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

How to overcome stereotypes?

Barbora MARONKOVA: “The projects like Den’s Summer School of Journalism are very important to NATO”
8 August, 2017 - 11:38
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

The lecture of Barbora Maronkova, Director of the NATO Information and Documentation Center, (held on July 5) was a true revelation for students of the Den’s Summer School of Journalism. Speaking of the history of the formation and evolution of the North Atlantic alliance, Ms. Maronkova dispelled the most widespread NATO-related myths and explained what steps Ukraine should take to first obtain the Membership Action Plan and then become a full-fledged member.


“Because of my experience in Slovakia, when I came in Brussels, I was assigned to work with countries aspiring to become NATO members. My role was to support and advise, what we call, aspirant countries. I was working with Albania, Croatia, and Montenegro. I was also covering other Balkan countries: Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. These countries do not necessarily want to join NATO but we have a broad partnership with them. Past year I have joined NATO press office, which, I should admit, was the hardest job in my life. On the one side you have journalists. On the other side we have press office. The goal is to work together. Naturally journalists are very curious, they have lots of questions and they want answers. If they don’t like the answer they come back to you. Our job was to provide journalists with factual answers. We have to provide only truthful information. We have to acknowledge to journalists if we do not have answer. We cannot invent it.

“On March 1, 2017 I came to Ukraine to work at the NATO office. My term is three years. Our office was established 20 years ago, May 1997. The reason for the creation of our office was preparation of a very important document between NATO and Ukraine. This document is called the ‘Charter on a Distinctive Partnership between NATO and Ukraine.’ The Charter was signed on July 9, 1997. This upcoming Sunday we will be celebrating its 20th anniversary. Our office was created a few months before the signing of the Charter to prepare the structure to answer all the questions about the document that might arise amongst journalists and members of civil society. If people wanted to learn more about the Charter they would have a place where they could go with their questions.”


“I can compare the creation of the Marshall Plan for Europe with the creation of NATO. The first one was an economic plan and NATO was a military version of it. At first we had 12 member states: Canada, the US, the UK, France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, etc. Slowly the organization grew. In 1952 Greece and Turkey have joined the Alliance. The reasons were simple, yet strategic. As you know historically Greece and Turkey have been at odds with each other. It was better to bring them together behind one table so that NATO can keep an eye on them. And secondly, Greece and Turkey, if you look at the map, form NATO’s South Eastern frontier. They were NATO’s front states vis-a-vis Soviet Union. In 1952 the Federal Republic of Germany became a member of NATO. You can imagine how important this decision was considering the Germany’s role in the WW II. In 1982 Spain joined NATO following the collapse of Franco’s regime. And then nothing for many-many years. Until the end of the cold war NATO had 17 members.

“There is a stereotype that NATO was created in response to the Cold War as a counterbalance to the Warsaw Pact. The historical data does not confirm these statements. They are false. The first fact is that the Warsaw Pact was created in 1955, 6 years after NATO[RbD1] was formed. Secondly, President Eisenhower and others were guided by the desire to bring together European and North American militaries. In 1948, when the idea of creating NATO was at the discussion level there was no Cold War. Only after an increasing number of countries fell for the Communist ideology and have established their military alliance, the Warsaw Pact, did the Cold War begin. It is really important to understand why NATO was created. It is way too easy to follow common stereotypes. I myself did not know much about NATO prior to starting my work. Luckily NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries never had to face an open confrontation. Starting with the fall of the Berlin Wall countries of Central and Eastern Europe were able to start a new season, if I may say so. The communism was falling down country by country and it came all the way to the dissolution of USSR and creation of independent countries.”


“One of the reasons which prevailed for keeping NATO was the strengthening of European Union as we know it today. European Union has been fully formed after the Maastricht treaty in 2002. Before it was the European Economic Community.

“ So, they decided to launch a process of creating something which is just today called the European Union and really putting together all the aspects of a country polices: economic, monetary, fiscal, creation of Europe, creation of Schengen area, as well as the discussion about launching the European Common Foreign and Security Policy.

“ So, the thinking was that in parallel we can reinforce NATO, so that we have two organizations on the European continent as a continuation of the project which started after the Second World War and we will change the main modern institutions that will reflect on the changed aspects of the European modern politics. So, when the EU was reinforcing NATO thought we should also follow the example of the EU.

“The second aspect was that we started having an American leadership who was becoming more prone to new NATO reflecting on the new geopolitical reality in Europe. That was the end of the years of the George H.W. Bush tenure. And upcoming new president Bill Clinton, him and his advisors and the people around his campaign like Madeleine Albright, were extremely pro NATO and for enlargement. With the election of Bill Clinton, this push for NATO became the part of the US foreign policy.

