The brilliant expression of Orwell was once more again reaffirmed by participants of the 1st Civil Lyceum organized by Studrespublika and the New Republic newspaper in Kyiv. Current topic ‘Freedom of speech in terms of security challenges, why cannot we limit it’ caused debates and attempts to build a meaningful dialogue. The general refrain is an idea that there is cannot be no justifications for neither lie nor half-truth, whatever it is covered with: war or attempts to be a very patriotic Ukrainian.
The event was conducted as a response to a serious threat to freedom of speech in Ukraine today, and held on the first anniversary of the ‘New Republic’ and the Earth Day in which intellectuals all around the world protested the so-called ‘post-truth’. On April 22, 2017 in the Kyiv House of Nature took a speech a lot of well-known representatives of the media and expert community such as Yevgenia Bilchenko, Serhiy Datsyuk, Ruslan Kotsaba, Andriy Kulykov, Oleksandr Martynenko and Denis Zharkih. Details – below.
The Attack on Freedom of Expression: Ukraine and the World
Civil Lyceum is a special format of discussion difficult issues when you can listen to each participant without aggression. There were more than 50 activists, journalists, experts from the capital and beyond.
Experiences, thoughts, and positions were shared not only by national legends of journalism and media, intellectuals, but also dissidents, people who have felt by themselves a non-freedom of speech and pressure, and even lived through prison.
During the opening of Lyceum republican’s leader Pavlo Viknyanskyy expressed that the attack on freedom of speech occurs worldwide. Post-truth, alternative facts, fake wars, special cyberoperations, wiretapping and control of citizens on the Internet are the reality of even Western countries, called samples of democracy. But in Ukraine the situation is much worse. If we are truly responsible and free citizens, we should resist attempts of limiting freedoms in Ukraine, especially which are covered by war. He cited a number of facts how in the last 3.5 years pressure on journalists and the media (in all constitutional territory of Ukraine) increased, murders of journalists were remained unsolved, and the government were controlling each media one by one, propaganda increasingly was replacing adherence to journalistic standards.
Next, the main editor of the New RepublicVira Andriyuk informed the participants that it will be soon possible to read honest and critical news and analytical materials from the newspaper online, and reminded that those who prefer to receive information in print can overpay a delivering of paper to any point of Ukraine by mail.
Let’s Beat the Pressure and Fakes by Gadgets and Interest!
Ruslan Kotsaba, a journalist, a blogger, a prisoner of conscience, who has lived through prison for the right to freely express the pacifistic position, talked about citizen journalism as an alternative to a state censorship. He noted that we can still tell the truth in social networks, fixation and distributing of information can be reached with help of a variety of gadgets.We must overcome fear— said Ruslan —because the authorities are afraid of our activity.
Then a media coryphaeus, CEO of the Interfax-Ukraine News Agency Oleksandr Martynenko presented a comprehensive report ‘Development of media in independent Ukraine: a retrospective analysis’. He mentioned that it is time of absolute manipulation and media are no longer profitable, so dependent on sponsors or grants. Furthermore, he stressed that freedom requires rules and order, but now we are in a state of chaos, people do not understand what’s going on. How could we understand all this, considering the fact that, as the expert said, ‘in this country there is no moral authority’? Firstly, Oleksandr Vladlenovych advised not to believe to anyone, and secondly, analyzing events, ‘choosing between mess and conspiracy — always choose the mess’. And finally, he explained why fake is always more acceptable by masses and takes precedence over the documentary form, being like a fairy tale, light, something interesting and bright. Standardized news — uninteresting, so we must learn how to share the material in original and exciting way so it interrupted the temptation to fake.
Patriotism of Journalist is not in Lie and Attempts to Justify ‘His/Her People’
A star of Ukrainian journalism Andriy Kulykov, who passed all the steps of his profession, starting with the USSR, and had reached a vast experience in any field of journalism, presented a report on ‘Freedom of speech — personal responsibility’. He stressed that ‘freedom of speech does not exist in general, but to those who use it and in an extend they use it. Many citizens use a freedom of speech without even being journalists’. Meter told that there are three kinds of pressure on journalists: from owners or politicians, from editors or managers, and, the third, which on 2/3 is useful — is pressure from the audience. We must learn to listen to the audience, work with it. The main idea of Mr. Kulykov’s speech was the following: ‘When people ask me what is the patriotism of journalists during the war, I always answer, that it is a perfect performance of their professional duties’. The key advice: to both reporters and readers/listeners was – ‘think about every word’.
What to Do with the Language of War?
Ukraine is going through a dramatic period of history, but harassment of dissidents, manipulation with languages, and attempts of limiting freedoms are still justified with ATO and Russian aggression. On the theme of language and discourse in war circumstances a philosopherSerhiy Datsyuk talked. He believes that because of Maidan and war, many citizens began to switch languages from Russian to public Ukrainian, leading discussions, lectures, creating something new. It is interesting that now there are mainstream discourse and fundamentally different inno-discourse. According to an intellectual’s thought, Ukrainian language would begin to win only when innovative discourse would generate, not the other one. What we need is: 1) high quality translations of foreign literature, 2) high quality movies, especially good series by own production, 3) own powerful literature (interesting, unexpected …) – only infrastructure, innovation. And yes… language marker is bad, but there is no another one. Mr. Datsyuk said that Ukrainians must win the war discourse, otherwise we’ll have to fight in the civil war.
Free Media is a Weapon Against Neototalitarianism
In fact, the antithesis of the previous report was a performance of a poet, a professor of culturology Yevgenia Bilchenko. A woman, whose one of the most popular blogs of ukrnet was closed, spoke on ‘Cyber terrorism and self-censorship in Ukraine as signs of neototalitarianism that comes’. She said that the criterion of the cleansing is not language or ethnicity, but yours position of ideology; so-called National patriotism with its bright signs of Nazism is far more dangerous than the vulgar ethnicism, being more manipulative. It is a non-classical totalitarianism of Auschwitz-Solovki, but times have changed. Now classical totalitarian society where minority controls the majority through the security organs, changing to a new totalitarianism, where the majority has control on each other through the Internet, thereby helping security agencies (Peacemaker, etc.). Yevgenia gave other signs of ‘new totality’ in Ukraine: virtual war, civil strife through cyberspace, ideological kitsch, the center of which is ethnic nationalism, self-censorship and ‘internal list of topics’, turning fanatics into heroes imposed on the remains of the Soviet nomenklatura — and adding a syndrome of continuous chaos.
The discussion of Civil Lyceum was completed by psychologist, writer Denis Zharkih with performance on ‘Psychology of freedom of expression: information and social context’. He mentioned that journalism needs to be loved and worked not for reward, but for the sake of you being likeable to read again and again by average readers. The good journalist is the only one who primarily wants to get to the bottom of situation, to understand what it is, and as accurately and correctly as he can deliver it to their readers.
Outstanding Englishman George Orwell said, ‘Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear’. This statement is perceived by a huge number of Ukrainian as a challenge and issue, but truly – it’s decision. As a completion, unfortunately, not very comforting conclusions for Ukraine was set: although freedom of speech formally exists, it is limited, dosed, and controlled by the state and the oligarchs. Yes, people say that in Russia situation is even worse. But it is not an argument. For example, in Uzbekistan situation is worse, and in North Korea – much worse as well. We must take care of every moment, protecting everyone’s right of free thought, and thus the word. For the start, we should engage civil enlightenment, a very important part of which is development of critical thinking and media-education.
Later we will publish transcripts and videos of presentations, and Studrespublika will continue to work on further development of civil society and the conversion of Ukraine on the path of progress.