Politics

The digitalisation of social relations and international social initiatives — Russia in Global Affairs


On 26 May, the Russian House in Brussels, together with the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the journal “Russia in Global Affairs”, and the Russian International Affairs Council, held the third International Expert Forum “European Meridian, XXI”. 

Expert Forum «European Meridian, XXI»

Session “Post-pandemic. The digitalisation of social relations and international social initiatives”

Fyodor LUKYANOV, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs journal

I was invited to participate in this forum last year and as I remember we were sure at that time that next year’s forum of course will be offline in a much more traditional normal way. As we see, the development turned to be more complicated than we expected and now for example I wouldn’t dare and risk to say in which form our forum will take place next year. Hopefully offline but no guarantee at all anymore in a way this is maybe the main influence of digitalization. The topic of our session digitalization and its impact on social life, on interaction between people and societies but of course the impact of those developments  will be much more long term and will have prolonged consequences. I have my very fresh personal experience: my son who is eight years old finished his school yesterday and that was last day. The teacher invited us to discuss his achievements both negative and positive but what she said and that made me immediately think about our discussion. What she said was that after a year with pandemic she (and she is a very experienced teacher teaching for 30 years) she said that she could barely recognize children because they changed according to her. They changed, they started all of them started to be much less extrovert much more focused on themselves and she believed based on her really rich experience that all this will be with us for quite a quite a long time and that will be of course the most important  implication of what we went through since February — March 2020.  The issue which was put on the agenda in our session is almost unlimited so we can talk about this for hours. Unfortunately we don’t have time for this so I asked distinguished panelists sending them my thoughts yesterday to focus on a few points.

The main one from my point of view is that pandemic of course didn’t change the international politics and international life but what it did was that pandemic gave enormous boost to all those trends which started before. Digitalization was a part of heated discussions  since several years digitalization as a mean as a goal for development. Pandemic just opened up completely new opportunities and made this digitalization basically unavoidable.  Even those who hate Zoom, Skype etc have to use it.  I think we reached a very interesting point of our history when all fears which we inherited from 20th century, the century which gave mankind and global readership the most well-known utopias and dystopias (mostly dystopias and anti-utopias as we call it in Russia). It was a serious fear and serious concern  in the first half of 20th century that societies and states will turn more and more authoritarian and even totalitarian because of social trends,  because of political trends, because of technology and the main fear as we remember was expressed and described in the famous novel by George Orwell “1984”. The expectation that ideologists will create a totalitarian world. At the same time was another writer Aldous Huxley who described basically another way to totalitarianism through technological development and victory and triumph of total optimization and comfort.  In 20th century we believed that Orwellian vision was more dangerous, but now we see that Orwellian vision with the total control and manipulation is  coming and maybe already with us but from the Huxley‘s angle. It’s not true totalitarian ideologies which were more or less defeated in 20th century through the development and achievements of technologies. The result is approximately the same as Orwell described in his anti-ideological novel. The pandemic gave an enormous boost to that.  The question which I would love to ask distinguished panelists to maybe elaborate on is whether we are moving towards universalization but of completely different style than we expected say 30 years ago when ideology was the main inspiration for Orwell to write about totalitarian future. This ideology was defeated and disappeared. Now we are moving towards this and despite of rhetoric which we hear in particular from Biden’s administration now about new divergence and new conflict between freedom and non-freedom, between democracies and autocracies. In fact what we see is less and less difference in approaches to how to govern how to exercise power. The rhetoric and the wording the narrative might be different but means used are more or less if not the same but very much compatible. China which is seen as the advanced authoritarianism or UK which is seen as a model of liberal political system.

I think this is the most interesting phenomenon of today apart with alongside with many other extremely interesting issues. I hope that we will have time to address at least some of them and then I would like to ask our first speaker from Brussels school of governance to join our discussion. 

 

Gianluca SGUEO, research associate at the Brussels School of Governance, Belgium

Thank you very much for inviting me and thank you for this very interesting discussion.

I have heard a few words that triggered my mind and actually fall within my field of expertise. Before joining the Brussels School of Governance, I’ve been working for six years in the European Parliament in the think tank of the European Parliament where I was covering topics concerned with democracy and digitalization.

