. In such case, employees and officials will work with greater dedication, honesty and quality. Bureaucratic collusion and abuse of power face greater constraints. This way, the megacity becomes a real capital of an entire region (oblast), uniting citizens around common achievements in various areas.

Local self-government reform inevitably implies the need for an active metropolitan policy. Problems faced by regions that became arena of ‘separatist’ activity, which we have identified and analyzed, could be accounted for by a lack of proper metropolitan development policy.

Resolving the issues of Luhansk and Donetsk regions (including their post-war reconstruction) requires establishing proper metropolises and providing them with resources and tools to implement active metropolitan policy.

8.     The need for and the role of Territory Development Strategic Plans 

A general overview of the situation of local communities in Eastern Ukraine has demonstrated that along with the local self-government reform they face new challenges and inherit unresolved issues, which often represent a threat or even are catastrophic for the community life. One of the instruments that help transform such issues is to develop Territory Development Strategic Plans (TDSPs).

Such TDSPs, if even they ever existed in the cities of Eastern Ukraine, have been developed without real consultations with citizens.

Urban space management or maintenance and responsibility for architectural structures and engineering networks, for proper allocation and ensuring accessibility of public institutions and areas (schools, kindergartens, municipal administrations, hospitals), office buildings, hotels, recreation and industrial areas, as well as the preservation and upgrading of the existing buildings and development of new spaces for housing should be subject of public debate open to all members of local communities. Such public debates should result in reaching an agreement in the form of such TDSP.

This is a very complicated process that requires engaging experts in different areas. At the same time, the TDSP is an essential element of any future projects, a foundation for decision making by investors, both local and international.

Working on TDSPs should give an impetus to collaboration with universities, organizations of architects and urban planners, institutions and organizations engaged in designing engineering networks and planning traffic safety, as well as dealing with environmental, cultural, educational and energy supply issues, etc.

Such TDSPs should be developed prior to all other activities, such as regulation of property rights.

The EU assistance in needed to resolve this issue. Cities participating in the European ‘sister cities’ movement should be partners of this project. This European practice of TDSPs is well-developed and could be applied in Ukraine as useful experience.

It is important not to repeat mistakes of previous years and not to develop such TDSPs without engaging all interested residents.

9.     Energy security at the territorial community level

The economy of cities and town of Eastern Ukraine is highly dependent on monopolized power supply system. In relatively large cities of Donetsk region there is often a single central boiler along with an outdated and very expensive heating pipelines. Sometimes in winter, whole cities may remain without heating (bad accident occurred in winter 2006 in Alchevsk. Krasnoarmeisk in winter 2015 had no heating and water supply for several weeks).

Leaving this situation unchanged will surely cause a lot of problems in the nearest future. In the absence of a free market and competition, price manipulations and keeping them artificially high will continue, and the threat of technogenic accidents will persist.

Monopolists (oriented towards import from Russia) could effectively fight any attempts of demonopolization and attracting investments into Ukrainian own oil and gas fields, as well as into other energy production and energy saving systems. Monopoly control over the energy supply and energy commodities markets is a major factor supporting the oligarchic system.

Introducing market prices for natural gas is an important step towards demonopolization and healing of the energy market. Policy to support both technologies and energy producers at the local level is needed. Such policy should include preferences for the local companies, which produce locally natural gas, oil, coal and ‘green energy’. Such policy should be based on a developed structure of technical education institutions and activities of inventors.

Activities of engineers and technicians is one of the most interesting phenomena in Eastern Ukraine. This is an outcome of a large number of technical institutions and developed high-tech industries (aircraft and rocket engineering, space industry, arms manufacturing, chemical industry, Institute for Low Temperatures, etc.). Many people after losing jobs in these industries set up their own workshops, laboratories and small enterprises.

Eastern Ukraine was and should remain a center of innovation. Today, it means that it is necessary to support ‘new technologies’ by introducing a system of loans and allocating funds for scientific research.

10.  Local media. Condition and tasks

Issues that have been brought to our attention in different localities cannot be addressed effectively without social dialogue and citizens’ participation.

