All posts by andreproec

‘Doctor Zhivago’: A double-edged sword in Cultural-Literary Diplomacy


As we navigate Japan’s cultural diplomacy this week, the “cultural” aspect of diplomacy is underscored once more. We think about how we perceive initiatives meant to captivate audience’s attention towards a certain nation and their policies, convictions, and norms. Usually, we focus on what a specific government or organization within a country is trying to transmit. But we rarely look at how other powerful institutions in competing nations frame other’s diplomatic assets. Indeed, that is the subject of an article in the Washington Post published on April 5, During Cold War, CIA used ‘Doctor Zhivago’ as a tool to undermine Soviet Union”.

As the novel, written by a Russian poet, was banned in the Soviet Union, the UK and the US seized the opportunity to use it as a soft power weapon to portray the USSR as the freedom-enemy it was, and to provide legitimacy and garner support for the war. In words of a CIA memo, “This book has great propaganda value, not only for its intrinsic message and thought-provoking nature, but also for the circumstances of its publication: we have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country in his own language for his own people to read.” The CIA’s active involvement in helping distribute the novel clandestinely throughout Eastern-bloc circles echoed its efforts to use literature as double-edged swords for propaganda against communism and in favor of the Western position. Thanks to this, the novel won a Nobel Peace Prize- with all of the implications this had for the diplomatic wars of the time. Along with “1984”, “Animal Farm”, and “Dr Zhivago” the article states, “over the course of the Cold War, as many as 10 million copies of books and magazines were secretly distributed by the agency behind the Iron Curtain as part of a political warfare campaign.” In a concerted move by Western allies, the book was distributed widely to Russian citizens and caught global attention, as the US intended- even from the Vatican, which also helped disseminate it. It was a savvy move in the “Communism vs Freedom” Western diplomacy.

Transformational PD in student simulations

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Clingendael Institute has a piece on European Union student simulations, carried out last month by the Masters International Public Management and Policy at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. It highlighted the multicultural nature of the group, a crucial component of successful foreign affairs initiatives in our world. Unfortunately, the post was mediocre in that it offered no depth of analysis of the impact of such programs in today´s youth and tomorrow´s potential foreign policymakers. That task, then, must fall upon us.

This event reminded me of the yearly UN simulations held in New York, where students from over 400 universities worldwide pretend to represent other nations over the course of a week. When I participated in the program two years ago, I noticed that, more than representing the countries we had been assigned, we were all there to represent our actual nationalities. As such, the UN had, perhaps inadvertently, fostered an environment for global public diplomacy to flourish in its most subtle way. Young students eager to connect with their equivalents in other parts of the world became ambassadors of their own idiosyncrasies, world views, and cultures. They did so not as inaccessible brokers of agreements our politicians are, but as every–day citizens of the world, those that are actually in close contact with the concerns and yearnings of the peoples. While it was an opportunity to gain insight and perspective into the workings of foreign affairs and the field of diplomacy, it was more about global citizens exercising “daily diplomacy” in an equal field rid of power dynamics.

Precisely, these kinds of simulations employ soft power and cultural diplomacy to unconsciously permeate participant´s minds with the notion that institutions such as the UN and the EU are effective brokers of peace by bridging barriers amongst peoples. In reality, though, it is the young students who effect diplomacy in their own ways. In the process, three kinds of forces acting upon public diplomacy result: that of the institutions at the heart of the initiative (in this case, the EU or UN), that of the governments represented by each participant in the simulation, and that of the youth. The latter represent the potential of the new actors in public diplomacy to reshape the ground on which foreign affairs act out, and their intentions. Because they all share the will to transcend national boundaries in the name of global fraternity, they go back home as new conductors of soft diplomacy, challenging their leaders to seek constructive dialogue that will benefit the countries where newly found friends– a global family, really– live.