I am now working as an academic but at the same time I’m advising the Italian Ministry for technological innovation and digital transition. I’m still working in the policy field at the crossroads between democracy and digital policy and this is actually what I would like to share with you. A few thoughts that I have in mind that are concerned with the ongoing pandemic with democracy on the global stage and with the state of the art of digitalization of government. We all know that due to the pandemic governments and public administrations everywhere in the world (I’m thinking about Europe but the same applies to the US and to other countries in the East) have shifted to digital governance. For years we have described digitalization according to a very specific rhetoric and the rhetoric was because of the digital tools. We are going to have a more efficient government, we are going to have a more inclusive and more transparent government this is pretty much the narration of a digital government. I believe there is some truth in this assumption so we can make a better government by using the power and the opportunities of digitalization. Everywhere in the world due to the pandemic the governments had to shift to digital tools. I would say that the result is still very delusional and I believe there is a very specific reason for this. I believe there are two main drivers that we use to assess our understanding of technology.

The first one is how quick is the service that is delivered by a digital service.  If I want to  book a ticket to Brussels or if I want to buy food, if I want to buy my dinner or if I want to buy a book I expect to have the product or the service delivered in a very short time span from where I started to interact with my technology.

The very first element is how quick is the digital service that is delivered.

The second one which is related with the first is I don’t want to engage too much with the technology. Commercial technology is extremely sophisticated but at the same time is designed in a way that it has to look and it has to be as simple as possible.

I believe that the idea of foolproof technology so if you are an idiot compared with the use of technology that is not a limit that is actually an element that is empowers you. The easier and the faster is the technology that we use the better is our evaluation.

These two main drivers have a very specific outcome and this outcome is that we are provided a service that in terms of quality is lower to the best standard.  Think about the music that we listen or the movies that we watch on streaming services or think about the news that many of us read on social media. All these products or services are in terms of quality very low and the reason is that they have to be delivered in a very fast way and they have to be very easy to access and to consume. Where is the problem in my opinion is that the digitalization of governmental services and in particular the digitalization of democratic spaces provided by the governments have been inspired by these two drivers.

The promise that you as a citizen will be able to engage and you will be able to impact on policy making with pretty much not efforts and the result will be visible very quickly so in the very moment in which you engage through the technology you will be able to have an impact is not reached.

I have two examples in mind. The first one which is currently ongoing is the conference on the Future of Europe which I look at this experiment as a very interesting one. The idea was that we’re going to have this platform, you’re going to give us your ideas and eventually the European Union will change according to your proposals which to me is a very huge mismatch between the complexity of politics and policy making in real life.

The other example has been concluded and was run by the President Macron in France two years ago on the topic about climate change.  It was a very a very huge a very sophisticated process held online where citizens were given the chance to make proposals and now a few weeks ago French citizens were asked: what is your opinion about what happened? Are you satisfied about the result?

Obviously the outcomes were very negative. People were addressing this digital space for participation with the same expectations that they have. We all have when we interact with our mobile phones or through the screens that we have now in front of our faces. I believe is the main problem of digitalization. It exploded during the pandemic because during the pandemic governments were forced to move online. Speaking of the my former administration at the European Parliament in March 2020 it was decided that the sessions of the Parliament couldn’t happen in person and so the Parliament decided to move to digital.  Just to give you the idea of how the rhetoric of digital government is different from the reality. At the very beginning the process was done in a way that a member of the European Parliament would receive the documents through the email so they could vote but in order to vote they had to print, sign scan and send back the document to the same email.

The digitalization was not cited by a simplification of the process. I see three main trends that we have ahead of us and I hope this could be a focus of discussion for this panel and for the public debate.

The very first topic is platforms. The most of digital democracy is going to move to digital platforms. The word platform is a very broad word so it can have a lot of meanings but mostly here I’m using it as a space, a digital space where citizens can interact among themselves and they can also engage in discussion with the with the government or the supernatural institution. In the case of the European Union with the conference on the future of Europe. The second one is design. All this problem about the digital democracy and the delusional effects of the digitalization of democracy. I’m not sure it can be solved entirely but I believe it can be addressed with a better design of these digital spaces. The idea is to transmit to citizens the concept that a democratic process is very far from being easy and from being quick. It takes time to reach consensus and it takes time to make a decision even if we are operating through a screen. If we are shifting to a digital tool that doesn’t mean that the entire decision making process is adapting to the same drivers that we have in commercial technology. I believe that it is a matter of design. Now in the G7 and G20 meetings I start to see this word of a human centered design and I believe that is pretty much the idea to try to make the design of these digital spaces more flexible and designed according to the needs.

