Learning lessons of history against modern background

What critical issues stand before modern society and what solutions may the media offer?

Ten years ago, nobody would have guessed that Belarus would host a forum on learning from past war, while encouraging discussion on how to prevent present conflict
Minsk, and Belarus as a whole, is perceived by neighbours, from the West and from the East, as a unique European platform, gathering diverse nations in the search for solutions to geopolitical deadlock. Ten years ago, nobody would have guessed that Belarus would host a forum on learning from past war, while encouraging discussion on how to prevent present conflict. It is not a matter of especial expertise, but a desire to be a united centre, encouraging integration. Since the launch of the CIS, Belarus has positioned itself in this way, seeking constructive solutions. According to participants of the forum, this is the modern role of Belarus within the Eastern European region.

At the plenary session of the 10th Belarusian International Media Forum. Photo: BelTA

What critical issues stand before modern society and what solutions may the media offer? Why do we believe the media has power to offer any solutions? Aren’t our politicians, diplomats, military and economists capable of tackling our problems? Of course, the public looks to the media for critical analysis of current events, via word and photograph. Minister of Information Lilia Ananich notes that media sources can be used as propaganda, and may not always present an accurate world picture  National, confessional, political, social and economic problems can be presented in a fashion more destructive than constructive. We have only to look to events in Ukraine, where manipulation of facts, the wish to allocate blame and the aggravation of tempers have been more prevalent than objective media analysis.

However, the problem is wider. The ‘Partnership for the sake of the future: heritage of the Great Victory’ forum aimed primarily to demonstrate the responsibility held by journalists to report fairly. Lilia Ananich is correct in stating that misrepresentation in the media can drive a wedge between brotherly countries and peoples. Belarus rejects such a policy and such aspirations. Our information field and national media must aspire to offer considered analysis of the most difficult challenges of our time, avoiding an information war.


Over the past decade, the Belarusian media has made good progress in promoting journalistic partnership. In the conference hall of the National Library, I met many who help shape public opinion in their home countries. Here again, in Minsk, they have sought out consensus and constructive solutions. As well-known Russian TV anchorman Leonid Mlechin, a keen historian, told me in the lobby, the Belarusian mentality is disposed to benevolence. By and large, our media forum is a form of ‘civil society’: a partnership of the media and journalists, to find solutions.

Partnerships are most effective when based on shared values. Accordingly, European politicians, and those in leadership across the European Union, tend to begin statements by declaring ‘we, being based on European values...’. Perhaps, little remains of our old European values, but we’ll discuss this later. For now, what values unite our partnership, for the sake of the future? The answer is the heritage of the Great Victory.

Participants of 10th Belarusian International Media Forum in Minsk. Photo: ALEXANDER RUZHECHKA

Throughout various heated discussions, in which passionate words were spoken, no one doubted that the Great Victory unites us. Why? Because this victory is not only in the past: it lives on. The heritage of the Great Victory is an asset, showing that we are capable of winning. Who can ignore such a claim? Indeed, everyone wants to claim victory for their own country, inflaming passions and squabbles, notes Ms. Ananich. We know our part in that victory, to which we owe today’s peace.

There are no simple answers, and I understand the bitterness of Pavel Smovzh, the Chairman of the Council of Media Editors from the Kiev Region. His country is in the grip of conflict. In his mind, journalists must take sides, and speak their mind in support of one side or the other. Understandably, this inspired much debate on professional responsibility and the need to report facts. We all have our own version of the truth. The Director General of Rossiyskaya Gazeta FSBI, Pavel Negoitsa, advised compromise, suggesting that councils of experts be used to help newspapers come closer to the truth. Attaining objectivity is no easy task.

It is a pity that many overestimate the power of the media to change our world. The Editor-in-chief of SB. Belarus Segodnya, Pavel Yakubovich, laments that ‘truth silently sobs’. To avoid ambiguity in news reporting, we need to answer difficult questions, focusing on what our fathers battled for and with what they entrusted us. The Associate Professor of MGIMО, Kirill Koktysh, shared the same thought, noting that our national identity defines our moral compass. The goal of the media must be to guide us to wise opinions and judgements, based on fact.

Participants’ speeches

Lilia Ananich, Minister of Information:

New media, the Internet and social networks provide unlimited possibilities to quickly share huge volumes of information, and to rapidly receive commentary. At the same time, media negativity has the power to sway public opinion. It’s vital today to establish and develop expert media platforms and information projects which are working for the sake of creation and which are generating constructive information flows. The Belarusian International Media Forum was planned as a uniting platform and we can say, with confidence, that it has fulfilled its task, continuing to develop effectively.

