The ’Petersburg Dialogue’, a forum of civil societies, is a venue for discussing the most pressing issues in different spheres of public life from politics to economics. Scientists from St Petersburg University take an active part in the meetings of the working groups.

The main topics that attracted the attention of the experts of the working group ‘Politics’ are: the current state of Russian–German relations; the problems of regional migration; and the integration of ‘Wider Europe’. During the discussion of the key reports, associate professor of St Petersburg University Anna Volkova (Department of Political Governance) spoke about the contribution of civil societies into digitalisation which entailed a new series of challenges.

She underlined that collaboration between countries on the internet should not be limited only to countermeasures against cyberattacks. According to Anna Volkova, cyber web communication of the citizens pushes the limits of the nation states: social media have immense potential for stabilisation of relations but also for manipulation, confrontation and escalation of conflicts. Social media’s mobilising role through producing and spreading stereotypes and shaping public values should not be underestimated. This relates to the problem of governing a country in a cyber society as well as post-truth phenomenon. 

The meetings of the working groups of ‘Petersburg Dialogue’ forum take place regularly throughout the year. For example, from 29 September to 1 October in Sochi a meeting was held of the members of the subgroup Digital Task Force of the working group ‘Science and Education’.

‘Both the positive effects of digital communication (citizen science) and the dangerous forms of civic engagement (cyber vigilance) have a political dimension connected with civic capabilities, public politics and governance of states,’ Anna Volkova considers. ‘Russia and Germany are focused on the idea of a state as a communication platform, which implies the possibility of political self-management of the citizens. Collaboration in the sphere of e-government development and using a political source of social media are also important paragraphs of the outcome document of the working group.’ 

Experts decided to hold joint meetings of the groups ‘Economics’ and ‘Civil Society’ because many issues in these fields are interdisciplinary. The key problem of communication was considered to be building relationships of confidence. ‘In my opinion, Russia and Germany have a mutual issue of public policy, which is the issue of civic engagement. From the point of view of political science and political philosophy, Germany at the end of the 20th century tried to solve the problem of constitutionalism as a basis of state ideology. Today, this challenge is even more pressing: education of citizens; development of civil capacities; the idea of a citizen in a digital era; the limits of civil activity; and civil control,’ Anna Volkova said.   

According to the interdisciplinary agenda of the forum, the joint meeting was headed by the experts of the working groups ‘Ecological modernisation’ and ‘Economics’. Associate professor of St Petersburg University Nikolai Bobylev (Department of Ecological Safety and Sustainable Development of Regions) delivered a presentation. He spoke about what kinds of natural resources (renewable, potentially renewable, non-renewable) can be used more widely for creating an ecologically comfortable environment in modern cities. 3D urban planning becomes especially important in view of the global agenda on sustainable urban development. The scholar paid attention to certain innovations that will be integrated into the spheres of land and critical infrastructure management in 15 to 30 years’ time. 

This year the University started the admission for the educational programme ‘Geourbanistics’ (‘Master in Urban Management’), devoted to the complex problems of urban development.

Among all the working groups of the ‘Petersburg dialogue’, most of which have a limited scope of activities, a special place is taken by ‘Workshop of the Future’. Its participants represent almost all spheres of civil society. This is why they tackle very different problems connected with the trends of the development of global society, of Russia and Germany in particular. One of the key targets of the group is to involve the younger generation in the dialogue.

This year ‘Workshop of the future’ worked together with the group ‘Civil Society’. Experts discussed the issue of the roles of women in the development of civil society. Also, culture was a repeated subject in the discussion. This autumn, a separate working meeting of the workshop is planned to talk over the topics of digitalisation, ‘informational hygiene’ and communities. Junior research associate of St Petersburg University Alina Iashina (Department of Problems of Interdisciplinary Synthesis in Social Sciences and Humanities) is planning to give a presentation at the meeting.