The international conference “Media Freedom in the Age of Big Data,” held last week in Potsdam, was significant from two angles. Firstly, it showed how different are the topics that the EU and Ukraine consider important. The Ukrainian media, except for Den, did not even show interest in this conference which annually gathers editors of Europe’s leading publications at Wilhelm II’s greenhouse. Secondly, the 10th anniversary of the “M100 Sanssouci Colloquium” journalist conference particularly emphasizes the Ukraine-EU interlink, including the fact that the events in our country and our freedom struggle are going to influence the future of Europe itself. It is therefore no mere coincidence that a “special prize” was awarded to the Ukrainian project “Yanukovych Leaks” which exposes the system of corruption during Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency. This award was conferred on the project cofounders Natalia Sedletska and Kateryna Kapliuk, while the main prize, M100 Media Award, was given this year to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko for his contribution to the development of Ukrainian democracy and role in the Maidan events. It will be recalled that among the winners of this award are European Central Bank President Mario Draghi (2012) and German ex-foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.
Naturally, it is a matter of pride that the winner Klitschko spoke in German to the respected German audience. Moreover, as some German journalists told this writer, our politicians spoke a good language and there was “practically nothing to find fault with.”
As for the conference itself, it triggered a lively debate between media people and the companies that operate big data. The former believe that such companies as Google and Yahoo should have limited access to personal data and must not store the information about what and when users looked up in the Internet – this should be regulated by relevant laws. Journalists also demand that the government must not keep an eye on them.
Company representatives in turn gave examples when big data, particularly about Internet users’ preferences, help forecast the future – for example, about the likely growth of demand for a certain commodity in the case of a natural calamity.
The keynote speaker Shoshana Zuboff, a professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, emphasized that humankind is now at the dawn of a digital revolution, as it was at the dawn of the industrial revolution 100 years ago. In her view, it is important now to begin to formulate the rules or standards of this digital era.
European journalists also expressed dissatisfaction about the US National Security Agency. However, things are not ideal in Europe itself, for each of the 28 countries has rules and laws of its own. Only next year is the EU going to adopt uniform standards that will regulate this delicate sphere. In particular, it is being emphasized that personal data should not be concentrated in one place.
During the award ceremony in honor of Ukrainian journalists and a politician who is well known in Germany as professional boxer, the audience got down to realities on the European continent, where Russia is waging a hybrid war against Ukraine. Among those who spoke about the Ukraine crisis were European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz who was entrusted to hand the award to the Ukrainian politician.
The 35-year-old Austrian diplomat emphasized in his welcome speech that the EU was struck with the self-sacrificingness and valor of civil society and understood that even one person is very important. Kurz also stressed that the EU should not be divided over non-acceptance of the actions of Russia which had annexed Crimea and invaded the territory of Ukraine this year. “At this moment, we mostly need politicians who are decisive and are bold enough to build bridges,” the minister said, referring to the fact that Klitschko had bowed out of the presidential elections in favor of Poroshenko.
On his part, Schulz noted that the courage of the millions of Ukrainians and Klitschko had shown that they were fighting for and defending European values. “Let us fight for freedom instead of just speaking about it,” he emphasized.
Incidentally, the European Parliament president frankly confessed to this writer that he knew no recipe of how to stop Putin’s aggression and force him to withdraw his troops from eastern Ukraine and return Crimea. At the same time, Mr. Schulz noted that the only way was to stem the tide of money to Russia, for this is the only thing the Russian president understands. He also added that the politicians who speak of this in private then refuse to make proposals in public – by all accounts, he meant David Cameron.
Receiving the award, Klitschko thanked Europe for supporting Ukraine in resisting the Russian aggression. At the same time, he called for more support because Ukraine is in fact fighting for the future of Europe. “We must stand together, and freedom will dominate in the EU. But there will be no victory without fighting, so we must fight for the dream, freedom, and our future,” Klitschko stressed.
Quite naturally, many Ukrainians are asking if Europe itself is adhering to its principles – suffice it to see how slowly the EU imposes sanctions on Russia.
Contacts with European journalists made it clear that not all Europeans share the calls of the European Parliament president, incidentally, a representative of Germany. For example, the German journalists we spoke to have no questions about whether or not the EU should support Ukraine and exert more pressure on Putin. The German media are in fact unanimous in this matter – one must put more pressure and render more assistance to Ukraine. For instance, Mathias Doepfner, executive director of Germany’s largest private media group Axel Springer, said to The Day: “Please read what we publish and you will see that we are doing our best and the EU should do more. But this does not depend on us.” Of the same opinion was ZDF channel representative Elmar Thevessen who, according to Vasyl Khymynets, Ukraine’s charge d’affaires in Germany, recently made a series of unbiased reports on Ukraine. The Ukrainian diplomat said German television had invited him several times to comment on the events in Ukraine. A Swiss journalist, Dr. Hugo Buetler (Neue Zuercher Zeitung), and his Norwegian colleague from Aftenposten also share the opinion that Ukraine should be supported in the struggle against Russia.
Meanwhile, French journalists and IT businesspeople think quite differently for some reason and even place Putin and the Ukrainian leaders on the same scale. Moreover, Jean Manuel Rozan, who works for the Qwant search engine, said that Russia had legitimately regained Crimea, for “there was a referendum” there. But the entire world could see what kind of a referendum it was and in what conditions it was held, not to mention that it was a gross violation of international law and bilateral treaties. So, in the opinion of French journalists, nobody will help Ukraine and the latter will remain one on one with Russia.
Incidentally, Mr. Khymynets noted that a campaign is now underway in Austria “to understand Putin,” which in fact means recognition of the annexation of Crimea and of Russia’s right to cause Ukraine to adopt a federative setup.
It is quite possible that failures in France and Austria occurred due to the absence of Ukrainian ambassadors in these countries. The Ukrainian government should make a prompt decision and appoint diplomats who can defend Ukraine’s interests in the language of the host country and explain the Ukraine situation in the easy-to-grasp terms in order to ward off the “understanding” of Putin’s position which can be seen now in Austria and some other countries.
As time goes by, our government must act faster, for otherwise there may emerge a situation when other countries will be deciding the destiny of Ukraine. The proof of this is that Lord Weidenfeld, co-chairman of the “M100 Sanssouci Colloquium” advisory board, proposes that a conference be organized next year, with the participation of Western and Russian experts, in order to solve in fact the Ukrainian problem.
Asked about what the West should do to stop Putin’s aggression, he said:
“I think Obama is the worst president after Calvin Coolidge, when it comes to dealing with international affairs. The more he is involved in the Middle East problems, the more hopes Putin has to do what he wants to. It is very difficult to say what will happen in the future. Putin was very good at choosing the time, while Obama was best with a hundred of new problems in the Middle East. And I am very much concerned about what will happen in Eastern Europe. Something must be done. We propose that a big conference be held in Sanssouci next year between Western and Russian representatives so that we see if we can resolve all the problems of Eastern Europe the way the 1878 Berlin Congress did. We must sit down and discuss openly what the Russians want, what we want, and whether we can achieve peace.”
And Ukraine must accept the terms of Russia which has already annexed Crimea and is demanding that our country change its setup?
“No, no. We must achieve a peace that will satisfy both sides and preserve the integrity of Ukraine.”
But Russia must return Crimea, mustn’t it?
“I cannot pass judgments here. As for Merkel, she’d rather do more and see how far Putin will go.”