I feel sure that the media forum will inspire the creation of international projects, uniting creative and intellectual efforts by the global journalistic community. We can and should create new content: not from time to time, but systematically and purposefully, in constant creative interaction. Rather than the media being used for destructive purposes, it should encourage unity and professionalism. Fair and responsible journalism, observing the norms of professional etiquette, and corporate solidarity, would be a worthy reaction to the ideology of destruction. Today’s world is closely integrated and interconnected, making it impossible to solve our shared problems without considering others’ interests and through close liaison. Having consolidated our efforts, we may effectively resist modern challenges and threats.

At times, the media is led down a path of reporting that brings social aggravation; nothing is sacred to those who initiate such manipulations, aiming to drive a wedge between countries and peoples. Modern history, unfortunately, gives us many such examples. Belarus rejects such a policy and such aspirations. Our information field, alongside the national mass media, mostly aspires to provide considered coverage of today’s challenges. We’ll do all we can to avoid Belarus’ information field becoming an arena for an information war. We’re compelled to find a new system of protecting the information field. It should be flexible, meeting modern requirements and, as a priority, protect citizens from falling victim to manipulative use of technologies. Meanwhile, we must uphold public access to information, as dictated by the Constitution.”

Igor Buzovsky, Deputy Head of the Presi­den­tial Administration:

The structure of the modern information field has changed essentially over the last decade, as has become most apparent in the past year. Radio and print media, and television to a certain degree, have been overtaken by the Internet, as research carried out in Belarus tells us. This has been confirmed by media forum participants. Figures are impressive, especially when analysed in practice, inspiring us to seek out ways of reorganising not only the media, but the spheres of economics, politics and social activity.

New conditions require a creative response. If the Internet has a certain advantage in its immediacy, traditional printing and electronic media sources should respond by focusing on analysis, as an ‘antidote’ to superficial sound-bites. While presenting the facts is crucial, the media also has a role to play in strategically directing our thinking: a more difficult and responsible task. It’s nonsense to suppose that the role of the printed media, radio and television is reducing in significance. To achieve success, traditional media needs to synchronise its work to society, ensuring that it remains relevant.

It’s vital that we create forums in which we can communicate directly, without translators, promoting the values significant to us, in an atmosphere of open discussion, supportiveness and constructive help. Our views will differ from time to time, since we bring our own perspective and experience, and this is valuable in itself. If the media space extends and develops, it can only be a good thing.

Igor Kotlya­rov, Doctor of Sociological Sciences, Director of the Institute of Sociology, at the NAS:

Sociology is the fundamental science helping shape our state. It helps reveal a huge number of problems and offers solutions. Sociology studies the efficiency of the media, revealing public opinion and electoral behaviour, as well as identifying regional features of development. We live in a time of acute political aggravation, worldwide, proceeding from the global economic crisis. Sociology offers some answers to pressing questions, and confirms that media in our country is fulfilling its role at a high level. Traditional media sources are experiencing various problems: primarily, a notable decrease in the quantity of good-quality analytical material. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the future belongs not to the Internet, but to traditional media outlets (if the media fulfils its role at an appropriate level). Sovetskaya Belorussiya is a doubtless leader and guide regarding analytical reporting, as confirmed by our research. I hope that it will continue so.

Ilgar Ismai­lov, Deputy Editor-in-chief of the newspaper Bakinsky Rabotschi (Azerbaijan):

My impressions of the Minsk forum are positive. The mood is excellent, bringing together real professionals of pen, radio and television. In our modern world, it’s essential that we stay united. Current commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the Great Victory have the power to unite us. The forum offers much practical sense, and has been attended by people able to defend our historical truth professionally. Across the whole post-Soviet territory, Belarus provides a competent patriotic education for young people, making it an ideal venue for this event. It’s logical that Belarus has become seriously engaged in peacemaking, since true connoisseurs of peace grow from true patriots. It’s vital that your country continue this work. Belarus’ peacemaking efforts could replace those of the OSCE in post-Soviet territory.

Sergei Mikhai­lov, Chairman of CIS Information Council and General Director of Russia’s TASS News Agency:

At present, we’re observing attempts to downgrade the role of Soviet peoples in the victory over fascism and distort the Great Patriotic War history; this happens in some countries, including those which experienced losses during the war. On the year of the 70th anniversary of the Great Victory voices are heard and people come who are trying to rewrite the history — naming black white or vice versa and producing wishful thinking. This is a part of our reality now and we are facing certain information challenges and threats. In my view, it’s simple to build up a reasonable information work in this case: we just need not to forget to tell the truth. We can recollect millions of those killed during the war and that the Soviet Union was, no doubt, the key creator of the Victory. We’d produce a possibility for anyone wishing to say it’s not truth to study historical materials. Any information war must be won!