I was reading yesterday most likely this Lisbon declaration. They have this very nice title which I couldn’t really understand.  I think it can be explained with what I just said. It was digital democracy with a purpose. To me it’s like saying the digital democracy we have.  It gave us delusional results. We are going to add a purpose to it that means we’re going to show you how the process goes. It’s not that immediate and it’s not that easy as your mobile phone.

I think is the concept of data in a broader sense (personal information) has to embrace a certain agreement on the number of information that we collect. As citizens we want to give to governments data in order to let governments make decisions that are fit for our needs.  In the public narration of data there is quite a defensive approach which I think is right. We should defend our data that’s correct but at the same time I don’t think there is a way to make collective decisions online through digital tools that are not data based. This data had to be provided by those who participate. These are my initial thoughts for this discussion.

 

Fyodor LUKYANOV, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs journal

Thank you very much, I think you said a lot of very interesting important points. Data is everything.  Now in Russia there is a popular saying that data is a new oil and that this is the resource for making money. Other people say that data is a new weapon because with data you can do much more than with any anything else. Of course data is a source for actually enormous vulnerability of states because the more digital we are, the easier is it to paralyze us. Recent very strange story with the pipeline in the US and according to leaks money was paid to those people. That was very successful actually and digitalization makes us to think about so many new things. I would like to invite Maxim SUCHKOV Director of the Center for Advanced American Studies to the floor.

 

Maxim SUCHKOV, Director of the Center for Advanced American Studies and Associate Professor at the Department of Applied International Analysis at MGIMO-University, Russia

I would start by elaborating on the three very interesting questions with which the moderator presented us. First, whether there is still the notion of private life today, given all the digitalization of the information space. I believe when we talk and think about this issue we have to distinguish different layers or levels of privacy.

The first level is defined by the very access to the Internet, technology, more generally.  You can have your private life as long as you’re not online. Once you are online you have to operate on the basis that you don’t have any life that is “private.”

The second level is where your privacy is defined by the scale of technology that you use, by the frequency of technology that you use and, to a degree, by the amount of data you produce and consume. It’s when you realize that your data is available to companies and potentially to intelligence services if they either ask for this access or hack into your systems. Some people may be using technology and social media for professional purposes, others for leisure – regardless of the motivation, this is very important. For instance, your WhatsApp chatting is available to Facebook as an owner of this platform and potentially to American intel services. They may be seeking to obtain “your information” and they are the ones who will eventually get it if they want to, but your information is not available to a large segment of population.

This brings me to the third level of privacy which I think is defined by your own choice of the technology use. If you choose to post everything you want, you need to make it a conscious choice on giving up your “sovereignty”. This kind of paradigm of thinking about this topic is helpful to tell us whether we’re able to have privacy these days.

Today you have to distinguish between these different layers of privacy and the things that define them. Troubled times usually give birth to conspiracy theories. This is true about the times of pandemic, especially when these theories are propagated by the top leadership. The other extreme here is that very often elites in different countries disguise some of their potentially draconian measures to regulate tech under the pretext of fighting conspiracy theory. 

There were all these discussions about the need to introduce Patriot Act 2.0 that would even regulate and monitor the digital space even to a greater extent. It hasn’t happened yet but I think it will at some point lead to this.

That brings me to the second question that our moderator asked that some colleagues already elaborated upon. The question is whether there is a difference today between democracies and autocracies. First of all, I have to say that the lines really get blurred and the difference today may even be quite simple – whether your choice is not to be either democratic or authoritarian in a digital space but whether you want to de-platform someone or to censor someone. The truth of the matter is that today both democracies and autocracies struggle over the control of data. What unites democracies and autocracies is, first, how much and through which ways they can get control over data and, second, what type of social and political contract between governments and private enterprises they are able to establish. In my view, it will define what democratic or how authoritarian states are.

Another marker is the type of ownership: who will be owning these technological digital platforms? Whether it’s going to be governments or the private sector? If it’s the latter, what type of a political contract is it able to negotiate with the government? How much of an autonomy is it able to keep?