Such dialogue would of course require the availability of independent media that represent public opinion. One cannot imagine Europe without independent local press, radio and television. For instance, in Poland, the local self-government reform was accompanied not only by the rise of the local media, but also of organizations and foundations that supported their development and functioning and ensured their independence. The period of systemic reforms involves so many areas that without being professionally described and analyzed, and ensuring an oversight over the local authorities, it would be difficult to avoid errors and fraud. Currently, advanced media and Internet are also available. Nevertheless, traditional media should not be neglected either. Their effectiveness is clearly and dramatically demonstrated by the influence they exert on the population of the occupied territories.

A key issue is the financial independence of media. To ensure it, international institutions need to be engaged in order to put in place a program that could ensure financial independence of local media.

We believe that there is no chance for reforms in Ukraine to be successful without building independent media – free of control on the part of the state apparatus and oligarchic businesses!

11.  Judiciary reform

The need for an independent judicial system is as obvious and necessary as it is hard to accomplish.

Representatives of local authorities in various cities described the problems encountered while performing their duties as: ‘We cannot do this because we could be sued for it.’

Problems arise due to the manner, in which one exercises one’s right. The existing system of law is designed to make each decision of the authorities such that could be construed as illegal. As a consequence of this any official may be punished.

Officials of all levels do not comprehend the law as a system. They see law as a set of provisions compiled in regulations, and not as a ‘spirit of law.’ The system of law is ‘wise’ because it knows what to do when a legal provision is inadequate to the situation (sometimes even stupid), when there is a contradiction between different provisions, when a situation has no legal definition, but the issue still has to be resolved. But such understanding of the ‘system of law’ seems to be completely unknown to the officials we met, incomprehensible and even alien to them.

Law, as a system, can operate only if adequately interpreted by lawyers, and, eventually, by judges. If we want government at all levels to make decisions and resolve problems without fear of being accused of ‘illegal actions’, the European culture of administration of law should be put in place. The current Ukrainian practice is nothing but the continuation of the Russian legal tradition, which resulted from a distorted version of German legal positivism.

Judicial reform issues are beyond the scope of our monitoring. Nevertheless, we insist on the need to find solutions enabling the local authorities to act despite the controversies in laws and their interpretation.

From this perspective, elective judiciary principle at the local level is very interesting. Such institution existed in the history of European nations. In Great Britain it is magistrates’ courts (or judges of peace).

Such institutions existed in Cossack traditions as well as in the history of Russian Empire, and a very serious approach to the restoration and adaptation of such traditions is needed.

We must seriously consider restoring the institution of elected magistrates in Ukraine at the territorial community level, as a judicial agency, which depends on territorial community.

Authors of the report:

  • Zbigniew Bujak
  • Nataliya Zubar
  • Oleksandr Shevchenko
  • Vitaliy Ovcharenko
  • Serhiy Petrov
  • Switlana Lewishko
  • Dominik Rygorovich
  • Victor Garbar

See the Ukrainian version of this report.

 

Mission participans in Oleksandro-Kalynove village in Djnetsk oblast, 30 km from the frontline
Mission participans in Oleksandro-Kalynove village in Donetsk oblast, 30 km from the frontline

Ukrainian Peacebuilding School. About the Project

Ukrainian borderlands conflicts resolution and prevention strategies developed and sampled by joint task-forces of local activists and local authorities.

Ukrainian Peacebuilding School’s mission: prevention and transformation of violent conflicts in Ukraine.

The project objective: develop strategic frameworks for implementation and policies at national, international and local levels.

The project is operating from September 3, 2014.

Peacebuilding education goal: conflict management by means of supporting the formation and development of local communities, which includes a number of interrelated tasks:

  1. selecting and training community activists;
  2. developing programs and training materials, presenting and promoting success stories. Developing peacebuilding education standards for CSOs and journalists, and acquiring necessary skills;
  3. monitoring and supporting local initiatives advanced by the participants of the education process;
  4. establishing peacebuilders network for cross-sectoral, cross-regional and international cooperation.

Civic peacebuilding: a set of actions aimed at the prevention and transformation of violent conflicts by CSOs.

Who are we and who are the coalition members: think tanks, organizations that professionally study conflicts, participate in their resolution and provide education, human rights organizations, big network organizations with affiliated offices across Ukraine and abroad, activists and civil society organizations in regions, state institutions involved in policy making in the areas of security, education and science, national memory and control of public finances. The coalition members include organizations from Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Complete list of the coalition members

Why you should be with us and not with others: inclusive project, which ensures interaction between state institutions and civil society organizations, and builds up expert community both at the national and international levels.