The first Virtual Olive by the Vatican

Pope Messi Buffon

It´s been barely more than a year since Pope Francis was elected, and his influence has been felt and reported on widely at the global level. Undoubtedly, his charisma has put his initiatives on the spotlight, although it´s been hard to keep up with them because many have been underreported by the mainstream media, concerned as it is mostly with his statements on the “controversial” topics we are so keen on fighting about so often. One such example is the creation of “Scholas Occurrentes”, back in August 2013. A friendly soccer match between Argentina and Italy officially launched the initiative, with Leo Messi and Gianluigi Buffon– their nation´s respective teams´  captains– presenting the Pope with an olive branch. The olive is the symbol of Scholas, a worldwide network of schools seeking to promote an inclusive society and enhance education by cultivating values of camaraderie, sportsmanship, justice, and peace.

Touching on the concepts of cultural diplomacy, Scholas is committed to putting Francis´ words into actions: “Today, either we take the risk of dialogue, we risk the culture of encounter, or we all fall; this is the path that will bear fruit.” Specifically employing sports diplomacy to this effect, Scholas Ocurrentes seeks to instill in students around the world a sense of unity, fighting racism, exclusion, and marginalization in the process. It enthusiastically seeks to engage children in sports, underscoring its cooperative nature, so as to shape the citizens of tomorrow into tolerant, loving world citizens. As we talked about in class, sports diplomacy has the huge potential to motivate the youth to stay in school, work hard, and learn the power of team work. It also fosters trust and honesty. The fact that this project was inaugurated by a friendly match between soccer champions of the world is a testament to this legacy. It also illustrates how the Pope and his Church are effectively applying public diplomacy tools to remind us of its universal nature, building bridges amongst cultures.

Tomorrow (March 19), Pope Francis will plant the first virtual olive to promote world peace, inviting children around the world, from all creeds and backgrounds, to draw a tree themselves. Clearly an engaging and inspiring example of cultural diplomacy, right?

Wise Words as PD

Pope and youth

An Op–Ed in yesterday´s (27/02/14) edition of the New York Times titled “What would Kennan say to Obama?” mentioned the danger of ‘America´s exceptionalism’ in FP and PD strategies. It touched upon the notion that the US created its own moral demise by prioritizing military force over diplomacy and soft power. An interesting affirmation by the late Kennan highlighted why he believed it was more important to focus on domestic issues as a better tool to positively influence public opinion both at home and abroad: “We are ultimately dependent on the intentions, rather than the capabilities, of the adversary, the influence of which is primarily a political and psychological, not a military problem.”

Applying this affirmation to my case study on Pope Francis’ diplomacy, I realize how these words have echoed in the first year of Bergoglio’s Papacy. The Vatican, unlike any other independent state in the world– except for Japan, whose Self Defense Forces act as the country’s official “military”– has no military structure. Such a force would be incompatible with its very essence. In fact, the worst periods of the Church’s history are those tainted with the blood of Inquisition–like offensives.

Pope Francis’ revolutionary ways have touched the hearts of believers and non believers alike to transcend past hurts. He has brought his virtues into the very public eye, and he has employed them in his distinctive public diplomacy– or, should I say, soft power? A conference at Georgetown at the beginning of the month, The Pope, Politics, and Policy addressed Francis’ potential to influence not only the Catholic world, but the world at large.

In seeking to transcend the ‘Catholic Church’s exceptionalism’, he has publicly recognized and rejected shortcomings while pointing out to a refreshing pathway where the authentic teachings of Jesus are not only talked about, but vividly exemplified. In this sense, it is important to highlight his commitment to youth. The very fact that he would enthusiastically partake of a groundbreaking ‘selfie’ testifies as much. Francis’ words today underscored this: “In the same way, the young want to feel at home in Church. Not only must the Church open her doors to them; she must actively seek them.” At the end, he emphasized: “The youth are waiting for us. We must not let them down.” Wise words to reconstruct and transform traditional PD policies into a tangible call to action whose best weapon is genuine love and commitment to serve others.

“Qatar is off the message”… And so is FIFA


This post builds off as a reply to Alona’s insightful comment on Qatar’s PD with respect to labor related deaths in construction of the 2018 World Cup stadiums. I have created a separate post as I extend the analysis into the realm of FIFA and the World Cup itself.

