Cultural diplomacy is a source of uniting or dividing people. The White House decision NOT to participate in the Sochi Paralympic games for athletes with physical and intellectual disabilities is a reflection of the crisis in Ukraine which has divided cultures and now cuts American participation off.
The Ukraine situation is a cultural breakdown between ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Tartars and other groups who struggle with cultural issues like language and history. Sports can be a part of positive diplomacy but is also a way to signal dissent with another country as is the case here. Cultural diplomacy – be it sports or other forms of so-called “soft power” is influential.
Recently I wrote about a form of cultural diplomacy known as culinary diplomacy where food is the source of bridging cultures.Taught and promoted at the Berlin-based Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, food diplomacy is taking off in the United States as well, in part due to an initiative started by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Chef Corps which uses the power of chefs to teach slow cooking, agriculture, the business aspects of food, etc.
From Iran to Africa, from Haiti to Korea, from Ukraine to Uganda—food and sports are ways to motivate people: hopefully in a positive direction.
Ukraine will need good public diplomacy from the U.S.
Secretary Kerry is wise to be heading to Ukraine on Tuesday for both formal and symbolic diplomacy to signal to the ordinary citizen in Ukraine that the U.S. respects its territorial sovereignty and its human dignity. These are the moments when visits really matter.
With Russian troops on the move in Crimea, ethnic Russians also need to know that their rights will be protected. This conflict cannot afford to spiral out of control. Leaving aside the human toll that conflict could take, and the wider war this episode might evoke, there are public diplomacy and economic reasons for all actors in this drama to want a peaceful ending.
Crimea is a major tourism spot for Ukrainians, Russians and Western visitors. Even National Geographic has written about the seaside beauty, the vineyards and orchards of this Black Sea resort. Russia just emerged from a tourism boom in Sochi. It shouldn’t risk sending a message to the world that tourists should stay away from Russia and the Black Sea resorts of Ukraine. Moreover, economic issues like oil prices — which would spike as a result of any sanctions against Russia — should motivate all sides to calm down.
In 1782, Catherine the Great’s military general, Prince Grigory Potemkin wrote of Crimea saying “Russia needs its paradise.” But today, times have changed. This is 2014. Russia should not risk it all. Let’s hope public diplomacy and diplomatic talks result in a win-win for everyone.
On February 12, multiple peaceful-turned-violent protests erupted in the major cities of Venezuela. These rallies conducted by university students have snowballed into a national conflict between the state and its citizens. The students were pacifically voicing their discontent against the government for the innumerable injustices currently plaguing Venezuela. The mandate to arrest these students turned highly controversial and thus incited the monumental manifestations, teeming with violence, that have taken place over the past few weeks. The nation’s president, Nicolas Maduro, commanded militarized police authorities to inhibit the protests, which has regrettably resulted in many injuries and deaths.
These incidents simply add further lines to the long list of mistreatments of citizens by the Venezuelan Government. Although international media has been scant as the crisis unfolds internally, manifestations and pleas for support have now reached a worldwide audience.
However, as we know there are always two sides of the story. Instead of addressing or planning to resolve the issues tormenting Venezuelan citizens, President Maduro’s tactics included a massive campaign to portray his government, at least attempt to, as victims of a conspiracy plan to overthrow their regime.
Venezuela’s public diplomacy abroad
This week, President Maduro’s administration began strategic movements to diffuse their two important messages: first, that information reaching international audiences regarding the situation in the country has been manipulated and exaggerated by media agents; second, to convince the international public’s opinion that the United States is partly to blame for the instability in the country due to their intervention with internal affairs through supporting the opposition.
These approaches have been used both domestically and internationally. Within Venezuela, it has been easier to manipulate due to the government’s ownership over the majority of communication outlets, and the immense oppression of information over private or international ones.
One of the main global venues used to broadcast these messages are Venezuelan embassies throughout the world; mostly through their social media pages. Additionally, just this week the Venezuelan Chancellor for external affairs, Elias Jaua, has commenced a global tour in search for support of the current government and more broadly the continuation of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Have their public outreach efforts been effective?
The problem with Venezuela’s credibility is the shocking and inspiring number of demonstrations taking place in the country, as well as the increasing momentum gathering world-wide denouncing the events and actions taken by the government. What is being protested against President Maduro’s administration transcends above local needs; citizens demand fundamental democratic principles.
