Wednesday 22 May 2019 | 21:09

Uladzimir Matskevich: Mass media is the main instrument of civil society

16.06.2014  |  Society   |  Piotr Kuchta, EuroBelarus,  
Uladzimir Matskevich: Mass media is the main instrument of civil society

Reelection of the National Platform’s board won’t combat depression; we should work with people’s opinions instead.

“EuroBelarus” Information Service is presenting the second part of interview with Uladzimir Matskevich, the head of the Board of the International Consortium “EuroBelarus”, where the state of things in the National Platform of the “Eastern Partnership” Civil Society Forum on the threshold of regular conference of National Platform’s organizations is discussed.

- We have a fixed idea that politics only presupposes participation in election and only aims at getting some place in the first estate. This way of thinking results in a very weak fourth estate. Civil society has no influence on some processes, on minds and conscience of people, it doesn’t create any benchmarks. As a result, all representatives of non-governmental sector have very bad reputation. Mass media probably cannot avoid publications about conflicts and mutual disagreements between some public activists, as it is interesting for the audience. However, impressive personalities can help media to enhance readability, attendance, and rating and give indirect advantage over other media, so media should be interested in producing celebrities. That is why I think that professional and public interests coincide here; it gives no political advantage. For example, Dmitry Yarosh is one of the brightest media persons, but he got less than one per cent at the election. We shouldn’t confuse electoral processes and processes of influence. Belarus should stop thinking about politics as a race for getting parliamentary seats; politics is the art of influencing and conducting common causes, and it is not exclusively parliamentarians who can do that. In our country reputation is to a much degree connected with the position that the person occupies, while real public activists and actual representatives of the civil society have their own reputation, not the reputation of their position. But the value of opinion is valuable per se; it doesn’t change with the change of position, while all these prejudices and misunderstanding are largely repressing civil society’s development, and is an actual problem both for Belarus and for Europe.

European national governments and supranational structures have basically suppressed civil society and took it under their financial control. To organize campaigns, initiatives and run NGOs funds are needed, as voluntary donations can’t compete with them. But if in our work we reduce civil society to NGOs, we make civil society financially dependable, i.e. not free. And all these problems weaken our civil society.

If we come back to the discussion of the National Platform, for now we don’t even have one hundred organizations, while during the first years of its existence a lot of organizations took interest in the platform. But the interests consisted in becoming a part of the nation-wide structure and use it as a source of searching for funds. But as soon as many NGOs understood that they wouldn’t get any funds, they lost their interest in the National Platform. Money make people and structures dependent; but a lot of things can and should be done without money. Public activities are based on voluntarism in the first place, then come donations from those people who support those representing their interests; i.e. either voluntary work or voluntary donations support civil society.

When there are no such things, when NGOs became enterprises in some different form of ownership, we can’t expect serious and stable civil society structures. He who pays the piper calls the tune. For example, if we examine the situation with ecologic organizations, we’ll see that even obvious risks and dangers which should be combated jointly by the whole society bother only separate people, not even organizations. The same can be applied to the organizations that work with large target audiences, such as retired people. But it is the retired people who form a considerable number of civil society organizations, as these people don’t need to make a career anymore, they can move freely, and have freethinking. That is why in Europe the retired make a very big part of civil society, playing the roles of activists and volunteers; but it is not so in Belarus. The same is true for young people: students and youth organizations, who play significant role in the civil society in Europe. But in Belarus most youth organizations are headed by middle-aged people – it has become their work, their profession.

The forthcoming conference will criticize management, the EU, and point out at different disadvantages. But reelection of the National Platform’s board won’t resolve these problems; we shouldn’t expect that someone will come and resolve all problems. We should try to solve it altogether, by using the main instrument, i.e. mass media, too. It is not demonstrations that keep civil society alive, it is opinions and decisions people make in accordance with the information they get. Thus, the main power of the civil society is the audience of newspapers, radio, Internet and TV.

- We also have one more problem, but let’s hope it’s only temporal. I’m talking about the information war launched by Russia against Ukraine and due to which we forgot and neglected a lot of problems. A lot of serious events escape our attention; we don’t have time for them. I think that this anti-Ukrainian hysteria was started in order to distract Russians from numerous domestic problems, which are very serious. But this information war exerts its influence on Belarus, too.

We should look upon National Platform in the context of this information war where awful things are happening. The results of the latest social polls show the growth of hostility in relation to the fraternal Ukrainian people. Ukrainian civil society changed the policy of the Ukrainian state for the first time in many decades. And at the same time, Belarusan society doesn’t understand and doesn’t want to understand what is happening there. There is a split in the society, both among the common people who are influenced by Russian media and timid Belarusian media and also among the third sector. Our voice is barely heard; and it is good that “EuroBelarus” internet source takes a consistent and clear position on these questions; however, we only cover very small sector. All the rest don’t use media as a source and an area for civil society leaders, for exchange of opinions and influence. At the same time I should note that in the situation of information war basically all independent Belarusan media are quite reserved; we almost don’t use unverified data and propaganda. However, all that I mentioned earlier is still true.

P.S. Applications for participation in the Conference of the Belarusian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society, which will take place on June21 in Minsk, can be still submitted. The subject of the conference is: “Belarus in conditions of regional crisis and stagnation of the Eastern Partnership”.

