Thursday, December 29, 2011

Post-Imperium, 20 Years On

The end of the Soviet Union can be traced back to many different dates, events or even individuals; yet in my mind the clearest of them all is December 25, 1991 -- the day Gorbachev resigned as the president of the USSR and the day the latter ceased to exist. Officially. [And no, we don't celebrate Christmas. Especially not that day.]




I have been meaning to write this post all year, and yet, due to various circumstances it comes in the end of this year, with a couple of days' delay to mark the official 20th anniversary of the "collapse". Despite having had the opportunity of spending the first several years of my life in the Soviet Union, my earliest solid memories - perhaps unfortunately - go back to the post-Soviet "transition" years, which seem to have been perpetually dark and cold, occasionally bloody, and mostly - though not always - unpleasant. That is how I would explain my interest in - if not obsession with - post-Soviet international affairs, whether global or regional.

That is also why December 2011 seems to me as the perfect time for reflection and (re)assessment of balances, disbalances, and possible future trajectories in international and domestic politics of the region. This, perhaps, becomes even more salient in light of the most recent events in Russia, the ex-superpower and the former core of "Eurasianism". I'm obviously far from being in a position to provide anything even close to an attempt at comprehensive analysis in this regard, especially since volumes could be and have been written on the subject. 


Image from RT.


Yet, now that I've stated my disclaimer, I just wanted to look back at a tiny sample of related highlights from the past year.

The best place to start is certainly my favorite Russia Today. In an attempt at what it calls "providing the Russian view to the world" or essentially "public diplomacy", the network has been airing programming dedicated to the anniversary since early 2011. It has a special "online exclusive" section on the subject, featuring various articles, commentary and background information. Perhaps most notably, it released a whole series of documentaries - "20 Years Post-Soviet" - on all former member states, which obviously intended to provide a more or less comprehensive analysis of the events and developments in individual countries since 1991, from the Russian perspective. Cheesy, sometimes too oversimplified, and at times bordering propaganda, I would say this was a lame attempt. One just has to see the differences in the choice of subjects and themes covered in the episodes on Georgia, Latvia and, say, Armenia, and the difference in the way issues were framed... Of course, this is the official Russian view of these events; and yet, I doubt these series do much good to perceptions of Russia abroad, much less to improving these.

Perhaps as a reflection of the ambivalence about the fall of the USSR still common throughout the region, RT also featured pieces such as this:



Then, there was this:



Oh well.

Another highlight that deserves attention is a joint project between the National Security Archive and Carnegie Moscow Center: a compendium of documents and a conference on the breakup of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev himself made an appearance at the conference, which was apparently hosted by his foundation in Moscow. Yet, the most notable part is that these documents are available for free download online, and feature a sample of cables from the US Embassy in Moscow, CIA intelligence assessments, White House memoranda, and Politburo reports. Would love to see a more comprehensive bouquet some day...

Staying with the Carnegie Center: its Moscow director Dmitry Trenin published a book earlier this year, Post-Imperium: A Eurasian Story. The title says it all. Although I had gotten the book soon after it came out, I just started reading it today, but would certainly recommend it to anyone interested. Trenin argues that Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union - along with other member states - is very different from other former empires and, therefore, should be analyzed as a unique, if not a special, case. He defines "post-imperium" as a "fairly prolonged exit from the imperial condition" and suggests that many of the "imperial" features persist to this day:

"Domestically, today’s Russian Federation is a neo-tsarist, mildly authoritarian polity. Its current operation formula can be termed authoritarianism with the consent of the governed. As an international actor, Russia is at a point where it recognizes all former borderland republics as separate countries, even if it does not yet see all of them as foreign states." (pp. 13-14)

No, this is not just another oversimplified account of what happened in the late 1980s, how or why. Rather, it's a look at what came after -- or, at least an attempt at it. And although I have only made it through the first chapter and, therefore, cannot yet speak of the entire book, Trenin sold it to me with a paragraph in his foreword:

"I’d like to address this book above all to post-Cold War generations around the world […]. To them, the Soviet Union is ancient history. They may hear stories that it fell apart as a result of the confrontation with the West, led by President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, with important assistance from the forces behind the iron curtain, symbolized by the Polish workers’ leader Lech Walesa, who went on to become president of Poland. They may hear about Russia’s undying imperialist urge, which leaves its smaller neighbors in perennial danger and in need of outside protection. They may pick up a copy of the Economist and wonder, as I sometimes do, why its cartoons depict other nations as human being, and only Russia, by tradition, if not by some unwritten law, is represented by an animal. In this book, I will seek to show that there is a portrait behind the cartoon and a story behind the headline." (p xiv)

Looking forward to reading the rest, and especially the last section on "Culture, Ideology and Religion"!



Yes indeed, the Soviet Union fell apart by an attempt at "modernization" and gradual change. Fortunately, there was little bloodshed, relatively speaking at least. Perhaps an interesting parallel can be drawn to all that is happening today in Russia, itself a result of modernization, be it driven by the Internet or Medvedev's malfunctioning dreams. Yet, as Trenin correctly points out, another potential parallel is 1917, which is why the words "revolution" and "change" do not necessarily have a positive connotation in Russian.