Qatar’s disastrous management of the labour–related deaths scandal, besides raising concerns of blatant human rights violations, profoundly shatters confidence in and support for one of the world’s most popular sports and its most widely watched event. Certainly, it destroys enthusiasm for the next World Cup, at least to the extent to which it appeals to the conscience of billions of fans worldwide, torn between the love for the sport and the demands for respect of human rights. Thus, it is very ironic to analyze this phenomenon, in so far as sports have been identified as a potential vehicle for positive public diplomacy amongst nations.

The World Cup, besides being a thrilling event of passionate matches and displays of genius from the planet’s new and old show offs, is as much an opportunity for nations to come together in “fair play”, not merely showing but exemplifying the values of respect, camaraderie, fraternity, and sportsmanship. Soccer players become ambassadors for their countries at the prelude and during the games. So do their fans, ranging from recognized personalities such as heads of state to outstanding fans that charmed their way into the media, becoming symbols of their respective country’s exoticism. (Paraguay’s Larissa Riquelme, from South Africa’s 2010 World Cup, is a case in point.) One has only to remember the songs that have been recorded for the tournaments throughout the years (the most recent ones being “The Love Generation” and Shakira’s “Waka Waka”), to agree, at least to some extent, that these were songs that spoke of happiness, of forging lasting friendships, of peace, of hope for a better world. It is no coincidence that the song for the upcoming 2014 World Cup is called “We Are One.” (Cultural diplomacy in the World Cup is also played out through music– it’s all about forging global bonds that converge in mutual passions.)

This is what makes the deaths by forced labor in Qatar extra despicable, to say the least. However, Qatar’s compliance notwithstanding, it is important to point out that a big component of abuses committed in preparation for the World Cup can be traced to FIFA’s own power management. FIFA is a very powerful organization, led by a very powerful leader. Joseph Blatter often employs a hard soft power, (building on the notion that soft power is not soft as it involves coercion) shrewdly used to impose his interests and those of his acolytes. The fact that soccer is such a beloved sport for millions throughout the globe makes it an ideal space for the contradictions of power to flourish. However, it also offers a unique opportunity for grassroots movements– the new actors with the potential to transform the PD arena in fundamental ways– to advocate for absolute compliance with and defense for human rights.

“The Revolution will be Tweeted”


The days are unfolding and Venezuela’s situation becomes critical. As the government fights the students and opposition groups in the Latin American country’s main cities, resulting in 3 confirmed deaths and countless injured, the world is watching. Not through the traditional media, though, for it has been subjected to the upmost control by Nicolas Maduro’s special powers, granted to him by the National Assembly at the end of last year. In fact, a controversial decree has warned that any media outlet reporting on Venezuela’s economic crisis, its shortage of basic products, and its alarming standing as one of the world’s most dangerous cities in terms of homicides, will be harshly sanctioned for “instigating popular revolt” and “seeking to destabilize the government”, most likely with the endorsement of the CIA and the US, as well as popular scapegoat Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s ex–president. Making matters worse, when peaceful protests by Venezuelan students broke out last Wednesday, the government forced Colombian news outlet NTN24 to stop its coverage, and there have been reports of journalist’s equipment being destroyed or robbed. Maduro’s response to the protests has clearly further deteriorated an already worrisome situation for freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and it has exacerbated polarization.

So what is going on? Basically, Venezuela is awakening from months (if not years) of popular discontent with shortages, inflation, lack of freedom, and violence. The opposition wants a change. Some, under the guidance of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, whose arrest has been announced by the government, ask for “La Salida”– the ouster of President Maduro. But the prominent ex presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, has warned against this move, pleading with his compatriots that although peaceful protests are necessary to ask for change, the time is not right to ask Maduro to leave, much less force him out. Maduro, for his part, has already denounced the protests as an attempt at a Coup d’Etat. The result: an increase in violence and radicalization from both the opposition and the government.

