Dear ladies, dear gentlemen,
I wish you a pleasant morning and I would like to greet you in the name of the Czech government at this year’s STRATCOM SUMMIT.
Allow me to start my appearance with a passage from one radio address which was delivered by an important Czechoslovakian journalist Ferdinand Peroutka. Peroutka is a journalist which legacy is still very much alive and debated in the Czech Republic. He delivered this address when the broadcasting of Radio Free Europe was launched in 1951. To quote Ferdinand Peroutka: “No one, and a small country in particular, can allow themselves to not see facts. And the facts are that the two biggest national tragedies occurred two times in only thirty years of our freedom. If we do not want to be beggars, who each five or ten years flee abroad to ask and beg for their freedom to be returned, we must find some kind of our own strength. And that strength can be based only on uniting smaller units into larger ones.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that the words of this important figure of Czech journalism and an active advocate of democracy and its basic principles are as valid today as they were 65 years ago.
No one can allow themselves to not see facts. Nevertheless, the question which we more and more often have to ask, and which is clearly by far more acute than it was those 65 years ago, is what actually facts are, how to distinguish them from fake news, and how to distinguish them from news which was intentionally distorted.
The communication technologies we have now allow us to draw from an infinite amount of information. However, it is often almost a superhuman task to find out their source and verify their credibility, not only for amateurs who do not have time for it but also for the people that deal with information professionally. That is why I am glad that we are hosting a conference in Prague where the focus is primarily on disinformation and strategic communications.
Hybrid threats are a complex problem and if we do not pay enough attention to them, they have the potential to not only endanger our security but they could also have a fatal impact on democratic principles and institutions, which are the cornerstone of our political system and which guarantee our freedom.
The Czech Republic is aware of the situation and has repeatedly shown that it wants to actively develop cooperation in the field of security within the Euro-Atlantic structures. At the same time, we see countering hybrid threats and our initiatives in the area of disclosing disinformation campaigns as an important part of this effort.
In our national Security Strategy, the Czech Republic clearly defined its security priorities. After that, we have carried out the National Security Audit and examined how we are doing in fulfilling those goals. I believe that a thorough analysis of the situation and its solutions should be the foundation of any strategy and in the case of new challenges, which hybrid threats definitely are, this is of particular importance.
I deem very important that we have set the improvement of strategic communications as one of our goals in the Audit. We now have a clear vision about what are our problems and imperfections and we can focus on eliminating them.
I deem essential that strategic communications have become an integral part of our political planning. Yet we do not use it only during planning, we also use it as a significant tool of our security policy.
An example of such innovation in the Czech environment is primarily the establishment of a new specialised working group focused on hybrid threats within the National Security Council, on whose activities newly participate representatives from all issue-related institutions and ministries. Then there is, of course, the Centre Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats, which is the first step for creating a network of other partner departments.
Nonetheless, an inevitable part of strategic communications must be an effort to improve the communication of our political decisions and concrete steps towards the public as well. By doing so, we will naturally narrow the space for potential misinterpretation. Therefore, our goals in strategic communication must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and well-timed.
Together with Ferdinand Peroutka, I am also aware of the fact that our task is not simply one of national character but that our strength is also based on our ability to unite smaller units into larger ones. It is important to actively raise not only political debate but also actual activities and the Czech Republic is prepared to positively and, above all, actively contribute to both at the European level. Identification of common problems and experience & information sharing within the EU or NATO are the keys to success. That is why the Czech Republic has its representative both in the NATO StratCom CoE in Riga and in the EEAS East StratCom Task Force.
Another important response to the dangers we are facing is the support for independent media, not only at home but also, for example, in the region of Eastern Europe. We cannot limit our attention only to public media, which should primarily guarantee objective reflection of important topics and current situation and which we therefore must support in their efforts to face propaganda and disinformation. We should also not forget about the private media, which must likewise honour the basic principles of independent journalism, impartiality, and independence from partial interests, and we should support them in this effort.
I believe that there will be further opportunities to tackle this issue within the EEAS team. I also believe that this team is capable of producing a quality outcome, not only in the EU but particularly in the Eastern Partnership countries and in the Western Balkans. However, in order to achieve that, the team needs to have a clear support from the High Representative Federica Mogherini and also needs a stabilisation of its base. I am convinced that on a long-term basis, this project cannot be financed just by the member states – it should have its own budget and sufficient staff capacity.
Nevertheless, I do not want to give up on the duty of all of us to fight disinformation campaigns. I am glad that the Czech Republic is effectively engaging in new European initiatives, including, but not limited to, supporting independent Russian-language media, and I believe that this as well has been and still is one of the topics debated here. The sum which we spent annually on supporting independent Russian-language media exceeds 10 million Czech crowns and, given the importance of such projects, we want to increase it even more in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank you not only for your attention but most importantly for your activity and your interest in hybrid threats and strategic communications. I believe that this year’s STRATCOM SUMMIT will further improve the mutual cooperation between states, academics, and NGOs and that our efforts will be put to good use.