Our work is based on field experience.

Main types of conflicts that we study:
1. identity conflicts;
2. ethnic or religious conflicts;
3. conflicts of historical narratives; and
4. conflicting visions of common future

The project operates on the free territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Kherson region (new borderlands with Crimea), Odesa region (Southern Bessarabia, the border with Transnistria), and Azov coastal area. We also study conflicts in Zakarpattya and Bukovyna. The project work in Volyn has been completed.

Nice leaflets on our project are available in Ukrainian and English.

Based on networked efforts of these activists, experts and journalists we plan to develop detailed set of strategic frameworks to deal with the issues, experienced by Ukrainian society, which are the key to building sustainable peace in Ukraine:

  1. A strategic framework for the integration of internally displaced persons, victims of war and military into local communities
  2. A strategic framework for the development of wide area public communications to resist an “infowar” and the atomization of society
  3. A strategic framework for the development of peacebuilding education
  4. A strategic framework for dealing with traumatic and divided past
  5. A strategic framework for building a common vision of community specific models of local governance
  6. A strategic framework for enhancing the social capital and inclusiveness of female peacebuilders and peacebuilders representing ethnic minorities

See also  Ukrainian Peacebuilding School. Major Problems Detected and Solutions Proposed

Ukrainian peacebuilding school. Developing and implementing strategic frameworks for conflict resolution and prevention.

Current Stage 3 of our project will continue activities and implement strategies developed during previous stages (September 2014 – May 2015) of peacebuilding activity in 5 regions of Ukraine. The project will focus on further development and implementation of long-term strategies and guidelines of conflict resolution we worked on since September 2015.

Since September 2014 until May 2015 we have implemented pilots of strategies of conflicts transformation into mediation process in 5 borderland oblasts of Ukraine by joint task forces of activists, journalists and local authorities who received trainings we designed and delivered. Analyzing outputs of these pilots, we were able to communicate the results to government authorities and co-author two laws and one president’s decree.

Based on networked efforts of these activists, experts and journalists we plan to develop detailed set of strategic frameworks to deal with the issues, experienced by Ukrainian society, which are the key to building sustainable peace in Ukraine:
1. A strategic framework for the integration of internally displaced persons, victims of war and military into local communities
2. A strategic framework for the development of wide area public communications to resist an “infowar” and the atomization of society
3. A strategic framework for the development of peacebuilding education
4. A strategic framework for dealing with traumatic and divided past
5. A strategic framework for building a common vision of community specific models of local governance
6. A strategic framework for enhancing the social capital and inclusiveness of female peacebuilders and peacebuilders representing ethnic minorities

We plan to launch wide area inclusive public discussion of these strategic frameworks by organizing array of public events (forums, conferences, teleconferences) thus creating the snowball effect of public participation in the discussion.

We will continue to transform local conflicts in 4 key borderland Ukrainian regions into the mediation process by joint task forces of trained activists, experts and journalists, established as a result of 2 former stages. We plan to increase involvement or religious leaders in these task forces (all religious denominations).

Activities will target both hot and lingering conflicts and develop strategies of local conflict transformation and prevention, engaging new institutions, activist and experts, improving the results of former stages of the project..

Project will be implemented in following problematic borderland regions of Ukraine:
1. Luhansk oblast with focus on borderlands with Russian Federation and war frontier, IDPs
2. Donetsk oblast with focus on war frontier related issues, IDPs
3. Kherson – border with Crimea and territories where IPDs from Crimea are hosted, waterline borders.
4. South Besarabia in Odesa oblast, where ethnic tensions are high, and attempts to create Bessarabian People’s Republic are intense

We will also work with focus on sub-region “Azov sea coast” (within oblasts 2 and 3 and coastal line of Zaporizhzhya oblast) addressing issues of ethnic tensions and war proximity.

We plan to train 105 new peacebuilders who will share the knowledge and skills with others and to obtain the success stories of local conflicts transformations to be shared with local and central government bodies, media and EU decision makers. We will train 110 local journalists to cover peacebuilding activities. We plan to organize at least 120 public events to promote civic peacebuilding and strengthen the local communities.