How have citizens reacted? By taking to online media without hesitating. As all traditional information outlets were shut, Venezuelan netizens organized themselves to create the rapidly–caught on hashtags #PrayForVenezuela and #SOSVenezuela, calling on the nations of the world to react and pressure the government to stop the repression on its own people. They are trying to avoid a massacre, trying to avoid what their brothers and sisters lived, and are still living, at the outset of the Arab Spring. They are trying to appeal to our indifference, so that this time we might react in a timely manner, supporting freedom, peace, and respect for human rights. These hashtags have already mobilized thousands on Twitter and Facebook in a matter of days. One of the remarkable traits of this feat has been the outpouring support they have received from their compatriots and expatriates living abroad. From Paris to Rome to New York and DC, passing through cities in Latin America and beyond, Venezuelans and others who share their concern have posted messages decrying the government’s repression and calling for peace. They are living out their online revolution through a touching support system. Their actions have already garnered support from prominent leaders and regular citizens from neighboring countries. However, to date only two presidents from the region have issued direct statements condemning violence and asking both the opposition and the government to avoid confrontation and find a peaceful path to peace. It remains to be seen how this civil society initiative will ultimately influence leaders and netizens around the world to hold Maduro and his allies accountable for finding a peaceful solution and responding to the people’s fears and doubts, a fundamental human right in any democracy. Of course, Venezuela is no true democracy, and it has not been for a long time. Therefore, it is imperative to be alert and support this PD initiative stemming from a crucial moment in Venezuelan’s lives. How we choose to react to this will ultimately decide the course of events in a way that will have an impact upon the world, even if for no other reason than the fight for freedom and the triumph of peace and respect over violence and repression.


Using the Media for PD


Because I am a journalist at heart, I am constantly monitoring and analyzing the media’s role and impact upon every day life, specially in the arena of politics and, lately, public diplomacy. For those of you who were interested last class in the Ecuadorian government’s use of the media to perpetuate its vision both at domestic and international levels, here is a good summary of the situation of the press under Rafael Correa’s regime:

The section particularly relevant to PD is under the headline “State media as political megaphone.” Is is the story of how this became the most powerful mediatic apparatus de country has ever had, taking over several previously–private multimedia venues, which he promised to sell later on for “public use” but never did, and investing heavily in new “public venues.” None of the media outlets that operate under the government are public. They act, simply, as the State’s megaphone. In fact, his Saturday monologues are intended to impose his authority over citizens, both those who live in Ecuador and those who have migrated. They are a a large and important percentage of his audience, one that guarantees that his “revolution” is well known in countries such as Spain. I have a close friend who is currently living in Barcelona in an exchange program, and who was recently confronted by a Chilean who claimed to know all there was to know about the country’s political and economic reality merely by watching the “Sabatinas.” Indeed, this is the source of most of the arguments that pro-Correa militants use in their daily lives, and are usually charged with aggressive messages, insults, and a condescending attitude towards those who do not share the values poured from the “Sabatinas” and every other government communication outlet . This is the way the “truth” (the official party’s truth) is transmitted, circulated, and forcefully engrained into people’s minds. And it has been very effective.

The government’s thirst for power through the media is far from over. To the contrary, it is ever more greedy. The controversial law of communication will be the umbrella under which every repressive action will be, and already is, justified. And controlling even more venues to serve as the official megaphone is a big part of their strategy. Over the past week, the controversy lay in the fact that the government supposedly sought to buy the rights of a popular Latin American comic, “CONDORITO”, originated in Chile, to adapt to and circulate with the official newspapers. The outcry and opposition was widely felt through social media, and a representative of the government denied knowing about it or giving permission for that to happen. However, the fact that the intention was there is absolutely telling of the shrewdness this government possesses in terms of communication. Indeed, communication might just be its single and most important policy. Its effect on citizens both within and outside the country is tangible. “CONDORITO” is a representation of Latin American idiosyncrasies, but, as cartoons usually are, remains critical of the abuses of power and the consequences for political, social, and economic development in our countries. Attempting to take hold of that for political purposes is a tremendous act of disrespect to Pepo, his creator, on all of us who genuinely enjoy his authentic comics. That authenticity would vanish if used by authoritarian governments.