Leonid Mlechin, international observer and anchorman, Russia’s Honoured Worker of Culture:

Partnership — media in this case — is again discussed in Minsk; this fact is a merit of your President who’s taken on a difficult yet important role in the complicated situation. This year, your President has become a key figure of the European politics and the mission he promotes is of major significance. Someone should have done this. Any efforts leading to stopping the conflict in the centre of Europe are extremely important. The result is evident: people who could have failed to meet in a different situation and different countries find possibilities here to talk and search for compromises. I think the reason is rooted in your mentality and the mental field of your state — which is much sympathised abroad. Belarusians’ tolerance and judiciousness ability to make reasonable decisions create comfortable conditions for establishing partnership.

Importantly, the present Media Forum is dedicated to the Victory’s 70th anniversary. In my mind, the Great Patriotic War is not yet fully studied. Sadly, the famous slogan — ‘Nobody and Nothing are Forgotten’ does not reflect the reality to the full. I think of conventionalism of our approaches with sadness: new generations — who have not witnessed the war — demonstrate a kind of rituality, transforming the war into a holiday, computer games or blockbusters. However, a war is a tragedy and tears. Minsk’s Forum makes it possible to remind of this again.

Roman Shkolin, Chairman of Eurasian Choice International Public Organisation and co-ordinator of Eurasian Youth Parliament’s initiative group:

Minsk’s Media Forum creates positive impressions from the first minutes of its work. Serious participants and attendance of top media representatives enhance the Forum’s practical significance and do credit to its organisers. The event’s humanistic and even historical aspects are also important: as almost all participants and experts have mentioned, the more time passes since the Great Patriotic War, the more attempts are made to rewrite our common history. With this in mind, we aim to consolidate — not simply to preserve our historical memory of grandparents who died for the sake of our present peaceful sky — but to be always ready to counterattack falsifications of the kind.

Begench Geldymamedov, Departmental Head of Yashlyk TV and Radio Chan­nel (Turk­menistan):

Journalists should not allow corruption of the Great Patriotic War history. The media community aims to cover it accurately, ensuring that peace is preserved. 2015 is the Year of Peace in Turkmenistan and, with this in mind, I cannot but note Minsk’s role in settling the Ukrainian conflict. Belarus acts as an efficient venue where it can be solved. We fully support these initiatives.

Kirill Koktysh, Associate Professor of Political Theory Department at Moscow’s State Institute of International Relations:

Belarus is also searching for constructivism rather than trying to quarrel. Its assistance in settling the Ukrainian crisis has enabled Minsk to become a broker of the peaceful process in Eastern Europe. I think that all residents of this territory — especially those in Ukraine — are interested in peace. A war destroys the sense, economy and life itself. Expansion of the peaceful process can become a kind of Belarus’ specialisation which would be supported not only by Eastern Europe but the whole world.

Mikhail Gusman, First Deputy General Director of TASS News Agency:

This is the 10th International Media Forum hosted by Minsk and attracting journalists from the CIS and beyond. It long ago moved beyond the Commonwealth’s borders, creating a wonderful opportunity to share experience and voice most topical problems of modern journalism. Interestingly, this year, it’s devoted to a significant date: the 70th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War. It’s especially symbolic that the Media Forum is hosted by Minsk: a hero-city and a capital which was first to face and fight against the tragedy of fascist aggression. Several days after the beginning of the war, Belarusians demonstrated true heroism. Here, at the Forum, we are talking of the lessons and results of this war to avoid its repetition in the future and corruption of its history. Moreover, the issues of professional co-operation are in the focus of our attention. Journalists have topics for discussion, taking into consideration modern challenges. They need also to outline how mass media should work against speedy Internet development.

Franke Peter, Editor-in-Chief of Wostok magazine (Germany):

For us, recollections of WWII are the most precious at this Forum. We’d love to pass this knowledge to a growing generation and understand that this should be done right now. Taking into consideration the fact that information — including about the war — is covered biased by mass media in Germany, the moment can be lost. I hope I’ll manage to talk to foreign colleagues, sharing our experience.

Natalia Koneva, daughter of USSR Marshal Ivan Konev and Chair of Victory Commanders’ Memory Fund (Russia):

While revealing the theme of war, journalists must preserve names. Apprehension through a personality and individuality produces a warm and sincere understanding of what happened then and what is going on at present. I’d love mass media to cover this in details. Pleasingly, many heirs and descendants of those who fought in the war wish to preserve this memory. This mood was in the air in Moscow when thousands of people participated in the Immortal Regiment event.
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