On 10 March 2015, ICDS held a roundtable entitled Communication Strategies as a Factor in Integration and Social Cohesion: Government, and Non-Profit Perspectives.
The roundtable – the second to be held this year in the Russian language – is part of a long-term strategy to establish a regular platform for the free exchange of views on topics of strategic importance to Estonian society as a whole. Its aim was to assess the need for a coordinated strategy among government institutions, NGOs, and even journalists themselves in order to combat the negative impact of Russian disinformation in Estonia.
ICDS junior research fellow Anna Bulakh opened the discussion by arguing that Russian disinformation has increased in Estonia, asking whether government institutions should create a strong communication strategy by working more closely with both media and non-profit sectors. llmar Raag, advisor at the Government Communication Unit, Government Office (Riigikantselei), stressed the importance of readiness and willingness to speak with one voice in any crisis situation, whether caused by Russian disinformation, natural disasters, or war. He concluded that while there is no simple solution for ensuring psychological defense, effective collaboration among all sectors would contribute to creating a safer and more secure environment in Estonia.
For his part, Aleksandr Aidarov, advisor at the Cultural Diversity Department of the Ministry of Culture, focused on the ministry’s financial support for NGOs. Aidarov contended that the connection between the state and the non-profit sector is a strong one, citing among others the regular Integration Monitoring studies of the effectiveness of immigration policy that the Ministry commissions. . He added that a new public-funded Russian-language TV channel ERR can be a key part of integration policy.
Finally, director of the Integration and Migration Foundation (MISA) Dmitri Burnashev explained the aims of his organization and of the NGO sector in general, expressing his view of how to increase social cohesion in Estonia. Speaking as a former entrepreneur, he compared Russian and Estonian communication sources as competitive products: if the target audience trusts Russian sources more, then Estonia needs to understand the reasons why—and improve its own “product” rather than simply repeating the message that the competitor has a “bad product.” Thus, Burnashev concluded, it is necessary to implement policies to increase the local identity of the Russian-speaking community and to underscore the importance of every resident as an integral part of Estonian state.
These remarks were followed by a lively discussion among the assembled participants—who included NGO representatives, government officials, media experts, researchers, journalists, and others.
The main conclusions and recommendations that emerged from the discussion will be included in a forthcoming ICDS publication by research assistant Kristina Potapova.