“But the third reason why NATO stayed is specifically the most important one. And it is the reaction to what was happening in the Balkans with the dissolution of Yugoslavia and with the wars which started first in Croatia in the end of 1991 to 1992 followed by the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995. This was where in the European continent very difficult situation where the united nations unfortunately were unable to provide for the end of the conflict. And there was no one else who was able to step in with the military power. The Americans were very reluctant at the beginning to get involved because they were already involved in Kuwait and Iraq if you remember. So, they had a lot of problems and they felt this was a European problem and the Europeans should deal with it. But the European Union or the predecessors of the European Union at that time they had no military capability, they were not able to do anything. So, everybody turned to NATO.

“And NATO said we have never done anything like that before. Well 60 years our military was there to be on our territory to protect our citizens from the Warsaw pact or of what was coming.

“Until 1994 NATO has never ever used its military outside of its own territory. But the situation was getting worse and worse in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Then we had a terrible event in the village of Srebrenica. Where 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were killed in just two days by the Serbian forces and that was the end of patience in international community, the American President has ordered a no-fly zone and announced the start of an American operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“But we have to change if we want to be relevant in the modern times, NATO had to change.”


“First of all, we changed our view of the world: it was no longer ‘this is our territory, the North Atlantic territory – Canada, the US, and our member states – and we don’t care about the rest.’ So, we had to open our horizons.

“The first question was: what do we do with countries of Central and Eastern Europe who are now in the transition period. So, we came up with a proposal to create a special partnership program. All the countries who wish can join a partnership program with NATO and it’s called the Partnership for Peace Program since 1994. And all the countries have joined it: Slovakia, Poland, Croatia, all the countries who had formed the USSR including Belarus and Russia, all of them.

“And the idea of the Partnership for Peace Program was that we as NATO can support and assist every country if they wish so with the reforms of their military. Because that’s our primary job. We are not the World Bank, we are not the international tribunal in the Hague. We are military institution. So what we know best are military standards, military trainings to organize our military.

“So, we offered aid and assistance to all this countries. We also gave them an opportunity to come and meet us for political consultations.”


“NATO has today 29 member states. The last member, Montenegro, joined only two weeks ago. It is an organization, which still functions on the same basic principles since we were created.

“What are these principles? All member states have equal voice, one voice. When we take decisions, all the decisions are taken by consensus. What that means, is that everybody has to agree. So if there is one country out of 29, which disagrees, we cannot take it as a decision.

“Of course, it’s very difficult with 29 members. It was much easier when there were 12 of them. But this is the corner stone of the NATO. It is very complicated diplomatic negotiations process, I can tell you, to have 29 countries agreeing. Especially in sensitive foreign policy issues or security issues, but it is our principles.

“The second principle is that we have Article 5, which is part of our NATO Charter. Article 5 is a basis of collective defense. What does it mean? If one member state gets attacked all other member states will support it. This formula is a basis of NATO. In all the years of NATO’s existence Article 5 was invoked only once by the United States following the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

“There are different levels of support that are available to member states once Article 5 is invoked. The primary support is political. The country under attack then formulates what kind of help it requires, whether they need military assistance, ships, aircrafts, etc. We invoke Article 5 to show our adversary that we are ready to protect our allies. For instance, the United States did not specify what kind of support it need immediately in the aftermath of the 9/11. However, they have asked for allies’ support two years later in Afghanistan. In 2003 NATO have started its biggest operation ever and by far the most distant operation ISAF (International Security Assistance Force). It lasted 10 years. After the end of the operation the security situation in Afghanistan was still not good. Then the member states made a decision to stay back in Afghanistan but the nature of the operation will be changed to a training operation. It meant that the allies have committed to send military trainers to Afghanistan to train Afghan Armed Forces, which was destroyed at the beginning of the Soviet invasion.”


“Back in the 1990s Ukraine took part, like many other Eastern and Central European countries, in the dialog with NATO. It was part of Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. It allowed Ukraine to seek NATO’s political consultation and military support and cooperation in military training. In 1997 Ukraine has signed a Charter with NATO, which meant that both parties to the agreement have committed themselves to deeper cooperation. Ukraine felt that it needs more help from NATO in regards to its military, which it has inherited from the Soviet times; however, even at that time it was premature to discuss Ukraine’s membership in NATO. While Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Baltic states clearly expressed their desire to become members of NATO, Ukraine did not see membership as the end goal at that time. That was perfectly fine with NATO. What NATO did is it created a special forum for Ukraine called the NATO-Ukraine Commission. It gave a relatively privileged position to Ukraine, which was the only country with such status at the time. It allowed Ukraine to be invited to all the meetings with the North Atlantic Council, the highest decision-making body. No one else had such privilege, including Russia. We were meeting with other countries’ representatives but there was no specific structure like in the case of Ukraine. We would host the Prime Minister of Albania, the President of Georgia, the President of Armenia but those were only meetings, which would be held once a year if they were lucky. Similar structure with Russia was only created in 2002.”