For instance, 1) media repression and the current control of information and media outlets, 2) Oppressing freedom of assembly by using militarized security force against protesters, and 3) jailing his opponents such as the incarceration of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. These tactics, historically used by authoritarian regimes, have made it difficult for President Maduro to hide violations and defend his so-called democracy.
The social, political, and economic conditions in Venezuela are favorable to the development and continuation of large-scale protests and discontent with the government. However, it is the hope all Venezuelans to see their government actively working towards the amelioration of the country’s conditions, rather than actively seeking international approval and support of their 15-year failed socialist revolution.
The United States’ role
The structural conflict that has allowed for institutionalized state violence is due in part because all opposition groups or organization voicing the smallest criticism against the Venezuelan government are silenced, rebutted, punished, or censored by the government or its supporters. Thereunto, the United States government is indirectly forced to opt for ambiguous remarks and denunciations against Venezuela; carefully wording its discontent against the actions and the situation as a way to avoid accusations of “invading in internal affairs.”
Yet, even when President Obama’s administration is selective in its statements, Venezuela’s government will take any hint of criticism as a window of opportunity to rally up “anti-imperialistic” sentiments among its supporters and the region. For example on February 17, after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made his remarks about the situation evolving in Venezuela, President Maduro expelled three U.S. diplomats from the country, claiming they were associated with and supported the opposition’s plot. Evidently, the United States responded with the same method. It is worth reminding the reader that the countries have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, proving the dire diplomatic relationships between the two governments.
The United States’ public diplomacy goals in this complicated situation should focus on defending its image among Venezuelans. Through this, the ultimate long term objective is the improvement of America’s reputation among Latin America’s left-wing countries.
Oriana Piña is a graduate student at the George Washington University pursuing a M.A. in Global Communications, with a concentration in Latin American Studies. She is passionate about democracy, diplomacy, cultural understanding and international affairs. Follow her at @OrianaIntl.
On April 12, 2013, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv hosted a day-long conference for Ukrainian women entrepreneurs focusing on business owners of small and medium enterprises. The goal of the event was to promote the importance of Ukrainian women in fostering economic growth, build the confidence of women entrepreneurs to take on leading roles in business and society, provide practical tools for further empowerment, and serve as a platform for networking.
It was less than one year ago when I visited Kyiv as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Today, seeing the unrest, I am reminded of the importance of US-Ukrainian cultural ties. While in Kyiv, I helped launch the construction of the new American Center to build ties between our two nations. Former US Ambassador John Teft and I knocked down a wall as contractors worked to create a convening place to keep Ukrainians and Americans connecting with one another. I also met with bloggers and media, and was the keynote speaker at the Women’s Forum.
I visited school no. 168 in Kyiv where they are providing mainstream education to students with cognitive and physical disabilities. I met with children learning English through a State Department funded program. I was moved to tears at Babyn Yar, the site of a series of massacres carried out by the Nazis during their campaign against the Soviet Union.
As events unfold, let’s focus on the people as well as the politics. There are beautiful cultural sites throughout the country that must be preserved. Artists, journalists, young people, the LGBT community, and women must have their rights and freedoms.
Among the sports of the Winter Olympics, figure skating is unquestionably one of the most watched. Perhaps it’s the unique elegance of the program and skaters that sets it apart from other winter sports, which are often focused on speed and action, not artistry or beauty.
But similar to popular Olympic sports, gold medalists in figure skating are elevated to an unprecedented level in their home country, and no where is this more true than in South Korea. Before Yuna Kim entered the global stage with her gold medal at the 2010 games in Vancouver, figure skating was underrepresented in South Korea and overshadowed by the greater success it has had with speed skating and the short track. Even though Kim did not win gold in Thursday’s free skate program, figure skating will continue rising in popularity as Kim and other figure skaters rake in lucrative endorsements from the likes of Hyundai, Samsung, and Nike.
Kim also brings an overall recognition to her country through active participation in international organizations, such as UNICEF (of which she is a Goodwill Ambassador) and the International Olympic Committee (which she has expressed joining full-time upon retirement). In many ways, she is a walking and talking (and gliding?) public diplomacy campaign for South Korea.
It’s a story Americans can resonate with: Michelle Kwan, the highly decorated American figure skater who elevated the sport in a similar manner to Kim in the late ’90s, is now a senior advisor for public diplomacy and public affairs for the State Department. According to her, traveling all over the world representing the U.S. has put her in the unique – and not entirely unlikely – position of doing the same through government. (It also doesn’t hurt that she received a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 2011.)
