In his 2008 article Music for a jilted generation, Ali Fisher talks about the transformation of the public diplomacy sphere into a bazaar, or marketplace of ideas, as opposed to a cathedral. Some of the U.S. State Departments communications regarding the Ukraine crisis seem to reinforce this notion.
Earlier this month, the department’s press office made a release called President Putin’s Fiction: 10 False Claims About Ukraine. While the release was clearly biased towards the U.S. point of view, the ‘fact sheet’ format is reflective of the kind of attitude needed to influence publics in the bazaar environment.
Taking the fact-checker approach to press releases recognizes that public diplomacy is no longer a direct line from governments to individuals. This information gets shared on social media, seized upon by blogs (sympathetic and antipathetic) and used by journalists as references. In the current informational war, publics are more likely to respond to resources they can use to make up their own minds as opposed to the more rhetorical approach Russia is taking. That being said, the United States and Russia may be playing different games in that the latter has little regard to what western audiences think.
From here, I think more can be done to allow state public diplomacy efforts become more influential and widely received. The fact-check style is effective, but there are other formats that could be used at the state level. Infographics and maps are highly consumable and have potential for re-sharing on social media. Mainstream news outlets like the Washington Post are taking advantage of this trend, and I see no reason why governments shouldn’t follow suit.
Is it possible that some governments came to a conclusion that granting citizens of other countries special benefits is a good technique for winning hearts and minds? It sure looks like it in two news pieces that drew my attention this week- Germany and Russia.
This week Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived with an official visit to Israel. The biggest headline of this visit was a signing of two very progressive agreements- one gaining young Israeli citizens an automatic provision of temporary working permits when visiting Germany and the other offering Israeli citizens consular services through German embassies in countries with which Israel doesn’t have diplomatic relations (unfortunately there are quite a few). Though officially marketed as a mutual progressive agreement between the two governments, to me it looks much more as a “Forget all the bad we did and come and like us!” call for young talented Israelis with potential to contribute to German economy, who might still have their doubt due to historic residues.
Second somewhat similar act appeared on the website of one of the largest Russian News agencies (unfortunately I can’t seem to find a source in English for now): Russian Parliament is considering a bill granting automatic citizenship to every Ukrainian citizen who chooses to claim one. Here it seems like an even more brutal act of reaching out directly to citizens and trying to attract them to the country. Of course the long shared history of these states and the predominant nature of Russia in this history explain the case.
So could this become a phenomenon? I think that this is actually a genius technique of reaching out to people directly even if it’s done by signing agreements between governments. As opposed to other PD techniques we explored that usually target specific audiences within a nation, here we are witnessing acts that reach out to the whole population creating potential for a more significant and direct impact.
And here are the articles:
President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to abandon closer ties with the EU in favor of Russia sparked anti-government demonstrations in Ukraine, dubbed EuroMaidan.
When a bill was passed by the Ukrainian parliament on January 16th limiting the right to demonstrate, the protests took a violent turn. During the past week of unrest, three protesters have died in Kiev with over 300 injured.
Several German government officials have publicly voiced their opinions on the matter. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stated that he understood the views of the opposition, adding that “violence is not a solution, and we can say that to both sides.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed. Merkel spoke with President Yanukovych recently to persuade him to revoke the recent bill. She urged Yanukovych to lead a real dialogue with the opposition to discuss political reform. Other officials from the EU and the US have made similar statements in favor of the anti-government protesters.
On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the EU for what could be interpreted as “political interference”. According to Putin, the trips made by EU and US officials have only furthered the crisis in Ukraine. At an EU-Russia summit in Brussels on Tuesday, he stated “I can imagine the reaction of our European partners if, in the midst of a crisis in Greece or any other country, our foreign minister would come to an anti-European rally and would urge people to do something.”
From a public diplomacy standpoint, the EU and US officials have played a large role for the Ukrainian protesters. The protests have not ceased and could be fueled by these Western officials publicly voicing their support for the opposition. But this raises some interesting questions in regards to PD. Are the actions taken by the EU and the US considered “political interference”, or is it public diplomacy? How thin is the line between interference and PD? What is the difference between the two?