“The relations between NATO and Ukraine, let’s be frank here, were not always positive. There were Ukraine itself. Various Ukrainian leaders had different opinions about how much Ukraine should be linked with NATO. Sometimes Ukraine expressed interest in becoming a member, but there were times when it did not. Some leaders went as far as constitutionally declaring Ukraine a militarily neutral state. It was a bit difficult for NATO at times to understand what is it that Ukraine wants and what does it need from us. We are very open. If you want to cooperate more, that is fine. If you want less cooperation, that is fine too. We have 30 other countries to take care of. Nevertheless, through all these years our office was open, the NATO-Ukraine Commission was functioning, Ukrainian military officials continued to come to NATO for training, Ukraine continued supporting our NATO missions throughout the globe. It was strange that on the one hand we had continuous practical cooperation, however this was not the case on the political level. After the Revolution of Dignity the relationship has changed considerably. The relationship we have today is one of the most important ones we have at NATO. Ukraine receives the biggest support amongst all our partner countries. This includes more than 30 countries: Iraq, Jordan, UAE, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, you name it. Ukraine is our number-one partner amongst all these countries when it comes to receiving our practical support. We have created several trust funds. What it really means is that different countries put money into this one basket from which we then pay for different things. We pay for logistics for Ukrainian Armed Forces, radios, satellites, etc. In the military jargon it is called C4 (command, control, communications, and computers). We also have a trust fund to help wounded soldiers with medical rehabilitation. We have another trust fund for psychological rehabilitation of ATO veterans. Another trust fund helps with cyber security. On Monday NATO will deliver its first cyber laboratory to Ukraine.”


“Where we are now? At one point in time, in 2008, Ukraine has asked NATO to consider its application to become a member state. The Membership Action Plan (MAP) was not granted to Ukraine at the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008. Since all the decisions in NATO are made by consensus, unfortunately we were not able to reach one back in 2008. Then Ukraine’s president declared that it is best for Ukraine to remain neutral to keep the balance.

“You may have read that not so long ago the Verkhovna Rada has officially adopted legislation, which says that NATO membership is one of Ukraine’s foreign policy goals. This does not mean that Ukraine has officially asked for NATO membership. For journalists this is a big issue but we have to be careful about how we report on this. We welcome the fact that Ukrainian parliamentarians chose to pursue NATO membership. It shows that Ukraine is serious about its reforms and relations with the EU and NATO. This is good news, however, this does not mean that Ukraine has officially asked us to join NATO. I do not know what will happen tomorrow but as of today Ukraine did not officially ask NATO to become a member state.”


“How does it work? The Government of Ukraine, most likely the President of Ukraine, will have to send an official request to join NATO in order to be granted MAP. Then all 29 member states will take this letter and will start discussions. It will take a long time until they find a consensus. It happens with every single applicant. This is a serious business. If all members accept Ukraine’s bid, then your country will be given a MAP. In practical terms it means that every year a big delegation from NATO will visit Ukraine to monitor progress. They will be scrutinizing every single document because NATO wants to make sure that every member fulfills its duties. NATO will look at the number of tanks, military pensioners, Colonels, quality of secret service agencies. It is also important how Ukraine can handle classified information. We will literally look at everything. On average it takes 5 to 8 years to become a member. There is no specific timeframe and no expiry dates.”

Maria NYTKA: “How real are Ukraine’s chances to become a NATO member today and what does one have to do for that?”

B.M.: “According to our Charter from 1949 every European democracy with open economy is eligible for NATO membership. Ukraine can apply for membership any time. The question is whether existing NATO member states are willing to accept Ukraine’s bid for membership. They can only come to agreement by consensus. I do not know whether the member states will agree. However, to be honest with you, I am receiving these questions a lot. In the current situation with annexed Crimea and the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine the chances that NATO member states will respond positively to Ukraine’s bid for membership, I believe, are not very big. Having said that, there is no precedent in the history of NATO where we would accept a member who has part of its territory occupied by another country. This simply never happened in history before. We do not have an example with which we can compare. Having an active conflict on your territory, I think, it would very difficult. This is my personal opinion.”


Oksana SKILSKA: “In 2015 the government of Ukraine has signed a Memorandum of cooperation with NATO in strategic communications. How effective is this cooperation?”

B.M.: “Strategic communication is now a very trendy word everywhere but what does it really mean? It is actually very simple. What it means is that key members of an institution speak with one voice. Strategic communication can really be applied in any institution, governmental or private, even in NGO. I have mentioned the terrible incident in Kunduz so let’s take that as an example.

“Accident happened in Kunduz – it is what strategic communication is that the soldiers in Kunduz, his commander in Kabul, the commander in the Netherlands, and the NATO Secretary General and the American commander who was responsible for the aircraft, all of these people say the same thing.