The third factor we really need to be thinking about that our moderator invited us to elaborate upon is – how to address these vulnerabilities and whether it’s efficient to do it together? Can you really be independent in the cyberspace as far as the regulation of the cyberspace is concerned? Right now I can envision two scenarios. The optimistic one is that a non-state actor presents a threat that other state actors group around and confront. For instance, ransom types of cyber-attacks or some terrorist group attacks. In this scenarios the states collaborate and cooperate to respond to this “common threat”. Even though the implications of such an attack may be disastrous that is really an optimistic scenario since it implies state cooperation.

The pessimistic scenario is that states don’t get united by a joint threat presented by non-state actors and focus on threats that they present to each other. Thus, they continue this race by constantly improving their own cyber capabilities until we come at a point of what I would call a “Cuban cyber crisis”. That would be a serious crisis in cyber domain similar to the Cuban missile crisis which at the time actually ended up to be a good wake-up call and led to agreements in the missile domain. This may potentially lead to some kind of a serious conversation over these issues.

Bluntly speaking I think it’s efficient to counter threats like this together simply because this field is extremely intertwined but the interaction and engagement in this field are complicated. This brings me to my last point.

There are nations that host more digital powers, abuse and exploit these powers to win the new great power rivalry. In one of the latest Valdai reports that myself and three of my colleagues co-authored, we coined this notion of “digital colonialism” and “digital colonies”. The nations that are having their huge digital capabilities are colonizing others in digital space and technology as a way to “swallow” their sovereignty as a way to win this kind of new state rivalry in the 21st century.

 

Thierry MONFORTI, Director of Academic Service and Admissions at the College of Europe, Belgium

I can give my opinion because I’m the director of different service. Here I participate and I manage the selection of our students also taking part into the selection the academic staff and as you certainly know the College of Europe is a what we could tell or identify as a total institution not a totalitarian institution but a total institution. Students live in residences, they share all the premises and the aspect of the social life. Aside from the academic commitment at the College that has also an impact on the relationship, the collaboration and the cooperation between the students, the academic staff and the permanent work. We’re in a very total institution and it’s true that the COVID-19 and the sanitary measures we strictly follow because of the Belgian state. We are in the Flemish region of Belgium. This means that we needed and we had to take decisions and measure to make sure that we respect the rules and that we protect the population of the College. This is where I really strongly disagree with the title of the second item where we have placed the accent on the more digitalization the less difference between democracies.  The crisis is under true quotation mark if I take the example of my institute. Being here as a director in a total institution, we take a very important attention to the protection of data.  The role of everybody at the College from the student to the staff of the College and the academic part of it the visiting professors include it. It’s true that we needed to maintain a good communication between all the actors of the College and making sure that we avoid too many misunderstanding or wrong interpretation in terms of communication between all the actors.  The experience we had via online or remote manner to deal with the situation and it’s not new.  We welcome roughly 50 nationalities in our European institute.  One element to precise is that we are in favor in general of European integration, but we are not an office or an element of the propaganda for European integration. We are first a university arena where everybody can give his opinion or her opinion to the condition that we respect human rights and the principle of the state of law.  Anybody can intervene and can even be against a more integration into the European Union and around European Union.

You need to get into a very I would say positive way of presenting the arguments. The large majority my of my colleagues want and need more integration because of a fundamental I would say principles which is the respect of human rights but also the respect of the state of law.  If I look back to the to the end of the years 2010 where we already started with the selection of the students via skype. Now it’s more webex-based because it’s much more trustful. We had already this experience at least for selecting the students via an interview. Each of the students is interviewed personally so it’s not just a question of selecting people online but also after interview of twenty minutes it’s of course much more comfortable to do that in person. As far as from last year we were entered to proceed with personal interviews in the country or in person at the College. Then we moved to the webex system and we are very satisfied about the results. That’s for sure now the quality of the contacts between the people in a total institution where finally the students were forced to stay in residences to follow most of the course online. It’s clear that it cut the quality of the contacts between the persons and some of them suffered both professors and students but also the administration of the College and the academic staff here present. It’s true that it didn’t destroy it but it affected the quality of the exchanges so we were very very attentive to the maintenance of the quality of the contacts but with the strict application of the sanitary rules.