“I work at the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau, where we focus on a lot of exchanges, building mutual understanding,” she says in this Feb. 7 interview with WAMU 88.5. “We bring businesses, we bring athletes, we bring music. There’s a great exchange between countries, and it’s a great way to connect.”
Can figure skating contribute to a nation’s public diplomacy goals? If it requires worldwide celebrity status, consistent contact with foreigners, and partaking in globally-organized events, then it must. It is why events like the Olympics have been successful for so long – a country’s image can be made or broken through how its athletes compete. In South Korea’s case, Yuna Kim’s ubiquity in everyday life through her vast commercial and global presence serves as a singular force in their global image campaign, despite the controversy surrounding her final Olympics competition. No doubt it was a significant part of the IOC’s decision to give South Korea the role of hosting in 2018. How it plans to channel public diplomacy from now until then will be fascinating to watch.
Congratulations to Richard Stengel, the new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. All of us – especially those of us who have done the job – wish you well. We know how vital the work of PD is at this time in our nation’s history.
The Under Secretary’s introductory message to the public diplomacy community is a welcome sign of outreach and engagement. It lays out some clear foreign policy objectives and goals including the need to forge new and deeper connections with young leaders. It is especially gratifying to see that the youth focus will “put special attention on girls and under-served youth.”
The other priorities mentioned in the note include focus on entrepreneurism, educational diplomacy, environmental diplomacy, countering violent extremism, and the need for enhanced public diplomacy training and resources.
The network of public diplomacy practitioners will be ready to assist.
The below message was distributed to members of the public diplomacy community via e-mail on Feb. 18, 2014 by the State Department.
On my first morning as Under Secretary, I wanted to reach out to our many friends and partners who extend, amplify and inform our public diplomacy. You are valued stakeholders in the public diplomacy community and I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and share my vision for public diplomacy.
While I am new to government service, I feel I’ve been involved in a form of public diplomacy for much of my life as a journalist and editor. We are living in a new age of diplomacy and global engagement and America is leading that effort. As Secretary Kerry always says, “Diplomacy works.” Diplomacy can, and does, make the world a better and safer place, and every day, in thousands of different ways, America is engaged all across the globe.
Public diplomacy and public affairs have a vital role to play in our foreign policy and national security. We will continue to make sure that our public diplomacy is focused on advancing our foreign policy objectives and goals. To that end, I’m looking at a few priorities vital to our national interests.
First, two larger points about youth and technology that affect everything else.
Now some specific areas of focus:
Entrepreneurism: We are the entrepreneurial nation and our ability to innovate is one of our most valuable exports. It is also an integral and positive part of the American brand, especially with young people. Economic diplomacy is also a priority for the President and the Secretary. I intend to scale up programs that help entrepreneurs and start-ups around the world and connect successful American business leaders with aspiring entrepreneurs. We should be looking not only to promote economic opportunity but to do so among disadvantaged groups.
Educational Diplomacy: Higher education is one of America’s greatest strategic assets, and we must use it. Our educational institutions are laboratories of democracy, while English skills are critical to success in the new global economy. Our educational exchanges need to move into the 21st century and adapt to new technologies like MOOCs and new areas of expertise such as STEM so that they can continue their role as incubators of democracy. We need to use our leadership in technology and innovation to create young scientific and technological innovators – especially young women who have been under-served in this area.
Environmental Diplomacy: Secretary Kerry has stressed from day one that it will take nothing less than a global conversation to educate, inform, awaken and activate millions of people around the world about the environmental challenges the world faces – challenges which cannot be solved by any single nation. Whether it’s global climate change or the plight of the oceans, the Secretary is determined to help the President awaken our consciousness globally about a range of environmental issues. This requires a massive public diplomacy effort.
Countering Violent Extremism: It is vital to our national security that we provide people, particularly young people in at-risk environments, with alternatives to the misguided ideological justifications for using violence. We must confront distortion with reality and rebut lies with truth. We will expand and coordinate the State Department’s worldwide efforts to counter radicalization and combat violent extremist messaging.
Professional Growth: We cannot succeed unless our people are prepared and supported to succeed. It is critical that public diplomacy be valued as a core element of our overall foreign policy mission and that our public diplomacy professionals receive the training, resources and institutional recognition to ensure success in that mission. We need a new 21st century tool kit for public diplomacy. I am passionately committed to the growth and development of our profession.
