Opening statement by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the Conference on Facts vs. Disinformation

05.04.2022 - Speech

Misha Katsurin lives in Kyiv.

A few days after Russia started invading Ukraine, he called his father – who lives in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod. He wanted to talk about Russia’s war, about his fears. But his father interrupted and said:

“In reality, Russia is saving you from the Nazi regime. Russian soldiers are giving food and warm clothes to the Ukrainian people.”

Misha said he hung up after five minutes. But he did not give up.

After this phone call, Misha set up a website, called “Papa, believe”. It’s a website to encourage others in Ukraine to get in touch with their relatives in Russia and – to tell them the truth.
“Don’t shout. Don’t fill yourself with hate. The truth is on our side” – that is Misha’s message.

In this war, it’s the people of Ukraine who are under attack, their lives, their cities, their villages.

But the truth is also under attack.

As Russian tanks destroy Ukrainian cities, the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is censoring news, restricting social media, spreading disinformation and punishing those who dare to speak the truth.

The aim is both clear and cynical: to demoralise the courageous people of Ukraine while keeping Russians in the dark.

It takes incredible courage to stand up to this propaganda.

We see it in the brave citizens, journalists and activists who refuse to be silenced and – as Misha so rightly points out – who refuse to get angry at those who have fallen for the lies of the Russian regime.

No society is immune to false narratives. None of us is immune to them.

Disinformation is dangerous. It undermines trust in public institutions. It harms open discourse. It polarises our societies. It threatens our democracies.

And: disinformation makes it much harder to fight the global challenges that we need to address.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, radicals in Germany launched crude comparisons to the Holocaust and trivialised Nazi crimes. It is deeply concerning that the number of antisemitic attacks also rose during the pandemic. We condemn such attacks in the strongest possible terms.

We also see disinformation campaigns when it comes to the major security challenge of our times: the climate crisis. We see people attacking the scientific consensus, denying facts, trying to fuel social conflict.

I want to be very clear: fighting disinformation does not mean that we “claim the truth” for ourselves and that we are not ready to listen to other opinions.

On the contrary:

It is disinformation that prevents an open debate. It discredits. It suffocates those who hold a different view. Disinformation is an attack on the very values of our liberal democracies: our openness, our transparency, our ability to debate and to argue fairly and freely.

That’s why all of us who share these values need to work together to respond to this major challenge.

We have made it a key commitment of our G7 Presidency to bolster democratic resilience. We want to strengthen the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism – a forum in which international experts come together to identify disinformation threats in real time, to share best practices and develop collective responses.

That’s also why we are working with our Baltic partners to strengthen their ability to deal with Russian disinformation. This includes projects to support and train journalists, increase media literacy and provide fact-based news content in Russian language.

We also consult with our partners, within the G7, the EU and NATO. We support independent research and fact-checking initiatives.

But it takes more than governments. A resilient democracy relies on individuals, institutions, and non-profit organisations to counter the spread of disinformation.

Marina Weisband, Sascha Lobo,

you and the many other communicators and researchers at this conference are stark defenders of open discourse. You don’t shy away from difficult debate. I thank you for this commitment.

I am convinced: we can only win this battle if we take a clear stand.

And if we don’t fall for the same anger and arrogance displayed by those who distort the truth.

Our instruments are the very values they seek to destroy: openness, respect, adherence to rules, facts and reason.

“Don’t shout. Don’t fill yourself with hate.” – that’s how Misha put it. And: don’t give up.


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