The Institute for Global Analytics held its international conference Fostering Effective Strategic Communications for Resilient State and Society: Comparative Best Practices from across Europe, which took place on October 20 at Grand Hotel Sofia.
The event gathered experts from various European countries to discuss best practices of strat com that could be of assistance to Bulgaria’s ongoing initiatives in this field. The event also marked the release of IGA’s strat com guide Effective Strategic Communications for Resilient State and Society: A Conceptual and Institutional Blueprint as well as a new extensive polling analysis Teetering on the Brink of Regional Convergence: Bulgarians’ Stances on Russia’s War against Ukraine, Strategic Orientation, Democracy, Media and Values vis-à-vis Central and Eastern Europe.
German Ambassador to Bulgaria, H.E. Irene Plank, delivered the keynote address, in which she highlighted the significance of strategic communications in the context of disinformation activities that attempt to disturb important social and political events, such as elections. A coordinated response on the government, societal as well as EU level therefore needs to be forged for effective countering of propaganda.
The first panel of the conference, moderated by Dr. Rumena Filipova, discussed the European approach to strat com, Russian influence operations (particularly in Georgia) and the institutional underpinnings of strategic communications. In his presentation, Soren Liborius (Senior Diplomat, East StratCom Task Force, EU) emphasized the FIMI concept (foreign information manipulation and interference) as shaping the EU’s approach to analyzing and tackling disinformation. He pointed out the importance of the Digital Services Act as exerting a concrete content moderation impact (vis-a-vis X, for example) and further directed attention to the EUvsDisinfo’s extensive database of cases of disinformation. Givi Gigitashvili (Research Associate, Atlantic Council DFRLab) noted the difference between disinformation as a unidirectional phenomenon (the audience as a passive recipient of messages) and strat com as cross-dimensional (whereby strat com specialists seek constant feedback from the audience). He assessed Georgia’s strategic communications as problematic as they lack understanding of the audiences’ values and concerns and rely on reactive messaging. In contrast, Russia crafts disinformation that is tailored to the Georgian audience’s specificities. Professor Jaroslav Dvorak (Head of the Department of Public Administration and Political Sciences, Klaipeda University, Lithuania) underlined the importance of strat com on the level of cities (as units that can redefine both domestic and international politics) and maritime sustainability and security as further elements of strategic messaging for littoral states.
The second panel discussed best strat com practices from Romania, Slovakia and Ukrane and was moderated by Dr. Christopher Nehring. In their presentation, Ovidiu Raețchi (President of the Euro-Atlantic Resilience Centre, Romania) and Daniela Munteanu (Head of Research, Euro-Atlantic Resilience Centre) underscored successful cases of Romanian government countermessaging, especially in the context of disinformation about shortages of fuel. The effective response was conditioned by a timely recognition of the developing disinformation campaign, use of tailored channels according to targeted age groups, cooperation among all stakeholders involved and deployment of a formalized framework for responding to disinformation. Jana Kazaz (Research Fellow, Centre for Democracy and Resilience, GLOBSEC) shared GLOBSEC’s research and strat com training conducted in Slovakia. She highlighted capacity mapping and needs assessment as critical to devising effective strat com skills building. The creation of a strat com hub can additionally provide for a whole-of-society coordination platform. Taras Mokliak (Analyst, Center for Defense Reforms, Ukraine) described Ukraine’s active strategic communications as a key element in the country’s ability to counter Russia’s informational war.
In a specially dedicated session, Dr. Rumena Filipova presented the results of public opinion polling in Bulgaria (conducted in cooperation with GLOBSEC), which shows that Bulgarians are characterized by the lowest adherence to the EU and NATO; the least critical assessment of Russia; the weakest perception of threat from Moscow and Beijing; the highest approval of autocratic leaders; the most entrenched anti-Western views.