These are big issues that require a focused alignment of resources, and sustained effort. I aim to reinvigorate public diplomacy, ensure our practitioners are on the forefront of technology, and keep public diplomacy an integral part of our larger policy goals. I am keenly aware of the robust contributions you can bring to our mutual interests. So I welcome your thoughts and seek your support. You are part of a broad public diplomacy network and your partnership is critical to successful, dynamic American public diplomacy. I look forward to meeting and working with you in the coming weeks.
Editor’s note: Shirley Temple, famed former child actress, died this past Monday.
I met Shirley Temple when she was Ambassador to Czechoslovakia in the late 1980s at the embassy in Prague. She was charming, warm, and engaging—the perfect public diplomat. I was there on a delegation of women journalists and we stood in awe of the Ambassador’s grace and sparkle. She was the perfect host.
Shirley Temple Black’s career speaks to the inherent power of cultural diplomacy to move people in positive ways. As perhaps the biggest child movie star in history, she made magic with her dance and voice—and her talent echoed around the world as did her powerful films which made America look vibrant and culturally robust. In many ways she made America into the great “fairy tale” it could be—a nation beckoning others with its openness and warmth.
The innate connection of film and politics grew closer as Hollywood’s Ronald Reagan, who appeared with Shirley Temple in the 1947 film, “That Hagen Girl” became president and later Shirley Temple Black would become an Ambassador.
Shirley Temple Black will be missed. Her 8 ½ decades of successes live on.
A State of the Union address is always a major public diplomacy moment. Rarely do you have the full attention of the entire world to tell every listener, watcher and tweeter, what exactly your current policy priorities are.
For 2014, it is likely that President Obama will focus on domestic and international topics that are high up on America’s agenda and he is likely to stress that if Congress remains intransigent, he, the President, will have to use his Executive powers to make things happen in 2014 on the following issues:
The president is likely to take credit, rightly so, for progress on removing chemical weapons from Syria, progress on a nuclear deal with Iran, and a strong push for peace in the Middle East. But he will also have to acknowledge that the world is pretty messy right now from violent protests from Kiev to Cairo, and that American leadership remains critical to bringing about a more peaceful 2014.
I took my kids this weekend to see the latest blockbuster animated film, The Nut Job. It wasn’t until the film ended, however, and an animated Psy appeared to lead the cartoon cast in a Gangnam-style dance routine alongside the rolling credits that I realized that there was major Korean support for the movie.
In fact, the South Korean government provided substantial financial support for the joint Korean-Canadian production that featured the voices of Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, and Katherine Heigl and ultimately cost over $40 million to produce. According to news reports, moreover, this is one of a series of several films that the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism has supported from a fund of that is expected to grow to over $21 million for 2014 alone.
Few would question the influence of film as a medium of soft power, particularly as exemplified by Hollywood, Bollywood, and many other countries. Public diplomacy, moreover, makes frequent and explicit use of film as a tool of cultural diplomacy to promote mutual understanding and cross-cultural collaboration. Having already demonstrated the international reach and positive impact of its own cultural offerings in other areas, especially pop music, it seems only logical for South Korea to venture into international filmmaking…
Which is why I am a little puzzled by The Nut Job. The film is set in a nondescript American town in the recent past, the characters are voiced by major Hollywood actors, and the plot consists of a squirrel that tries to pull off a bank-style robbery of a nut shop. There was nothing about the film that was even remotely Korean at all and I missed the Korean connection altogether (although in retrospect there was a scene in which the music to “Gangnam Style” featured briefly). Psy’s cameo didn’t come until after the film had ended and the credits were rolling.
The film was mildly entertaining and the credits were amusing to watch, but I fail to see how this does much to leverage Korean soft power or advance Korean public diplomacy, despite the not-inconsiderable official Korean investment.
In my humble opinion, Korea would do well, instead, to choose its future film projects with an eye towards vehicles that feature Korean actors, settings, narratives, or themes. We all love Psy, and he could certainly help market other Korean cultural products, but his cameo was largely wasted in The Nut Job, a film I will remember only as a major missed Korean public diplomacy opportunity.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the State Department or the U.S. government. The author is a State Department officer specializing in public diplomacy, currently detailed to the IPDGC to teach and work on various Institute projects.