Meeting Russia Blog

The important thing is not to stop questioning

April 18, 2019
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Ulrike Reisner, self-employed political analyst, lecturer & journalist, based in Vienna, Austria on Meeting Russia 2019.Under the given political circumstances it takes a good deal of courage and idealism to carry out a programme like “Meeting Russia”, bringing together young (prospective) leaders with institutions and stakeholders of Russian foreign policy.img_4077.jpgPhoto from the Meeting Russia project. Visit to the Eurasian Economic Commission, Moscow. Photo: Elena Tenyukova.

It takes a good deal of courage and idealism to firmly believe that such programmes, even if they last only three days, can contribute to a better mutual political understanding. In any case, this year's event may be considered a success.

One reason for this was the very heterogeneous, exciting group of young leaders from the USA, from Canada and from various European countries, including Russia. If something like a “common spirit" can develop within a few days this was certainly the case in Moscow at the end of March.

Secondly, “Meeting Russia” was carried out with great effort and presented high-profile interlocutors from the Russian side. It shows a high degree of professionalism that the discussions always took place in a constructive, focused atmosphere. It can be assumed that not one of the meetings was a routine item on the respective agenda.

Thirdly, after two days of intensive input from the Russian side, there was sufficient opportunity to exchange - even controversially - opinions and points of view within the framework of panels.

Here, however, break lines and divergences in the views came to the fore. And once again it speaks in the programme’s favour that controversial debates on current political issues are not only possible, but even desired.

Irrespective of the topic, two phenomena could be observed throughout the panels:

1. It is almost frightening how little we (still) know about each other, about political circumstances, historical facts, and social realities. This applies by far not only to the “East-West” dynamic, but to the same extent to the “USA-Europe” relationship, and even to the relationship between European countries. Considering that all the participants are academically educated, politically interested and multilingual, it becomes clear how blatant this information and knowledge deficit must be in broader sections of the population around the globe.

2. The greater the information and knowledge deficit, the greater the tendency to react emotionally. In the panels, it could be observed that even academically trained brains would use stereotypes when it comes to breaking down complex facts into simple communication patterns. Irrational approaches, such as value judgments or doctrines, are visible expressions of the all too human attempt to fit the “the other`s view" into one's own view of the world.

However, the panels have also shown that these controversies (some of them emotional) are meaningful if they take place in a climate of mutual respect. If we succeed in constantly arousing “curiosity about the different” anew, we will not only remain ready to talk, but will also be able to broaden our own horizons.

To quote Einstein: The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.

Faced with the highly complex political challenges, this attitude demands a good deal of courage and idealism. It is precisely for this reason that we need - across national borders - more programmes such as “Meeting Russia”.
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