When Emotions Run Too High. The Role of the Media in the Polarization of Conflicts

Discussion panel hosted by Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict during Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn, June 2015

Andre Kamenshikov, Non Violence Peace Force, Moscow-Washington and Nataliya Zubar, Maidan Monitoring Information Center, Kharkiv, Ukraine

Andre Kamenshikov:

Okay, thank you very much and I’ll speak a little bit about how I see the role and effects of media in conflicts that developed around the what is referred to as the old Soviet space, the various independent states, that emerged after the dismantling of the former USSR in 1991. I’ll speak about that because myself since 1992 I have been involved, as basically civil society peace activists do, working in different areas of conflict in that part of the world and there what’s involved in various projects. So one thing that I would like to first mention is that I think that we can categorize the different violent conflicts that took place in that part of the world as three, basically three types of conflicts.

First, it should be understood that the people that lived through those changes in the early 90s had lived through a very profound, not just profound change, but a change of very profound proportions in the sense that when new states emerge it wasn’t just about drawing new borders, it was basically a change of everything. It was a change in the way people went about their lives, how people made a living, and even the basic concepts of right and wrong were largely changed during those years. And obviously such a profound change could not come without some very serious tensions and problems. And in retrospect, I think we can say that actually it’s amazing how few serious violent conflicts emerged during those years. If we look at the experience of former Yugoslavia, the dimensions there were much smaller, the level of tension involved has been much greater. Nonetheless, most of the conflicts that took place especially over the first half of the 1990s  were a direct result of those changes. So I call them “ transformational” conflicts, conflicts that were directly related to the changes of the existing political and economic realities.

Another set of problems that emerge as the new rules and new realities start to take shape, certainly there were issues related to struggle over power and resources within these new realities. And for example, if, you know, it’s history now that in 1993 there was massive violence right in the center of Moscow. There was what some people still call a coup d’etat, some say was a civil conflict between groups, power groups led by the president and the parliament. The parliament was actually shelled by tanks in 1993, the Russian parliament in Moscow. So that was the second level of conflicts that came.

And then most recently, a new set of conflicts has emerged which were related to the development of new alternatives to the reality that has taken shape over the last two decades. And basically, there are two alternatives right now that are in play. One is referred to as an concept that is in line with some of the declared policies of the Russian government or the so-called “Russian world” concept that is supported by some people and opposed by others, but nonetheless, it’s something on the table today. And the other is related to radicalization that is taking place in areas that are predominantly Muslim areas in areas like the North Caucas and Central Asia where there are issues of radicalization and the so called “Imamate” in the column Caucasus, that was declared and so forth. These are out of the mainstream right now and obviously there’s no physical territory held by these radical groups, nonetheless they do still exist and they are part of the political, maybe not the political spectrum, but part of the events that are taking place in the region today.

Now, how would media react to the emerging conflicts? In most cases you could see three types of reaction:

One, and I totally agree with what was said previously, there’s no objective media. And very often it’s natural that the media starts to reflect the position of the very sides of the conflicts or the concerns, or the rumors, or the various stories that flowed around in these situations. And what was interesting is that in this post – Soviet environment, there were actually certain stories that had no background in terms of no facts, that I know of. But nonetheless the same story would continue to appear and reappear in almost every specific situation where you had a violent conflict. Like one, just to give you an example, there was a story about supposedly these sniper women, snipers from the Baltic states that supposedly fought in Georgia, possibly in Chechnya  and so on. There was not one single case, one single evidence of that. That was a story that had been floating around these various conflict areas, many years ago, again almost 20 years past, but again it reappeared in eastern Ukraine, the same narrative, the same story. So this is just an example of something that does not exist in reality, in facts, but nevertheless exists in the public’s perception.

Another story I can give is the story of “hidden casualties”, and what it is, is various ways that people in conflict and media in conflict unfortunately often speak about the fact that the “other side”, whichever it is, is trying to hide its huge casualties that it has suffered as a result of the war, and you get various versions of that. I mean some were quite elaborate like that the bodies of Russian servicemen killed in Chechnya were being thrown from helicopters into tanks of sulfur acid or something like that, something totally ridiculous, but nonetheless. Again the last example was about supposedly these bodies being hidden on the bottom of a lake, you know, and so forth. So you have these stories that reappear. And you have this case where media follows, the general perceptions follows the position of the sides.

