Lectures of the Second Day of VSS

Dr. Václav Štětka: Taming Digital Platforms and Illiberal Leaders - Can the EU Save Media Freedom and Pluralism in Central Europe?

During the second day of the Visegrad Summer School, participants engaged several experts in lively discussions about several crucial issues, including the European Union's approach to digital media, and cooperation and debates in the Balkan region.

Dr. Václav Štětka of the School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Loughborough University, was the first speaker of the day. Dr. Štětka researches political communication in the digital environment and shared some of his insight during his lecture – Taming Digital Platforms and Illiberal Leaders: Can the EU Save Media Freedom and Pluralism in Central Europe? Following along with very recent events, Dr. Štětka discussed various acts and laws pursued by the European Union in its effort to adapt to changing situations in media environments. Dr. Štětka analysed the European Media Freedom Act, pointing out that although the act was broadly welcomed as an important step towards protecting and promoting media freedom and pluralism in the EU, it faced various criticisms.

With a focus on several case studies and events, participants of the Visegrad Summer School examined possible explanations for growing (and declining) concerns about media freedom. In spite of common beliefs, digital platforms may actually the wrong target of EU initiatives and laws, said Dr. Štětka. He emphasized that social media activism is more liberal and pro-democratic than anti-democratic. Lastly, Dr. Štětka reminded participants that digital platforms are not necessarily the only, or even the most important part of local disinformation ecosystems in Central and Eastern Europe.


Mr. Gjergj Murra: Scenarios for the Future - Regional Cooperation in the Western Balkans

Mr. Gjergj Murra, Executive Director of the Western Balkans Fund, led participants in a lively discussion about Scenarios for the Future: Regional Cooperation in the Western Balkans. Although regional cooperation in the Wester Balkans is relatively new, various strong efforts have been made to further its development, including the Berlin Process, the Western Balkans Fund, and Open Balkans. Mr. Murra highlighted soft connectivity as an essential part of furthering regional cooperation. Fellowship cooperation with the Visegrad Fund has allowed people to travel, move around Europe and pursue research, but Mr. Murra expressed his hope that further programs such as Erasmus exchanges would become available to young people in the Western Balkans.


Michal Vit, Ljupcho Petkovski, and Vuk Uskoković: My Hero – Your Enemy – Sensitive  Constellations in The Balkans 

The second part of the day was a nicely done knot, tying the first session on the Balkan region into more interpersonal, interactive discussion. The almost round-table style talk eased us out of the lunchtime lull, led by Assistant Professor Michal Vit from the Metropolitan University in Prague, director of Innhub in Skopje, Ljupcho Petkovski of Macedonia, and Vuk Uskoković from Serbia who teaches at Serbia’s Journalist Association, who were accompanied by a gracious introduction from Director Dominika.

The tripartite lecture covered several tenets that feed into the image of the Balkan region, how its image is portrayed, how it is perceived and how these factors may play into the integration process at the EU level. The subject matter was certainly heavy, but tension was dispersed with light-hearted humour.

The history of the region was considered, and the active role of the media in how the global arena views the Balkans, and how this in part informs how Balkans view themselves.

To engage the students, the session began with a short word association activity with the word “Balkan” – to see what ideas are currently attached to the word and to the region. This began a fast-paced discussion on the perceptions of the Balkan region and the notion of the “Western Balkan”. The trio of speakers challenged the students to consider the biases that inform their viewpoints. One  optimistic observation was the role of not just the media, but of face-to-face, personal interactions that can be a source of trusted opinions on the Balkans. And many participants agreed that there is an emotional influence that the media instrumentalises, not a logical one. Information is currency that sways opinion, but so is emotion when it comes to changing dialogue.

An impassioned Petkovski spoke about the tribulations of Balkan states that seem to have longer waiting times in the accession process and the caution Western Europe adopts when assessing who is an acceptable level of ‘European’, culturally, and otherwise. Montenegro was also exemplified. Some of the factors considered by the group were the religious diversity of the region, and the anxieties of Western Europe to align with many culturally dissimilar nations. And an energetic back-and-forth with the participants on integration brought a tremendous conclusion to this segment of the day.


Leszek Jażdzewski: The Most Precious Thing in the World

The last class was led by Leszek Jażdzewski who captioned his lecture "The Most Precious Thing in the World".

Jażdzewski currently runs a foundation called Liberté! and is the Editor-in-Chief of the journal with the same name. Although his professional expertise is in Political Science and Publication, his interests lie in the usage of social media, exploring the grip that technology has on its users to the point of addiction, as some of the participants said.
The role of social media was explored extensively, assessing both the positives and negatives of the tool that was initially well-intentioned but has now become a dopamine stimulant with sunken claws in people across generations.

"We are a very adaptable species" according to Jażdzewski, which means that we find ways to cope, to manage, and to interpret new things in a way that ensures out survival. Additionally, in the case of social media, it was easy to adapt to it and recognise it as a tool for quicker information access, for easier connection with loved ones, and as a platform for self-employed entrepreneurs looking to expand their market.

Coping also comes with stepping away from our devices and some techniques were shared among the participants on how to disengage from social media or technology. Some suggestions included mindful meditation, time management, or even hiding devices for a while to detach from them.