“So, if you have an important political decision, which needs to be communicated to these people, it’s important that the president, the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of defense, the third secretary in your embassy in Belgium will all follow the same decision and communicate this political decision in the same way.

“So, strategic communications is really about having all the press people from the different institutions being connected, that they will sit like this every week for example and discuss: ok, what are the five biggest things happening in Ukraine this week that need to be communicated about: on economy, on defense, foreign affairs whatever new that will be signed by the president.

“And then you discuss how and what you want to communicate: on communicating about the new law on changing the name of ATO for example. So everybody knows what is happening, who is responsible for what in communicating, what is it you want to communicate, what is the message you want to hear for Ukrainian people, or the world to hear and that’s it.

“I think it’s a big change in culture of every party and honestly, it’s not only Ukraine it’s many other countries including my own country, Slovakia.

“So, first you need to change the mindset, than you need to create this sort of processes and some structures. Identifying some key ministries who is responsible for what in changing the mindset strategic communication is important and should be part of different aspects of your work.

“I think we did quite a lot of work in the past two years, of course there is still a lot that needs to be done so it becomes a natural thing for everyone to do it on daily bases, but it takes time.

“Our office has been conducting a lot of trainings on the strategic communications, we have been training more than 200 civil servants and military  from different institutions and we have more trainings coming up.

“Ukraine is a big country and it is very important that we communicate about NATO, about Ukraine not only in Kyiv, but also outside of Kyiv.”


“So what do we do when we come to different cities in Ukraine? We usually find a place and we hold a meeting with local journalists. We do a little roundtable with the local journalists, we meet with the local government representatives and with the local civil society and if there is a university in that town I always give lecture, I meet with students. So I will have a little tour of Ukraine. On top of that we are also working with different partners on preparing some bigger conferences which are related not only to NATO, but also to other security and foreign policy issues. Most of them are unfortunately in Kyiv, but it always happens in every country and capitals that’s way.

“So that’s why we are trying to move out of Kyiv and we are now preparing the little video campaign which I would be very glad if you help us to share on the social media. It is a campaign, which is called “Twenty Ukrainian Stories.” And the idea is that we talk to 20 Ukrainians who already had benefited NATO’s help in different things. So, they will say themselves what NATO means to them and how was their experience with NATO. So we were interviewing some members of the Invictus team, the Ukrainian team of the wounded war veterans, who will be representing Ukraine at the Invictus games in Toronto.

“NATO has been supporting them in their training and we are paying for their air tickets to Canada. And we will continue supporting them in the future as well. So, we will talk to one of them. We will talk for example to alumni from your school from past year. We will talk to some colleagues who are military and who have been training to speak enough English because NATO has helped to provide for English training so we are looking for different people who in all of those years have come to be in touch with NATO. I think it’s a nice little project because we want to show that NATO is here for Ukrainian people, that we have done a lot of work in Ukraine over the 20 years and that is important to acknowledge that the cooperation runs very deep. Because sometimes we are so busy with everyday business that we don’t have enough time to explain what we are actually doing here.”


Liubov RYBALKO: “The newspaper Den/The Day has always been supportive of Ukraine-NATO relations, and NATO for the past two years supported Den’s Summer School of Journalism. So why did they decide to join this project?”

B.M.: “Last year at least and in the previous years. Over all I think the projects like the one you have today are very important to us. Why? Because it gives us an opportunity to talk with future opinion formers, if I can call you like this. Because if you become journalist or even if you don’t become a journalist, if you become an entrepreneur, a journalist of the military radio or something like that, it doesn’t matter. All of you will have a role to play in the life of Ukrainian society and you can help to form the opinions of people around you about your country. And we believe very strongly that by engaging with people like you it allows us to have an opportunity to explain what we are and what we do. You don’t have to love us, you might not support NATO, and that’s fine.

“But what is important for us that we have an opportunity to explain who we are and what we do. So then we don’t have wrong stories or misinformed stories because then it’s very hard to go back and to explain to the people, what’s actually happen and what’s the truth especially in today’s world where we live in this false true world and it’s really unpleasant.

“The point of this kind of projects is to work with young people, with the future generations. We also support not only your ties with NATO, but also all your program which I think is very important and very interesting because it helps you to meet people in different aspects of life: from government, business, economy, culture because I think it’s a unique opportunity.

“For you because you are studying journalism and you are hosted by a very well-known journalist outlet. Again, for us journalists are very important. We cannot do without journalists, they cannot do without us so there is this symbiotic relationship that we need to build between the institutions and journalists because that’s the only way we can fight all this propaganda, excuse my language, all this nonsense which is out there and we have a lot of examples how the journalists actually helped us.”

Den’s Summer School of Journalism is supported by NATO Information and Documentation Center in Ukraine.


By Anton SESTRITSYN, Marina LIBERT, Den’s 2017 Summer School of Journalism