Ways to improve relations between Russia and Germany were discussed at the 15th Partner Cities Conference in Dueren featuring a delegation from the Russian Civic Chamber. The conference’s theme was Ways of Understanding: Partnerships as Mediators of German-Russian Dialogue.
“Russian Seasons festival with its 450 events is being held in Germany, and relations are not improving. 450. How many do we have to hold? 4,500?” asked head of the Russian Civic Chamber Valery Fadeyev
who moderated the plenary session of the conference.
Special Presidential Envoy for International Cultural Cooperation, Mikhail Shvydkoi, also shared his view on the situation: “Two parallel worlds exist in Germany. Looking at the media, you could think that the country is anti-Russian, but when talking to people you arrive at a different conclusion. According to the general consulate, more people have applied for Russian visas in Bonn this year than in 2013: 21,000 applied for visas in May in Bonn alone.”
“The media reflection does not always show how things really are. Russian-German relations are developing in a global context. There are bloc relations, relations of alliance, but ultimately there are one’s own interests to consider. Historically, we have deep and diverse connections. A lot has been said here about the forgiveness and reconciliation that took place. I believe this is a great value. What happened between Russia and Germany in the 1980s and the 1990s is a great asset. It is unlike anything in the world,” Shvydkoi said.
Valery Fadeyev asked why there is such a gap between the media discourse and what people think.
The answer came from Gabriele Krone-Schmalz, a German broadcast journalist, opinion writer and professor of journalism. She believes that when speaking about democracy the majority’s opinion must be considered, and most Germans favor good relations with Russia: “It is necessary to begin a discussion about lifting the economic sanctions here in Germany instead of waiting for another renewal.”
According to Krone-Schmalz, the vision guiding journalism has changed: now there’s something messianic about it, a desire to force a point of view instead of showing the reality.
“Reality is not a freeze frame but a chronology of events, so it is critical to know the chronology. You have to constantly shift your perspective in order to better understand another’s point of view. No one has sovereignty of interpretation. There is nothing easier than turning two nations against each other. A media agenda is necessary,” she said.
Valery Fadeyev agreed and proposed establishing a working group within the German-Russian Forum that would try to create such an agenda. Gabriele Krone-Schmalz said that the idea should be taken into consideration as well as issues that could form the agenda, which must be taken seriously.
Mikhail Shvydkoi offered the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum as a dialogue platform for Russian and German media.
Answering questions from journalists, Valery Fadeyev noted that he believed anti-Russian propaganda was way stronger now than during the Cold War.
“A lot depends on the work of journalists. There is a myth that civil society in Russia is very weak and all the organizations are controlled by the government. But the problem likely lies elsewhere: the government does not take such organizations very seriously. The bureaucracy is very bad at communicating with society. Mediation between government, society and business is our task, getting everyone to look for a solution,” he said.