One very important element through this approach is that we apply the GDPR rules decided by the European Parliament a few years ago. It’s still that from the moment we were in this direction maybe from four to five years ago. We applied them and we developed them, we improved them because it’s clear that applying GDPR rules requires some experience and adaptation. After discussions with the students and the professors via the meetings conferences data we have from the students and the professors is treated in with the application of the rules. We strictly apply the very GDPR rules at the College now at a more we say macro level. When I read the those words regarding digitalization and differences between democracies and other regimes in Europe and in the world, this brings the attention of all of us namely the civil society, the politicians, the governments, the administrations, the private institutions to respect the rules. We need sanitary component of the society. Since last year it’s clear that we need to apply them to the strict respect of protection of data and the GDPR conditions. This is what democracies I think do on the own and their best also supported by the European Commission and all of the European Parliament. Let us compare democracies to other systems. China is neither a dictator nor it’s a totalitarian system where the people are not individuals. They are just part of a community where they are completely filtered, controlled via their smartphone or devices. They get points like children at school and if they don’t respect what the regime and the government decide for them then they will get penalties and maybe will not travel, will not get a loan increase or get some advantages. It’s a system that Stalin in the 50s would have dreamed about. To achieve a system where you don’t only control what the people say in the universities at school or in the Government, or in the Parliaments in Central Europe. This regime would have dreamed about controlling everybody in all aspects of their private life, not only public life. This is what the Chinese are achieving at the moment and this is the most I would say dangerous system ever imagined. It’s really the moment some of the head of states where the democracy is not really very objective. Syria, Belarus, Hong Kong- all those examples show how, I’m sorry to say, our western democracies are very different to those systems and even if we have to be careful with the circulation of data and personal information about the people in a crisis situation. We need to set up the principles or reinforce them to follow the rules in order to avoid that our democracy systems evolve towards a non-democratic system where everybody would be controlled.

 

Stanislav TKACHENKO, Professor at the Department of European Studies, Head of the Diplomacy of the Russian Federation and Foreign Countries Programme at the Faculty of International Relations St. Petersburg University, Russia

I would like to speak on a difficult issue for Russian political scientists and diplomats, namely, values represented in the cyberspace, in the world of information and communication technologies. About a year and a half ago my colleague, mathematician Andei Terekhov and I published a monograph dedicated to political retrenchment of information and communication technologies. In our research we have drawn a conclusion that the community of the world’s IT actors can be divided into five groups, based on what unique values they are guided by.

The first group is cyberlibertarians. They represent values, typical for classic libertarians, genuinely believing that the government has nothing to do in the economy and information sphere.

Cyberlibertarians are convinced, information should be free, and all programme products should have open code. They say that: 1) informatıon is not only a source of problems but also a way to solve them if users stick to certain rules of conduct; 2) cyberspace should be managed by users themselves on an informal basis.

The second group consists of social engineers. They are liberal in their attitudes, condemning violations of privacy and «cyberneutrality», as well as private companies controlling the content on the Web. They oppose both governments, imposing their rules on civil society, and private companies, turning  cyberspace into a tool for giant profit, compromising other spheres of economy and the interests of consumers.

The third group is middle-of-the-road. This group advocates the development of information and communication industry on a national basis. They see it as a driver of economic growth and social progress. We believe, most of the members of Russian government nowadays are convinced that IСT sector is a locomotive for the growth of our economy. So, government should lead it and sometimes throw some wood into its stove (extend funds from the budget) helping the industry keep up the growth rates. Russian moderate group believe, a strong state should provide for innovative development of the national economy, and ICT industry is entitled to reap the benefits of the government’s efforts in that sphere.

The fourth group comprises conservative moralists, who see nothing good in the development of information and communication technologies. In Russian realities they are usually communists and, however strange it may seem, members of conservative communities with negative attitude towards modern technologies and novelties in general.

And the last one includes the advocates of traditional regulation, who suggest that IT sphere is not special and it should be treated equally with other branches. Economics has been developing for hundreds of years, ignoring the technological factor after all, and treating the level of technological development as an external factor for the economy of the country, the influence of which can’t be identified. Nowadays the advocates of traditional managing believe that IT isn’t completely new compared to the technologies that were driving the growth of the world’s economy in the past centuries and were considered to be the embodiment of technical advance.

 I believe, the pandemic has shown that the last two schools — conservatives and supporters of traditional regulation — are out of the context of what is really going on in the world. Actually, they can be omitted in our analysis. So, there are only three groups of values and their adherents, whose opinion cannot and should not be ignored. They are among us, guided in their work by the values that unite them, and both in their dialogue with the authorities and in overcoming the negative political and social consequences of the pandemic, they offer recommendations of both intra-economic and geopolitical significance.