The conference can be attended both by the participants of the National Platform who signed the Memorandum on Cooperation, as well as other organizations (without the right for participation). For participation in the conference application should be sent to csfbelarus@gmail.com. The deadline is June 16, 2014.

You can find out more about the conference and applications here.

Other news section «Society»

Mikhail Matskevich: How to create a local agenda and make it a problem solving tool
Mikhail Matskevich: How to create a local agenda and make it a problem solving tool
To achieve changes, you need to be interested in them and stop pinning all hopes on the state.
“If a person cannot leave the apartment, he or she does not need an accessible Opera House”
“If a person cannot leave the apartment, he or she does not need an accessible Opera House”
In Stoubcy, they talked about universal design and conducted pilot monitoring of two urban sites accessibility.
Local agenda in Valożyn: mission accomplished
Local agenda in Valożyn: mission accomplished
"Specificity is different, but the priority is general." In Valożyn, a local strategy for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed.
How Ščučyn was proceeding towards the solution of problems of people with disabilities
How Ščučyn was proceeding towards the solution of problems of people with disabilities
The campaign "Agenda 50" was summed up in Ščučyn, and a local action plan for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed there.
A program to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities was designed in Stolin
A program to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities was designed in Stolin
The regional center has become the second city in Belarus where the local plan for the implementation of the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed.
“Agenda 50” in Belarus: from strategies to implementation
“Agenda 50” in Belarus: from strategies to implementation
Representatives of the campaign “Agenda 50” from five pilot cities discussed achievements in creating local agendas for implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In Stoubcy, a local action plan for the implementation of the Convention was signed
In Stoubcy, a local action plan for the implementation of the Convention was signed
It is noteworthy that out of the five pilot cities, Stoubcy was the last to join the campaign “Agenda 50”, but the first one to complete the preparation of the local agenda.
The monitoring of accessibility was presented in Stolin
The monitoring of accessibility was presented in Stolin
On May 28, the city hosted a presentation of the results of the project "Equal to Equal" which was dedicated to monitoring the barrier-free environment in the city.
“They think if the legs don’t function, neither functions the head.”
“They think if the legs don’t function, neither functions the head.”
In Babruysk, wheelchair users are fighting discrimination.
The real work of the Convention depends on all interested communities and organizations
The real work of the Convention depends on all interested communities and organizations
What results has the campaign "Agenda 50" given, what helps to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the regions?
The Convention is a fight against fears, barriers and stigmata
The Convention is a fight against fears, barriers and stigmata
Experts in Valožyn have determined that the quality of people’s life depends on their awareness.
The Convention should become a "living tool”, rather than remaining just an ordinary document
The Convention should become a "living tool”, rather than remaining just an ordinary document
On March 3, members of the campaign "Agenda 50" from different Belarusian cities met in Minsk. The campaign is aimed at the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The main thing is one’s personal motivation for full active life (PHOTOS)
The main thing is one’s personal motivation for full active life (PHOTOS)
There are being implemented three projects under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities campaign in the city of Babruysk.
One man does not make a team, but united we are able to do a lot
One man does not make a team, but united we are able to do a lot
In Ščučyn, people with disabilities learned to be leaders and to advocate their interests.
Barrier-free environment – it is not a ramp, but a means of independence (PHOTOS)
Barrier-free environment – it is not a ramp, but a means of independence (PHOTOS)
In Stolin, social organizations and local authorities are implementing a project aimed at independent living of persons with disabilities, and creating local agenda for the district.
Polish experts: We say “equality” and you say “inclusion”
Polish experts: We say “equality” and you say “inclusion”
Will creation of local agendas be an effective tool in ensuring rights of persons with disabilities in Belarus, just as it was in Poland?
“It is impossible to talk about persons with disabilities separately from the rest of the country”
“It is impossible to talk about persons with disabilities separately from the rest of the country”
The understanding that all people have equal rights has been the basis for social changes, including those related to disability issues, in Poland.
Andrei Yahorau: Everything depends on people in the regions
Andrei Yahorau: Everything depends on people in the regions
A social project "Equal to Equal" has been launched in Stolin district under the campaign "Agenda 50".
“Agenda 50": the problems can be solved only by solidarity and equal treatment
“Agenda 50": the problems can be solved only by solidarity and equal treatment
Five Belarusian cities are open to the campaign launched there to translate into practice the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Statement of the BNP in connection with the prosecution of the Belarusan independent trade unions
Statement of the BNP in connection with the prosecution of the Belarusan independent trade unions
The Belarusan National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum issued a statement in connection with the criminal prosecution of the leaders of the Belarusan independent trade unions.
Gintautas Mažeikis: The relation of political field and arena in the framework of information war

In his report, philosopher Gintautas Mažeikis discusses several concepts that have been a part of the European social and philosophical thought for quite a time.

"Vilnius Consultations": Key points and recommendations on the future of EU Eastern Partnership

On September 11, the inaugural „Vilnius Consultations“ conference was organized by Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis and Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Shhh! Belarus Wants You to Think It’s Turning Over a New Leaf

Minsk’s muddled media clampdown could jeopardize warming of relations with the West.

Mikhail Matskevich: How to create a local agenda and make it a problem solving tool

To achieve changes, you need to be interested in them and stop pinning all hopes on the state.