We need to talk about Ukrainian history, ancient and modern, to become understandable to people, not just to tell news or debunk Russian disinformation, but to change narratives. This what the Civil Network OPORA Chairperson Olga Aivazovska said during the discussion "Structuring the Chaos: What Media Can Do To Mend the Fractured World" at the X Lviv Media Forum on 17 of May.

Together with an Argentine journalist, television host, and writer Carolina Amoroso, an American journalist and international affairs commentator, founder and host of the Black Diplomats podcast Terrell Starr, Director of the Frontier Institute and member of the Supervisory Board of the National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine Yevhen Hlibovytsky, and moderated by political and media analyst, co-founder and CEO of the Institute for Central European Strategy Dmytro Tuzhanskyi discussed successful and unsuccessful practices of media representation nowadays. The full text of Olga Aivazovska's speech is below.

First of all, I believe that I need to start from the joke too. So not so many people knew how many stupid people there are across from your house before social media was developed. And you know that it's easily to speak honestly via social media in indirect methods than directly face-to-face. That's why so many people are sharing and spread so many aggressive, sometimes emotional and stupid things because they are not thinking about these messaging or conversations as about official. At the same time, we need to look on data. And I try to find something which can answer to our questions. But it's not the whole world picture. Because first of all, we are speaking about those countries who have electoral and political processes which has diversity inside the society because we need to speak that polarization sometimes has causation that people have right to speak or have channels for speaking. Because if you will try to ask people in Northern Korea what they are thinking about the government or others, you will see that there is no polarization inside the society. That's why sometimes diversity has another side, it's polarization, but this monopolization of power or truth will produce other things as totalitarian regime or authoritarian regime.


UNESCO ordered a survey and I have to speak that 85% of people in 16 countries, and mostly it was about democratic countries, concerned about the impact of disinformation in their countries. Because such type of disinformation has different channels for spreading this information, not like in totalitarian countries. Global Risks Perception Survey, organized by the World Economic Forum, has another evidence about the influence of polarization and misinformation. Misinformation and disinformation and society polarization are seen responses to be the most strongly connected rises in the networks with the largest potential to amplify each other. Polarization societies are more likely to trust information true or false than confirm their beliefs. So, people are looking not on truth, people are looking on those channels of information or media which help to believe that you are right, that your position is true. And that's why it's something new because media is not up of the process. They have to be a partner of the process. And audience started to be owners of the media and that's why some of the journalists are looking for cooperation with audience but they are using another tool. Not truth, not professional messages, not news or evidences but they want to be like friends and it's not okay as for me.


And the last, but not least, Edelman Trust barometers did the research in the 28 countries, but it's about 2022. And 53% believe that their country is divided more than it was before. But let's look on the list. On the top, you will be surprised a little bit, it was Netherlands. 80% of people believe that the country was divided on the higher level than before. But we have to understand that it was a year of elections in this country. And far right groups and conservative groups which use some specific language for having success in elections polarized the country for sure. On the second level was Brazil, then Sweden, France, Nigeria, US, Germany, UK. But if you will look on the same rating at the end of 2024, you will see that the US will be on the top. I'm sure about that. Why? Because everyone is speaking about the US. Because all political technologies using the hate speeches for this deviation language – who are from your side, who are against your side. And their conversations, it's like technology to divide those who will be pro and against, and to try to use the audience which are in between.


The data which I presented mostly about democratic countries, or those who have open space for discussions. So that's why media has to find something in between, to spread the truth, do not want to spread this for 100% of audience because you will not find 100% of audience which will waiting for truth from your side. And to understand that polarization, it's a part of diversity and we have to build culture of these type of discussions. Because social media just giving us a chance to see everything and to see everyone – smart and stupid people on the same platform.


Let's speak honestly about believers. There are different types of believers, because we can't simplify everything. And when we are speaking about those journalists which have a mission, and they believe in this mission, and they are ready to suffer time to time, because they visit Ukraine, not only Lviv or Kharkiv, for example, because they need to find this truth and to spread the truth to his or her own audience. It's about believers but it's about professional believers. So, people which has a mission and has an idea, I believe they are believers. But we can't speak like that about those who believe that the Earth is flat, tiny, round, you know, and they believe in it. And unfortunately, there are such media in U.S. and there are such audience in U.S. So, let's spread or divide believers, because I believe that there are enough journalists which believe in truth and their mission.