What strategy of using the tools of digitalisation should Russia and the European Union choose to protect society from the impact of the coronavirus?  We believe that the answer and a decent example already exist. Just look at the concept that our Japanese colleagues have been promoting for about five years now. It is called «Society 5.0», and, at first glance, it seems rather trivial. It holds that development should not be seen only as a means to ensure positive dynamics of gross domestic product indicators. The authors of the concept from Japan think that goal of development is lifting the standards of life of the citizens, not the economic growth.

According to this concept, technological advancement, particularly in the sphere of information and communication technologies, should be aimed at improving the quality of life of people, not at industrial development. Every epoch presents a new model of economic growth. There were times, when the import phase-out policy and export-oriented development took the centre stage. Today Japanese experts suggest making information and communication industry more political and including it in the system of social development. So, the resources of the industry can be used to raise the living standards of people. I would like to highlight that from the scientific point of view it’s a very interesting concept. It’s a subject for more and more research, though, not in Russia.

«Society 5.0» not only diagnoses the problems of modern development, but also comes up with some proposals. Today we are interested in questions such as these: which path to take in order to effectively use the latest technologies to neutralise the negative impact of the coronavirus? How can ICT help develop better strategic planning for socio-economic development?

We suggest that there are value-oriented areas of activity that can already be used as the basis for long-term development in the post-COVID period. They are the following:

The first – free and equal access to education. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has recently highlighted the negative impact of the pandemic on the modern youth getting education. The coronavirus pandemic has affected an estimated one and a half billion young boys and girls, deprived of education at schools and universities. Guterres called them a «generation of disaster», because a lack of quality education reduces their value in the labour market and prevents them from embarking on the professional path in time. Therefore, the desire to create better preconditions for equal access to education is what unites today’s civil society all over the world, while pursuing the goals of sustainable economic development and solving social problems at the same time. We can see how distance learning technologies (Zoom, MSTeams, etc.) are helping to achieve this goal.

The second area where ICTs can be most useful in the post-pandemic period is achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2015. In working them out, nearly 200 nations of the world based their activities on their assurance that the time had come for global coordination to promote social and economic development. The eradication of hunger and poverty, health, education and gender equality were identified as priorities. Cyber technologies (big data, artificial intelligence, etc.) can be used in achieving all 17 SDGs more actively, ensuring a higher standard of living. 

While solving social issues in course of the fight against the pandemic, every state on the planet had to decide which values to proclaim fundamental. As it seems, all countries pledged to focus their efforts on social issues. That is to say, governmental structures that have complete power in their hands chose human lives over economic growth. By means of the pandemic we’ve learned about a new aspect of the governmental policy, which recognizes the value of a human life and treats it as something of greater importance compared to the interests of economic growth.

The work of the authorities and civil society during the pandemic allows us to assume that in the new era the states of the world will prefer cooperation to conflict. It is from the European Union that we should learn how to initiate, maintain and extend such cooperation to different areas of the economy and public administration. I was glad to hear such a positive forecast from Professor Thierry Monforti, Director of Academic Service and Admissions at the College of Europe. In the mid-1990s I worked for nearly a year in this great institution, one of the intellectual centres of the «One Europe» movement.  European integration was based on the ideas of several schools of thought, such as functionalism and neofunctionalism, which advocated the benefits of interstate cooperation and its positive impact on the development of the whole structure of interstate relations.

Unfortunately nowadays we tend to describe the processes around us as «crumbling world» — a metaphor suggested by experts at Valdai Forum a couple of years ago. And it still seems to be quite relevant. Focusing the resources of ICT for weathering the consequences of the pandemic as well as other efforts won’t be easy, just like the work in other areas of intergovernmental cooperation. And we should be ready for that. In states’ efforts to achieve this goal (the unification of ICT recources) there are leaders, there are also the ones that trail behind. It is inevitable. But we can expect not only a competition of approaches to addressing post-crisis challenges, but also the identification of the most innovative ones. It will be suitable to implement their experience on the global level. The pandemic, for all its terrible consequences, has cleared the way for new technologies to be used more widely for the benefit all the peoples of the world.