There’s also sensational reporting that was already mentioned. Many times not so long ago, a few years ago, I heard this joke, a friend in the North Caucases and I, where I used to work for many years, when a local newspaper gets a call from some community and the people ask the editor, “send a crew, please do a report about our bridge.” And the reaction is, “was it blown up?” “No, it was built.” “Oh, that’s not interesting.” So that’s another fact.

Third, what should be said is of course there have been attempts of objective reporting, and if we speak about the early 90s, there was quite a bit of that because at that time the media in most of the countries of that old Soviet space was not actually under the kind of government control that it is now, or let’s say government influence that it is now. It is known that when people speak about what is today referred to as the first war in Chechyna, that’s ’94-’96, that it’s common to say today that the Russian government lost that war in the media, and what really was the background was that even the Russian media was not upholding the official position and the official stories of its government.  and it was caught in a situation in some way similar maybe, you know, to be in that war situation like in the United States during the war in Vietnam.

Also it should be recognized that most countries of those old Soviet states, especially in the ’90s still largely existed within this, let’s say, space of Russian media. People still see Russian TV channels, they are still seen all around those areas and the Russian position being official position or non-official position nonetheless is being heard and reflected. In the ’90s, that was actually very often a positive signal because in many cases the Russian media, though Russia was somewhat involved in every conflict situation, tried to play a more or less role of a third party in trying to cover a certain conflict from various sides. That was true to different levels in different places and of course by different media sources.

Today, however, that changed quite radically and especially in the case of the violent conflict that is currently taking place in Ukraine. This is a little map of the Ukraine and the areas that have been affected by the violence. A new thing for me with more than 20 years of experience in various areas of conflict  former  USSR was a new experience because for the first time the media was not just  reflecting the positions of a side, it wasn’t just involved in the conflict, possibly contributing to it, but it actually played a very proactive and provocative role in the development of the conflict as at the early stage, basically creating a very distorted view of reality or even a view of an alternative view of reality when people would get a totally different picture of what is actually going on. I mean in some cases it wasn’t just creating fake stories about reality, but generally speaking it was useing very many tools that allow to distort the basic perceptions of reality in a very, very deep way.

The other factor is that other media sources that maybe have not been so directly engaged but are also under this umbrella of certain government policy and maybe want to show their loyalty or maybe have  simply reflected the concepts that are being intentionally imposed on the population. They may, so to say, try to run in front of the engine. So like you  have stories in the regional media that are even more further away from reality than you get in the central media in a sense. And another factor that I should say in my view is also taking place is what I call contagious distortion. The provocative role of Russian media in conflict unfortunately creates a example to be reflected on the other side and one thing that you notice in conflicts is that the various tools that are used in information war and so forth, they tend to spread. So if one side starts using certain, just like in military terms when one side starts using a certain  type of weapon, usually the other side follows along. Similar things, unfortunately, do happen in the media war as well and that’s something that needs to be addressed.

Now just to give you some examples of how this affects the perceptions of events on the most basic level, today it’s possible to say that among probably the majority of the population of the Russian Federation, there’s simply a sense of denial of Russia actually being a party to the conflict. So in most other cases where you have a violent conflict  or open war you at least have a common understanding between the sides that there is a conflict taking place, that certain things are taking place. In this case you have a fairly unique situation where the majority of the population at least on one side simply does not recognize itself or its side as being a party to the conflict.

This to some extent is also reflected on the other side because there’s not, in my mind, not enough appreciation of  the internal dimensions of the conflict, that is taking place currently in the Ukraine on the Ukrainian side, they call it a hybrid war because it’s really this two-sided thing where it never would develop the way it developed without external involvement, but also external involvement would never take place in the way it’s taking place, had there not been certain internal issues at work, exploited to bring the situation we’re in today.

And so this creates in turn contradictory perceptions even among those groups that are actively participating in various anti-war movements. I’ll just give you one example: when there was one of the last large anti-war demonstrations in Moscow, one of the things that people chanted was, these are people that are protesting against the policies of the Russian government and against the policies of Putin and so forth, one of the things that they were chanting is “Russians and Ukrainians are brothers.” However, on the Ukrainian side a very common, actually it’s almost like a song now, a very common poem that was written maybe a year ago its words are, “we will never be brothers” you know, and there’s a feeling of profound difference after everything that has happened.