And my organization, Civil Network OPORA, is one of the co-founders of the International Center of Ukrainian Victory, and we are working on advocacy abroad for more than two years after full-scale invasion. And we had millions of meetings with journalists in different countries. And time to time it's about professional believers which asked what is happening in Ukraine and then step by step advocated answering from their governments. And sometimes one interview can increase the interest of their audience and this audience is pushing the government to do the right thing on the right side of the history. I believe it's about believers. So, let's separate stupid people which believe in unbelievable things and smart people which have a mission.


Of course, I'm not a journalist and I don't have such an exciting experience to aware people inside the country which didn't know anything about Ukraine. But I believe that Ukrainian civil society and think tanks and other organizations did a great job and we have success story. it's about narratives. Because you can change the information about some of the event in Ukraine or you can show that Russia lies here or there but it doesn't matter if you are living on these wide waves of news. We have to change narratives. And that was Ukrainian civil society working for years and I believe we have success.


In 2014-th, when the Revolution of Dignity won in Ukraine, I visited Brussels with my colleagues from different NGOs and we had a great panel and few distinguished people in audience with French and Belgian passports asked: “How to be with a country where there are so huge nationalism waves? We believe that unfortunately Ukraine is not moving into the right direction. That's why how to support Ukraine?” It was after that Revolution of Dignity. Then we have presidential elections and I answered: “Sorry guys, but in France far-right party may have majority in your Parliament. Do you know the results of far-right parties in Ukraine? It's less than 2%”. So unfortunately, we spend a decade for having this conversation with the partners that Ukraine is a very well-developed democratic country because society has requests to have this type of the ruling system in the country. And even during the martial war period in Ukraine and after a full-scale invasion if you will look on the surveys you will see that there is no request for having a strong hand in this country. Do you know what does it mean? That democracy is added value for this society and it's a part of DNA.


When I visited Northern Ireland and I researched this case because I was participated in Minsk process for two years as negotiators in political subgroup because of the political background and this electoral background from my side, It was very interesting to speak with representatives of the UK. They were very open to Ukraine to share their case, to try to help, to show how the negotiations look like and so on. But the first question was: “We can't understand your narrative. What does it mean Ukraine? We have sympathy to Ukraine, we know something about Ukraine, but we can't understand your narrative”. A few months ago, when I visited London, the border controller asked me in a very late period of night what is the reason of my visit, I said: “To help Ukraine to win”. And you know what he did? He said: “I know everything about Ukraine”. He hugged me and put the stamp. I believe it's a victory of Ukrainian society. Because narrative changed in EU, in UK, somehow in Africa. I believe that we need to speak about our DNA to spread our history, our history and current history and to be understandable for people.


I believe that we won the war with Russia before full-scale invasion. According to The Economist rating, Ukraine before full-scale invasion was fully developed electoral democracy because we have a competition even during martial law period. And it broke all the plans to divide Ukraine from those western countries which has resources for helping Ukraine now. It remains important for survival during this period. And many years ago, when we had these discussions does Ukraine will be democratic or undemocratic, we did a huge campaign here in Ukraine with Ukrainian media in 2019-2020s. We covered pro bono with big national TV channels, more than 40 million of audience. And we spread information from the side of believers because media had a vision that there is a mission to help Ukraine to organize free and fair elections. And two years before full-scale invasion Russia lost a chance to say: “Ukraine is the same as Russia - we have corruption, we have problem with democracy, we have uninclusive society and so on and so forth”.


That's why I have to highlight that Sustainable Peace Manifesto is one of the two to show our partner the vision of Ukraine, how to build sustainability of the peace in Europe and all over the worldю Because Ukraine needs justice, Ukraine has to be EU member, because we will do reform even during period of war. and it's like our guide to survive and to be developed and Ukraine needs to be a member of NATO. Unfortunately, we need to have tools and equipment to defend ourselves even after Ukrainian army will liberate the territory till borders 1991.