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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

INFORMATION SPACE: Defense or Attack?

24 October, 2000 - 00:00

When world civilization is entering the era of information, defense of the information space and the problem of communication in society comes to the fore. These issues are most seriously dealt with in the US and Europe. The US Department of Defense employs 1000 PR officials. The US National Security Agency’s National School of Cryptology alone graduates an annual 19,000 information experts.

American experts say the main role in an informational age belongs to information wars, no less fierce than conventional ones, but without human casualties.

Russia also pays ever-increasing attention to this matter. On September 9, 2000, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation signed into law the Doctrine of the Information Security of the Russian Federation. What becomes equally important is setting up communicative — psychological, social, intellectual — links in society, especially between the population and the state. Successful communication in society is the main factor of trust and of successful development of the country.

We consider the state of these problems in Ukraine in a conversation between our author Serhiy UDOVYK and Heorhy POCHEPTSOV, doctor of philology, professor, and head of the department of international communications and public relations at the Institute of International Relations, Kyiv Shevchenko National University.

Serhiy UDOVYK: “You are the author of 25 books, and a host of articles and other publications. One can discuss with you a wide range of problems, such as informational defense, the ethics of resorting to white and black PR, and psychological wars, but I think the main problem Ukraine faces is the ability to establish communication among various political forces.”

Heorhy POCHEPTSOV: “To start with, Ukraine, paradoxically, has no information space of its own. When the population is inclined to watch foreign television and the main information program is being watched by less than ten percent of all viewers, this space seems not to exist. As satirist Zhvanetsky said, there is a minister of the meat-packing industry but no meat. On the other hand, the media bring forth a host of programs and articles about new prestigious foreign cars or night clubs, which again concerns only the three percent of the population who can afford to buy this foreign brand name or go to a casino. The interests of viewers and those of the media do not coincide today.

“But Ukraine does not have an information space of its own not because somebody broadcasts or writes in Russian, as the relevant state committee tries to maintain. We do not have a high-quality information product to be sold on our own information market. We lose out to somebody else’s higher-quality work (for example, Russian newscasts or American movies). The problem is not the language. No doubt, language is the easiest parameter to monitor, but it is high time to understand that, by monitoring it, we only monitor the form, while somebody should also deal with the content. There will be neither Ukrainian bestsellers, nor Ukrainian television news, nor magazines without good content. High- quality Ukrainian text (a song, TV film, or book) still manages to make its way to the Russian market: so the only problem here is quality.”

S. U.: “We have a lot of newspapers expressing the opinion of different political forces, but political leaders seem only to read their own papers. The same applies to the readers who find their opinions confirmed in ‘their own’ newspapers. But, surprisingly enough, even the editors of sociopolitical and scholarly journals are only interested in ‘their own’ journals and learn about different opinions and judgments, at best, from Brussels, Washington, or Moscow. Can this be caused by the vestiges of mass mentality and the desire to gain self-confidence by artificially fencing ourselves off from different opinions?”

H. P.: “We do not live in a competitive environment, although we speak about the market. Today, every vocational school can turn into a university, everyone can proclaim himself full member of a non-existent academy and dance with abandon. A person can be appointed image advisor only because he hails from the same village as the person he is to advise. There is no realistic professional evaluation. A noncompetitive environment needs no professionalism, for it is ruled by other parameters. This is why journalists and academics might not read newspapers and books: all of them stick to their own opinion. Simultaneously, intellectual flows have become poorer to some extent and do not reach the average researcher because, given his current salary, he cannot afford to buy books costing thirty hryvnias. Nor does a librarian, let alone a school teacher, have such money. Paradoxically, the flow of books has become richer (for instance, there are endless translations of all kinds), but it does not reach the specific consumer. It is also strange and surprising that there is not a single European-language bookstore in the capital of a European state. For example, you cannot buy scientific and scholarly books in English.”

S. U.: “There is a wide range of opinions and ideologies in the developed countries, which become assimilated and enrich one another as a result of their interaction. But here, the friend-or-foe dichotomy seems to be indestructible. There was the communism which gave birth to Rukh. The presidential elections showed that communism is no longer relevant as an ideology, but Rukh also began rapidly to lose followers. This means: no enemy, no movement ( rukh is Ukrainian for movement — Ed.). Or else an enemy has to be invented. But still there are no powerful and soundly competitive parties in sight, parties which could build their ideology on constructive development and polemics, not on the friend-or-foe dichotomy. Why do you think this is so, and is there a way out?”

H. P.: “Ideology also needs the friend-or-foe dichotomy if only because this is to a sufficient extent a biologically justifiable parameter. The point is that we have to switch from the most primitive premises, which set in motion the deepest recesses of our subconscious, to more human characteristics. But our parties have very often been formed according to the principle of which of the names on the party list have not yet been used. Thus none of the parties ventures to do real work with the masses. The parties exist for themselves and for political scientists.