So this is something that affects the way, not only the way people perceive each other, but the way they perceive the very basic situation that actually exists today. Now just to finish with one example, how information gets distorted, I’ll just give you one example. Recently, about a week or ten days ago Vladimir Putin met with Pope Francis at the Vatican, so here you can read from the Vatican radio and news release that “Russia’s President Vladimir Putin met Pope Francis Wednesday evening in a private audience. This is their second meeting. During an exchange of gifts following the meeting, President Putin gave the Pope an embroidery of the famous Church of Jesus the Savior while the Pope donated a medallion by artist Guido Borelli showing the angel of peace calling for the construction of a world of solidarity and peace based on justice.” A simple formal piece of information you know concerning diplomatic events. The same basically reflected in the Kremlin, official Kremlin site, “During a detailed and friendly conversation which lasted more than an hour, the current situation with international affairs was discussed including the crisis in the Ukraine . . .” and so forth. “The discussion touched upon questions of humanitarian values which to a great extent unite the Catholic and Orthodox worlds as well as all religions, both sides expressed concern about the situation faced by Christians in the Middle East.”

Okay, now we go to the Russian Task News Agency, and it has the heading, “The pope presented to Putin a medal with the image of a peacemaker angel.” So it wasn’t just a formal ceremony. The medallion turned into a medal. Then another private TV station repeats that Pope Francis gave Putin a medal with an image of an angel and said that this is a symbol of peace and solidarity. So this is the second level, this is the way national media reports it, and then we go to this regional media that tries to beat the national media and what do we have? “Putin literally kicked the stool under the feet of Western politicians,U.S. urged the pope not to trust Putin and be tough with him. But quite the opposite happened, Putin has been awarded the medal of the peacekeeper angel. The pope could give him something neutral with no symbolic value but the medal with such a name is not a randomly chosen gift. An important conclusion: The pope gave a completely unambiguous signal that Putin is on the side of peace in Europe and throughout the world, and therefore the other party is a supporter of war. Such a position of Pope Francis having great influence and moral authority undoubtedly puts an end to the pathetic attempts of the U.S. to show Russia as an aggressor. This award shows that only Russia is able to save the world from a new destructive war and that a threat to peace again comes from the West.”

So you can see how some very simple thing gets translated and gets communicated to the Russian media, and I would finish on this and give my colleague form Ukraine to comment maybe start with commenting on the same example, because it’s an example of not only how things get translated to the Russian media and also the reaction in the Ukraine.

Nataliya Zubar:

After the Russian news agency posted a piece about the Pope giving the medal to Putin, the Ukrainian media immediately picked this news. Our media still has bad habit to just copy and paste news from Russia. Without checking anything, they are reposting that Pope Francis gave Putin a medal and this info invokes a wild reaction in the Ukraine with frenzy of comments like “A traitor pope names a fascist Putin a peacemaker!” Media asks some influential Ukrainian intellectuals to comment on the situation and they promptly come with wild conspiracy theories of what has happened in the Vatican.

Within an hour of emotional debates in the traditional and social media, the major religious portal of Ukraine actually had brains to call the Vatican for comments. They found that the information about the meeting of the Pope and Putin on the Vatican official site was scarce and asked for details. After their call, the official site of Vatican posts transcript from Vatican radio transmission with more details about the medallion, which Ukrainian religious portal “Credo” translates into Ukrainian, publishes and distributes via Ukrainian media.

By this time, most Ukrainian mainstream media had already published the news that the “traitor Pope” had awarded Putin with peacemaker’s medal. After the publication in “Credo”, most media edits previously published news, edit headlines and content. Only very few media post new piece of information with amendment detailing that “oh no, you see the pope didn’t give the medal, he had given a souvenir”.

A storm of comments comes again, with different interpretations like “oh he gave him a souvenir medallion, probably the pope is not a traitor and he treated Putin badly because by giving him the medallion he has shown him his disgust”. However, some comments still blame the Pope like “He should not have met this Putin at all. The pope is not on our side. He shouldn’t be meeting a fascist”.

There was not a single publication or comment except on the religious portal, which narrated the news in peacemaking context. Nobody remembered that it was a normal practice of any Pope to meet with whoever, to speak about peace and give some kind of a souvenir.

People started to react emotionally to this very simple fact about two leaders meeting on a diplomatic level and discussing something that nobody knows because this meeting was not with the press. It was a private meeting; the fact was stated in the first press release.