Why cartooning for peace matters


This is Xavier Bonilla– Bonil, to his enthusiastic audience. He is a prolific political cartoonist whose insightful work is published almost daily in Ecuador´s most popular non–sensationalist newspaper. Incidentally, this very newspaper, El Universo, has had a particularly difficult time under President Rafael Correa´s government. In 2011, President Correa won a libel suit which demanded a $40 million compensation from El Universo and 3–year long prison sentences for its CEOs and the author of an opinion piece. The object of the defamation lawsuit was an Op-Ed by Emilio Palacio which, the Judge claimed, had no proof for a controversial accusation that suggested the President had direct responsibility for the chaos and deaths that resulted from a police revolt in 2010. The lawsuit catalyzed a wave of alarm for journalists and freedom of the press advocates around the world, concerned that such an arbitrary, unconstitutional measure would set a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech in the country. Palacio fled to the US as a political refugee, where he continues manifesting his opposition to the current administration. Correa eventually “pardoned” all of them.

But the fact that he won the sentence spoke for itself about the perilous state of the “free press”– viewed by the government as the opposition– in Ecuador. Before that, and after, worldwide watchdogs had manifested their preoccupation with Correa´s aggressive tone and abuses of power when it came to the media that made him and his cabinet uncomfortable. Last year, a questionable, to say the least, law of communication was approved. It is considered one of the most repressive communication regulations in the entire region.

And last week, Bonil became its first target, and its first victim. In the picture, Bonil holds two kinds of pencils. The one on his right (reader´s left) is a normal pencil, with just a tiny eraser. The one on his left is the opposite– it has the biggest eraser and a fragile tip for drawing. His message is simple. The first pencil is the one all cartoonists– and freedom advocates– should possess. The other one is the one authoritarian governments wish they had. The sentence has ordered El Universo to pay 2% of its monthly profits and has requested a rectification from Bonil, who has said that he will limit himself to placing quotations on his next drawing to avoid the government from accusing him of performing “a deliberate act of disinformation.” The President called him an ink assassin, a lawyer, and a coward, among other names, for depicting another worrisome event from December, when a government-ordered raid on an opposition member´s home took personal possessions under the pretext of investigating robbed documents and hacked correspondence. You can read all about the lawsuit and its context here:

But what I wish to underscore with all this is the importance of preserving the authenticity of freedom in one of its most wonderful, and sometimes most vulnerable, states: humor. Humor is not only a political tool. It is not only meant to preserve the power of the people, of their opinions, thoughts, and feelings, with respect to all governments, not only authoritarian ones. It is meant to make our lives lighter, to improve our days, to make us smile. It is meant to lift burdens, grudges, and stereotypes from our hearts. It is also meant for calling us to deeper reflections about the issues that concern us in our daily lives. Cartoons are the soul of humor, and humor the soul of cartoons. In this relationship lies the broader principle of respect, critical thinking, and freedom. Censoring a cartoonist´s wit, their essence, is plainly ridiculous. But because it is a symptom of the government´s intolerant powerful apparatus, it is much more than that. It is a frightening thing. Specially, it is a heartbreaking thing. The only thing we can wish, for our sakes, as the ones who benefit the most from cartoons, is that cartoonist´s pencils will continue to come in their original shape, and that we will have the courage to fight for them to survive. The good news is that cartoonists don´t just need a pencil to keep their freedom alive. Because cartooning is what they are, it is what they can never cease to be, regardless of any impositions that might come their way. And that is their lasting legacy. They contribute to a more peaceful world just by being who they are and doing what they do. And that is worth preserving.

HuffPost launches WorldPost



On January 8th, the Huffington Post announced the creation of WorldPost. This is how The Guardian portrayed it: “The 1% are about to get their own publication. The digital media titan Arianna Huffington and the billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen on Wednesday announced the launch of World Post, a comment and news website that looks set to become a platform for some of the most powerful people on the planet.” ( World Post was officially launched at Davos, during the World Economic Forum. This was no coincidence, considering it is the hub where many of the world´s most influential leaders, entrepreneurs, practitioners, and policy-shapers converge. These are people with vast power to shape our everyday lives. Now some of them, including former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and both Microsoft’s and Google’s masterminds, will seek to influence our minds through the soft power of the media. They will be some of the big names contributing to the HuffPost’s latest expansive project. However, what the creators of this joint venture insist makes it different is that it will be a space as much for the powerful as for the ordinary people like you and me. They are seeking to establish partnerships with local media institutions around the world, in addition to the team of correspondents already in action in 10 countries, and the creation of new correspondence positions across Beirut, Beijing, Cairo, and more locations. 