“Both Rukh and, incidentally, the Communists will live on precisely because they have laid, to a certain extent, biological foundations in their programs. For instance, language is also a biological, rather than purely social, characteristic. The Communists will also stay with us, because the whole country long professed its ideas, and when an idea embraces over twenty percent of society, it can never be done away with. This is why the criticism of Rukh or the KPU is not always unbiased, for they have their own constituencies, and such constituencies have the right to like those closer to them.

“The way out is to step up grass roots work, when a party will begin to express genuine desires of the masses rather than the problems of its leaders.”

S. U.: “Could this have been caused by objective factors? After the war, Ukraine suffered the most from the scarcity of males. It is the state that took on the role of father. Mass fatherlessness and the cult of a paternalistic state drastically reduced the role of fathers in the family, formed specific male-dominated youth groups, and led to hazing in the army. Suffice it to recall the uncompromising clashes between the youth gangs of various city blocks. By the time private property emerged, a groundwork and traditions many years old had already been laid for an explosion of crime. Sort of a cult of machismo. Is there a way out of this situation? Will the leaders of various political forces understand that they should criticize strategies and tactics, rather than personalities, and, accordingly, should not interpret criticism of their own strategy and tactics as a personal offense.”

H. P.: “It is an axiom that it is easier and pleasanter to criticize personalities because it is difficult to say something exciting about such a nonhuman object as a party. Conversely, if an organization tries to build an image, it looks for human features, for these are the only things the people understand. Incidentally, we also have a wrong attitude toward criticism: during an election campaign in the much-talked-about US, they say more bad things about their opponent than good things about themselves, with the ratio being roughly 60% about the opponent and 40% about oneself. But we are too much afraid of critical lunges, leaving them outside the limits of a ‘decent’ political behavior.”

S. U.: “But maybe this is precisely the source of the thriving growth of black PR. If it is not nice to openly criticize one’s opponent but, as Western experience shows, this is an objective necessity, the criticism will assume black forms, which I think will only make society lose confidence in itself, with people believing neither friends nor foes.”

H. P.: “PR essentially implies an indirect, rather than direct, impact. Hence, all methods become applicable. The only point is that this whole system will come into play only when the economy recovers and brings competitiveness. Today, a bank, a civil servant, or a politician still depend on the population only to a meager extent. In its turn, the population has also learned to make do without the former. When these feudal ties (for example, those based on relationships, not on professionalism) break down, new methods of making one love his own people will come to the fore. As yet, any boss depends more on his immediate superior than on his people. The absence of love for the population makes it impossible to have classic types of PR and brings into play all kinds of the instruments of injunction, a typically Soviet syndrome.”

S. U.: “You said at the beginning that Ukraine has no information space of its own. This sounds shocking to many. It implies that today Ukraine is not prepared for information wars, i.e., the wars of an information-era society, while the state has given up responsibility for establishing a well thought out PR mechanism to form a single state ideology based on our historical traditions and national mentality.”

H. P.: “You cannot be prepared for these wars, for they are based on exploiting the weaknesses of a system. Information weapons are essentially asymmetrical, while we (like everyone else) are only ready to repel a symmetrical attack. This resembles guerrilla warfare against a regular army: the difference of their tactics gives guerrillas the advantage. For this reason, even US analysts say in no uncertain terms they are going to face no equal symmetrical adversary in the next fifteen years and all they should fear is an asymmetrical threat. Incidentally, crisis-related communications clearly display the lack of preparedness of not only Ukraine but also of Russia for asymmetrical communication. The Kursk submarine disaster is a vivid example of the state fleeing into the shadows, when its voice should be loud and clear. But this can be possible only if there has been preliminary preparation for crisis situations, when there are relevant government structures that possess both the resources and powers and that use the official ideology. Another example is our information-field relations with Russia. Are we really concerned about the way we are being presented on the Russian information market, has our state invested even one hryvnia in the creation of an information flow aimed at Russia? So, if nothing is being done, the results explain themselves.”

S. U.: “It would be interesting to know if the ideas we are discussing arouse any interest either within or outside Ukraine.”

H. P.: “Undoubtedly. I publish my books and deliver my university lectures. In addition to the courses — Public Relations, Theory of Communication, and Imageology — I teach a course, Information Wars, the only one in Ukraine, to seniors at the Institute of International Relations. I also teach occasionally outside Ukraine: for example, this year I am to visit two German universities and a Moscow higher educational institution to teach a course on business PR. I have also been invited to give lectures at four St. Petersburg universities. I have been also asked to teach the information wars course to ‘uniformed people’ in a certain post-Soviet republic. In other words, intellectual interest in these methods never diminishes outside Ukraine. The problem is very few of these instruments find application today in this country. This also applies to the image of the state. The situation is the same as with the proverbial halvah: no matter how often you say the word image, it won’t taste any sweeter in your mouth.”

S. U.: “Oh, yes, Diogenes also said: ‘If only I could assuage my hunger by rubbing my stomach!’ Thank you for a meaningful conversation.”