 

Fyodor LUKYANOV, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs journal

What happens to younger generation which is entering life at this point? Can it create a disastrous development for them that they will be unable to address to confront with this new reality?

 

Thierry MONFORTI, Director of Academic Service and Admissions at the College of Europe, Belgium

I would not say catastrophic situation or minds but it’s true that the pandemic has a very impact on the psychology of the young people. The change is not from the crisis we have.  If I compare the students in the 90s because I was a student myself at the College of Europe before those devices existed. We were prompt to dialogue to go to the professors because they were coming from 30 countries and we wanted to enrich ourselves by talking with them and colleagues. Since the 20 years roughly most of the students when they have finished the course or just there is a break of a few minutes, they are just busy on looking on their screen and their messages.

This is an evolution which is even reinforced with the recent devices. This is a problem which is not new but the pandemic has strengthened this tendency and at the College at least we privileged the life in community. That’s why I was talking about total institutions. At least they live in residences but it’s really that will limit the effect of the pandemic. 

I would say the non-totally social life the experience in principle at the College.  It’s true we have a psychologist we work with.  A person had more work and a job to deliver vis-a-vis students who were fragilized by the situation. We do our best, we maintain the dialogue but in some cases students and some of the professors were impacted by this sanitary situation. It’s a preoccupation for those people who will now enter a professional life within a few months as they will face colleagues or themselves in a way where they need to appear stronger and to develop better skills then they have acquired online here at the College.

It’s true that they have faced situations where together they needed to react. I’m quite confident but it’s true if it’s not a catastrophic situation it’s a very preoccupational for the generations to come. 

 

Gianluca SGUEO, research associate at the Brussels School of Governance, Belgium

I quite disagree with this sort of catastrophic views. We have a few data that are interesting. We know for example there is a nice research. They analyzed how students reacted to the online learning. They were all forced from university to a primary school level to have pupils at home and the result is quite interesting.  It shows a few worrying trends and one of those is the sort of disconnection of students from human interactions. There is a problem, however I don’t believe that blaming young generations for engaging with digital tools is the solution or is the way to look at.  I think we are looking at a situation that has obviously changed in less than 10 years. I have two young daughters and they know already how to use technology that we have at home because they were born in a situation in which this is part of their lives. I believe it’s a matter of digital literacy. It’s not to set a limit to the way that they use technology but to question how they will be enabled citizens. How to use it.

It’s not to put a limit but to use it wisely. I agree on the fact that part of this responsibility goes on the education system from college to school. However, I do believe that the primary responsibility is in in the family.  Families are those responsible to make these future individuals using technology proficiently.

 

Maxim SUCHKOV, Director of the Center for Advanced American Studies and Associate Professor at the Department of Applied International Analysis at MGIMO-University, Russia

I’m more on domestic side of things here as well. I think it what we think now that it’s going to be harder for people to adapt but perhaps it’s harder for us.  Being born in the mid 1980s I have an experience of living in a less kind of digital world whereas the younger generation they’re already born into this world.  They don’t have in a way this experience of living in anything different than that. I think it’s going to be much easier for them to adapt to these new things even though I have to concede that there are certain really serious cognitive changes in the thinking of the many youngsters that define their behavior. It may ultimately define the patterns of social conflict and political trends. It will be just because it’s a different setting. It will be in in a way kind of our problem of adaptation.  They I think in terms of adaptation will have easier times.  It doesn’t mean that consequences of this will be any easier or the world will be less secure or more secure.

 

Fyodor LUKYANOV, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs journal

They were born into this reality but I don’t we believe that this scenario might be actually not as linear as we imagine now? When I speak with my students at the Higher School of Economics I try to identify to what extent they are ready to rapidly changing reality. Digitalization is a natural environment for them.  At least we can imagine the scenario about vulnerability. The more digitalization, the more attempts to make it safe which will at the end of the day lead to fragmentation of this global environment because of fears in different countries, different states. As a result when I ask my students who are in their 20s if they will be able to live in in the world with fragmented internet or without global internet? They say yes but they can’t imagine this at all.

Transcript: COVID-19 Pandemic Influenced Significant Social Transformation

Now as the political life has been paralyzed for a while, the political agenda is not disappearing, of course, it is becoming much more complex. Public diplomacy gets even more important than before, but certainly in this new post-pandemic world it should be different, and it should be much more practically oriented than it used to be.

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