I do not agree that there is no objective reporting. The objective reporting is when the facts are reported. The facts were that the Pope met with Putin and they exchanged some kind of gifts. Both parties confirmed these facts on the official websites. And surely that were the facts, the rest were just interpretations.

I think the fundamental problem of media worldwide is the confusion between the facts and interpretations. Many media are presenting the news and reports together with interpretations, with comments. When I studied journalism many years ago, I was instructed that there could not be reporting with comments. They are different types of journalism activities. Now, those activities are combined, in part due to the spread of social media. I think we can do objective reporting when we are reporting facts and when we are distinguishing the facts from the interpretations.

It is very important from the peacebuilding point of view. When we are reporting on facts, we cannot allow for such manipulation as Andre and have demonstrated you using this is a very typical news piece about the Pope and Putin. There are lots more cases like this in Ukraine-Russia conflict and other conflicts obviously. If we stick with facts, we will win the war for objective reporting. We will sanitize the media and diminish the level of fear and panic. I think it is very important.

 

Remarks during the Q&A session.

Andre Kamenshikov:

Okay, I’ll start with that, first of all, personally, I don’t think it’s right to describe the roots of the conflict in the Ukraine related to the fact that the U.S. wanted Europe to buy gas from itself and that from Russia. I simply don’t believe that. Again I think that’s an interpretation that some people might take as a fact, but I think it’s one of these examples. The other question is about the criticism of Russian media and so forth. One of the things I mentioned is what I sadly can recognize and notice as I monitored the way the conference developed is that these practices are contagious and unfortunately many of the tools and instruments that are being used by Russian media, mainstream media, I should say, that there’s different Russian media, there’s the Russian opposition media, there’s Russian regional media that might sometimes try to surpass the mainstream media. It can sometimes do very serious and courageous fact-checking missions and reports and so forth. For example, it was actually the Russian regional media that did the first factual reports about these burial sites of Russian soldiers, these Russian servicemen that were sent to fight in Ukraine last autumn. So there are various groups. But I do think that it should not be seen through the lens of let’s count or act specifically Russian. Again, I think it should be looked at, any attempts from here, from the West, from Europe, to work in this information space should be seen from the point of view of trying to uphold the truth, that might be truth. It very often is very uncomfortable to different sides, and I think that is the only approach that is reasonable and that will bring fruit. The need to check facts, yes, definitely. I mean we are coming back to the same issue. For example, in Ukraine there are some very interesting initiatives like the “Stop fake”  program that do factual checks and tries to debug various myths on both sides. Most of them are usually myths of  Russian propaganda, but it also speaks about many stories, many false stories that appear for example in the Ukrainian media, I think that’s a very good example of a civil society issue than a media initiative that is trying to, let’s say, restore misunderstanding of realities and then facts. As for those, see, I don’t know, maybe you could add a little more.

Nataliya Zubar:

You see, everybody lies, as Dr. House says. But the number of how many times everyone lies can be easily counted, you know, and compared, it’s easy. You can compare a number of times Russian media, I mean mainstream or government-controlled Russian media, lies and for example European or U.S. media lies and it’s huge difference in percentage. Everybody lies a different number of times.

However, I think the main issue is to distinguish propaganda and facts. When fact checking, you could find what are the facts that can be established, whether there was a rain and whether it was outside, and detect propaganda, or fabricated news. There are lots of news, for example, that Russian media fabicates totally including even video coverage. For example, there were some films on Russian TV picturing fighting in Lugansk Mountains. There are no mountains in Lugansk, it was some footage from Chechnya, you know.

I think that the fact checking is the necessity in every aspect of everyday work of journalists worldwide in Ukraine and in Russia and Europe. If we came back to this basic, no information wars would be successful. I think the reason for Russian information war is efficient to some extent, is that the essence of media, essence of reports somehow been distorted.

Social media actually helps to reveal the truth, to debunk the truth, as mentioned. Now with this example of Pope Francis and medal or medallion, I learned what happens in few minutes via Twitter. But not every consumer will go to Twitter to verify news coverage he saw on TV. They believe TV, people worldwide do believe TV and they will believe in TV for many, many years for ahead. So it’s a battle which can be won with the help of social media for TV. It is important to become more close to facts. That is my point.

Full panel soundtrack  https://soundcloud.com/dwgmf/gmf15ws13 

Speakers at the conference
Speakers at the conference