This organizational scheme is supposed to be based on cooperation amongst the different actors for the common purpose of giving life to the World Post. Indeed, it is supposed to mirror the structure already in place, whereby the HuffPost maintains alliances with key international media editors and agenda-setters. Considering the growth and reach of Huffington Post in the last couple of years, it makes sense how they would grab this opportunity to spread their interests and perspectives further. In words of its global news editor, Peter Goodman, “We have an incredible opportunity to use the pieces we already have on the board to speak to our existing audience and grow that audience simply by embracing the fact that we are an international entity.” There’s never been a better time for them to do it, taking advantage of the media revolution, the importance and influence media channels such as these hold over citizens and governments worldwide, and the nature of our interconnected world. 

As soon as I saw the headline announcing the creation of World Post, I thought “there goes an authentic PD effort.” The statements issued by Huffington, Berggruen, and the rest of the staff underscore this. Without a doubt, here is an example of how international communication venues, the mass media, non-state actors, and even states themselves, even if indirectly, come together to shape a PD initiative. As Gilboa mentioned in his critical article, there is no single definition to PD. More than ever, it must be seen as the increasingly interdependent, interdynamic phenomenon it is. It is no longer possible to separate its parts from its purpose. The creation of World Post is, in my opinion, the very reality of what public diplomacy is. I find it hard to further elaborate this point, as I feel that what World Post is and symbolizes speaks for itself. Undoubtedly, it will become an essential actor in the shaping of international perspectives both at home and abroad, both about the US and about the rest of the world. This actor is not merely restricted to its role as a powerful media outlet (and thus, an agenda setter), but also as a representative of public opinion, civil society, influential non-state elite members, the powerful within (Western) states, and those alternative, still unknown voices fighting for a chance to practice PD too– their public diplomacy. Hence, it will be interesting to monitor and critically analyze how PD plays out coming from the same venue, but not from the same sphere of power. There is a new opportunity for the “common citizens” to engage in dialogue and influence with broader actors across the world. It remains to be seen whether their voices will exercise considerable pressure upon the NPD practiced by the more recognized members of World Post, their audiences, backers, and sponsors, and end up creating a need for even more updated, interdisciplinary paradigms of what NPD is and can be in the 21st Century. 

For more on this: 

ausis628_WEEK2_2013´s Top PD Stories

Hello all! 

My very first visit to the TakeFive blog site proved to be fruitful and very interesting! As I mentioned before, I am new to the Public Diplomacy arena and am only now beginning to understand it better. As I went along with the readings, a much more consolidated, “academic” perspective on PD took shape in my mind. But I could not help but noticing how much of it I “consumed” and came to terms with in my daily life, without knowing it was, in fact, PD. As the Pamment article mentioned, it is sometimes hard to separate PD from propaganda, especially when much of the way in which it is conducted serves the same purposes. And while many real examples began to flash in my head, the top PD stories from 2013, as summarized by the University of Southern California´s Center for PD, caught my attention. I was delighted to see that Malala´s fight for female education and peace had such impressive repercussions worldwide, surpassing a mere presence in the media spotlight by visibly positioning these debates in the actual field of global politics.

Even more than that, however, I was moved by the crucial role of Pope Francis in PD. Spirituality is an essential part of my life, and I think many people worldwide feel the same way. Thus, witnessing the outreach and revitalization of the Catholic Church in name of advancing peace, conflict resolution, and development, has been truly eye opening. It has presented a whole world of opportunities to explore and observe during 2014. In fact, another interesting post in the TakeFive blog ( positions interreligious dialogue as a vital tool for promoting peace and stability. Without a doubt, religious PD will be a major component of the “new PD” order in the coming years, albeit (or perhaps precisely because of) people´s waning confidence in religious institutions. And since 2014 seems to forebode an unprecedented year in PD, (, religion will be a fundamental player in determining how world events will begin to shift and how they will eventually play out.   

Have a wonderful long weekend in remembrance of MLK! 

Andrea 🙂