Latest News from Transitions (TOL)

Past Events

Googling Internet Freedom

Give or take a few glitches along the way, the Visegrad Four (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland), have largely avoided nasty headlines about Internet freedom restrictions and have been leaders in the post-communist region in guaranteeing their citizens freedom on the net.

But how enshrined are those values in legislation and in the minds of the authorities? Do governments, unbeknownst to the public, actually filter content or take advantage of legal ambiguities to censor certain types of content? Answering those questions and more are at the core of a new partnership between TOL and PASOS, a network of policy centers across Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The joint research project will involve producing country reports by early next year reviews of legislation and other policies, as well as interviews with all of the key players.

Heading up the research effort will be four of the region’s most prominent think tanks: the Association for International Affairs in Prague, the Center for Media and Communication Studies at the Central European University in Budapest, the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw, and the Institute for Public Affairs in Bratislava.

The project also represents our first collaboration with Google, which approached TOL and PASOS about joining forces to promote digital rights and Internet freedom.

“Google is excited about working to promote Internet freedom in countries that are so very aware of the value of freedom – who, having won it through hard sweat and struggle, are determined to protect it,” said Bill Echikson, Google’s director of free expression policy for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

“We’re delighted to work with such excellent partners as Transitions and PASOS, organizations devoted to promoting freedom of expression in Central and Eastern Europe,” Bill said.

The final publications from each of the V4 countries will be published and promoted by Google, TOL, and PASOS, and the content will be accessible in a variety of languages. After those efforts to put Internet freedom and digital rights higher on the agenda in these parts, we’ll truly know if the V4 countries are the leaders they’re cracked up to be.

Blogging for Greater Impact

The rapidly changing world of new media can seem alien to the untrained eye. In hopes of narrowing the gap between the known and the unknown, Poland’s Common Europe Foundation, Ukraine’s Regional Press Development Institute (RPDI), Slovakia’s MEMO 98, and TOL partnered to run two workshops in mid-September in Kyiv. Targeted at Ukrainian bloggers, social activists, NGO representatives, and independent journalists, the workshop’s goal was to boost the quality and impact of their writing.

TOL shared in the design of the workshop and supplied one of our top Czech trainers, Jan Rybar, a longtime foreign correspondent for the Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes who is now a media consultant and online journalism expert. Jan teamed up with Rasto Kuzel, co-founder and director of MEMO 98 and one of the region’s top media monitors and analysts. While Rasto focused on the standards of good journalism and ethics, Jan tackled topics such a website promotion and site statistics.  

Around 50 people took part in the two workshops, held back-to-back from 13-16 September and sponsored by Poland’s Solidarity Fund. One group included mostly professional journalists who already had some experience with Internet journalism, while the second group consisted of NGO workers, activists, and bloggers.

“The workshop for activists and bloggers was a big success – the participants were impressed,” said Katia Ivanova, RPDI’s program manager who handled the translation during the event. “All the topics discussed were up-to-date and interesting. The participants got a clear idea of what can be done with their websites and blogs.”

Katia also commended the choice to focus on plagiarism. “At first I had my doubts about paying so much attention to the topic, as I thought that journalists are well aware of what plagiarism is and how to deal with it, but I have to admit, it was absolutely necessary. Neither bloggers nor journalists knew much about plagiarism and why it’s bad. So special thanks to the trainers for bringing up this issue.”

Jan expressed similar satisfaction with the workshop as a whole. He felt that participants came from “very different corners,” a diversity that enabled great discussions and led to “concrete solutions” that looked optimally toward the future. And in Ukraine, where the mainstream media continue to suffer from the domination of oligarchs and a stifling of alternative voices, that’s all one can really ask for.

Success Story

In a country still recovering from the darkness caused by mass ethnic violence in June 2010, Kyrgyzstani journalist Hamid Toursunov has been shining a light on the efforts of local and international peace workers using skills he acquired from TOL – through several training events and the regular feedback he receives from TOL editors.

“The acquisition of the new skills have led to better coverage of stories I send to my editors,” Hamid says. “I started better preparing for interviews and structuring my questions. I’m putting more effort into providing deeper coverage, focusing on new developments in society from the reader’s perspective.”

Hamid understands the importance of reporting any evidence of progress in Kyrgyzstani society and creating a space that can bring opposing sides together, all leading toward reconciliation and development of a more peaceful society.

“Media stories about certain issues in society, particularly in a post-conflict society, are very useful – first of all for better awareness of policymakers/decision makers and to raise public awareness. … I believe my stories have contributed to such [reconciliation] processes.”

In the course of his past work with TOL, Hamid has also become an expert on educational issues to the point of serving as a trainer for several young Kyrgyzstani journalists on the topic as part of a program financed by the Education Support Program of the Open Society Institute. Under Hamid’s guidance, the participants learned practical and theoretical aspects of reporting education, including the benefit of using the inverted pyramid and how to keep opinion separate from storytelling. Participants also had time to work on actual stories (one of them was subsequently published by a human-rights website) and get in-the-field guidance from Hamid.

Hamid’s educational expertise led, earlier this year,

to the publication of an article on vocational training in Kyrgyzstan for the European Training Foundation, an EU agency that helps developing countries to reform their education, training, and labor market systems. His story described how a local NGO in southern Kyrgyzstan is using live performances – music, dance, poetry, and sketches – to teach young people about vocational education. Representatives of ETF had met Hamid during a workshop for education journalists, jointly funded by ETF and OSI, that took place in the spring of 2012 in Brussels.

Such publications are sure to widen Hamid’s audience to Europe and beyond, but his impact locally in tracking the peace-building process could be just as significant, if not more.

Featured Content

Transitions Online ( often showcases the work produced through our grant programs. Some of the highlights from September include the following stories:

6 September 2013
Could Aliev Win the Right Way?
Few doubt Azerbaijan’s strongman president has a genuine base of public support, but October’s election is unlikely to give its true measure.
By Arifa Kazimova

12 September 2013
Through the Body, to the Soul
The work of a special Uzbek theater company forces spectators to recognize that the inner life of dancers with disabilities may be wider than their own.
By Dengiz Uralov

20 September 2013
The Empty Schoolhouse
A shortage of teachers in the countryside is one of the trends reshaping Moldova’s educational landscape.
By Natalia Ghilascu

30 September 2013
The Empty Schoolhouse
A shortage of teachers in the countryside is one of the trends reshaping Moldova’s educational landscape.
By Maia Edilashvili

Current Projects

Azerbaijan and Moldova
Promoting the use of new media and social media among journalists, civil society organizations, and young people.
Central Asia
Promoting the use of Internet media and new media techniques to produce, promote, and distribute new forms of content.
Improving the quality of environmental investigative journalism while increasing the impact of the environmental movement in Russia.
Education Reporting
Using distance learning courses, workshops, and other resources to improve reporting on education-related topics.

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