Written by: Ewa Puzdrowska, Head of Education

Since 2016 the British Council has been working in the Baltic States to help the communities in these countries build their resilience to disinformation and misinformation and to build social cohesion. We are fortunate in that we were well established in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, beginning our work in the region almost immediately after they gained independence. Through our work in the Baltic States over 30 years, we have become a trusted brand, a trusted partner. As such we were uniquely placed to address such a challenge. 

Using our expertise in cultural relations, education and the transformative power of arts and culture, we set about the task of changing mindsets and lives. At the outset of the programme, we reached out immediately to engage local government and education leaders to establish the institutional dynamics of the programme. This included study visits to the UK for school leaders to see how a multicultural and multilingual society approached positivity and inclusion. As a result of those study visits, and further work with the schools, they have founded the Multicultural Schools Alliance in Estonia and are working together on implementing the ideas that they saw in the UK.

Through the Big Small Screens media literacy project, students and teachers learnt how media channels work, improved their critical thinking and analytical skills, and enhanced their resilience to false narratives and disinformation. Big Small Screens brought diverse communities together and enabled them to jointly create positive narratives. The project activities fostered friendship and cooperation between Lithuanian and Russian schools. By reaching out to the most vulnerable people, Big Small Screens allowed teenagers from challenging backgrounds to be inspired by alternative role models from the media industry.

We also moved simultaneously to begin working directly in societies using targeted initiatives to activate a series of projects that were focused on bringing communities together to explore their cultural differences. Focusing on arts and culture, this was designed to strengthen the relationships between Russian and local language speakers and help them build the feeling of belonging to the local communities and to their country. We did this by creating safe spaces where they could engage in different activities that they were interested in, work together to achieve common goals, and talk to each other. 

The unique and exciting Narva Venice Art Residency project opened in a secluded area in Estonia where the population is isolated. Initially, residents complained in the media regarding the project and how outsiders were invading their small and peaceful paradise. However, when the project started, the protesters discovered that the five foreigners who were selected to create various art in Narva Venice were not enemies and warmed to them quickly. They began socialising and engaged in traditional pastimes together and the feedback from both sides has been overwhelmingly positive. The project also hosted many 'open to all' community events in Narva Venice. The Minister of Culture, Piret Hartman, and Minister of Environment, Madis Kallas, also visited Narva Venice.

We also organised a camp festival ‘Creative Miracles’ for young people of diverse ethnic backgrounds in Šalčininkai district in Lithuania. During the eight-day summer camp festival, workshops were held on creativity, acting, improvisation, and rhetorical speaking. In addition, the young attendees and professional creators organised art performances, exhibitions and poetry readings, attracting hundreds of people from the south-eastern region of Lithuania to attend the performances. The summer camp festival fostered an erudite environment for sharing creative ideas and cross-community collaboration, allowing young people to develop their initiative, their practical competencies and elevate their critical thinking. 

The Travelling Architecture Workshops (TAW) delivered 5-day sessions in Russian speaking towns, aiming to encourage local young people to be active in creating their environment. TAW workshops are based on democratic decision-making principles and inclusive participation. Together with professional architects, young participants built physical objects and constructions in their local public spaces, including a stage, a swing and benches. It is expected that those new public objects will inspire the town's community to come together and continue taking care of their environment by themselves. Following the workshops, the Baltoji Vokė community started to organise local film nights in a newly created space. 

As the programme matures, we are focusing on providing sustainability. We are working with public bodies, including central and local governments, teacher training institutions and education authorities to continue with the workshops and to build their understanding of why and how these workshops are successful. This also includes work on different gender initiatives in each country to promote female role models and support the acceptance for women's participation in public life.