What comes next in Russia, or the former Soviet region itself, remains to be seen. Thus far the experience has not been all that great, however. Regional and civil wars, neo-autocrats and dynastic regimes, economic and social havoc, poverty... I often have difficulty explaining to those who have never experienced all this themselves as to why many of the "older" generations feel nostalgic about the Soviet Union, despite all the horrors they endured (sometimes, I catch myself wondering about it, too). They are often derided as brainwashed and carefully engineered "Homos Sovieticae"; but well, that is just wrong. What they are nostalgic about is not their great leader or brown school uniforms. Rather, it is the stability and a semblance of predictability, both in great demand and very short supply all over the post-Soviet space in the past two decades. That is why.

That is why people would watch and contribute to TV channels and websites such as CCCP.tv. That is why my generation - born right in the midst of this chaos - can feel somewhat nostalgic of the times we never really experienced, but feel we know well. That is also why I rarely have difficulty in connecting with others from the former Soviet states (provided they are open to it, of course). We were all born in the USSR. Although we are happy it's gone and certainly do not wish it back, we had to live through "transition" (and some of us saw it at its worst), which is still "in progress". Most importantly, we are yet to see "democracy" and "freedom" to truly materialize in our part of the world, although it was promised to us before we were even born.

20 years is a lifetime, and that is why it's a big deal. For us, at least.

Monday, November 7, 2011

More on Hegemony

I promise, PROMISE, this will be my last post on Nye's The Future of Power for a while. Why the obsession? I had to review it for one of my classes... and I had to be thinking beyond the mere soft power and public diplomacy implications, rather focusing on the theory of "power" itself (ah, the joys of first year PhD-hood...!).

In one of my previous posts, I had pointed out some problems with Nye's conceptualization of the relationship between "soft power" and "hegemony", after which I was advised by Dr. Robin Brown [to whom I'm very grateful for pointing this out!] to take a look at Nye's first book on the subject, Bound to Lead. I think the title speaks for itself and yet, it was even more ironic to see that indeed, not only does Nye refer to Cox and his interpretation of Gramscian hegemony, but actually seems to be suggesting it as an illustration of the "soft co-optive power" that makes "power legitimate in the eyes of others" (p. 32).




I looked at Howson and Smith's compilation for further interpretations of hegemony, and here are a couple of ideas that further underscore the doublethink involved:

- Benedetto Fontana states that hegemony “presupposes a ‘certain collaboration, i.e., an active and voluntary (free) consent’ on the part of the people” (p. 86), while suggesting that the Gramscian conceptualization of power involves an inherent duality of force/consent and violence/persuasion (p. 100).

- Richard Howson and Kylie Smith themselves explain the differentiation between "dominative hegemony" and "aspirational hegemony". In the former case, authority which has lost legitimacy, turns to coercion to restore it and to be able to operate as a power (p. 6). In the "aspirational" case, on the other hand, hegemony "has its basis in moral and intellectual leadership as opposed to domination through power" (p. 10).

Obviously, when discussing "soft power", Nye is referring to this latter case. Nevertheless, it doesn't make his argument any less "hegemonic", even if he rejects the concept outright (p. 87).

Another major point he was trying to make in the book was the argument against American declinism (funny he had to go back, yet again, to what he was saying twenty years ago). Having been reading on International Political Economy this past week - and looking at the concept of hegemony in that context - provides yet another angle to this discussion.

Yes, the U.S. is still the biggest and strongest single power in the world. Yet, that is true if one's speaking in relative terms (which, some may claim, is all that matters). In absolute terms, however, the U.S. has not only lost power, but everyone else (or rather, many others) seem to be gaining more (whether at the American expense, or not). That takes us back to Nye's point on power transition and power diffusion.

It is interesting to observe the scare (paranoia?) surrounding "the rise of China", as well as the "rise of the rest" among the U.S. intellectual and academic community (as opposed to the sheer amusement of watching the political side of the discussion): despite being alarmist, they insist on rejecting declinism and end on a self-congratulatory note that is supposed to calm everyone (and themselves, in the first place) down.

The U.S. might have been the strong force for stability in the international economy in the past decades. But that is, obviously, no longer the case. The EU has been getting increasingly desperate over the Greek issue and when the [Western] "lender of last resort" proved incapable to help, they went to... China (?!?!?!).





China, of course, will take its time to cherish the moment and will not let go of this opportunity to negotiate for something in return (as well as to simply make a point). This interview with Jin Liqun, the supervising chairman of China Investment Corporation, is therefore all the more interesting and important.

Perhaps most noteworthy are his closing remarks regarding the shift of power away from the traditional "West". According to Liqun, the emerging markets having a say in global economic/financial governance is only a positive thing. One just has to look at how the West handled the most recent financial crisis.

What is more, he emphasized the changing perception of China as a constructive and significant international player, as well as the ability of increasingly wealthy developing countries to help the richer ones in sustaining their wealth (is he really arguing for a true liberalization of international markets...?!).

Most importantly, however, he suggested that there is a need for a "fundamental change in the mentality" of the "traditional developed" countries [i.e. the formerly wealthy]: "they should welcome this, they should embrace this as a very good development."

Sadly for them, the Chinese still have a lot of convincing to do. Unless they buy out the entire world, that is...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The "Fifth Dimension" of Power?

Al Jazeera had an awesome documentary on cybersecurity this week. I think I like the title even more: "Fighting in the Fifth Dimension". This might end up being yet another post from the "Joe Nye series", so please bear with me.

I certainly recommend watching the entire video, and although it's mostly focused on countries salient to Al Jazeera's "topical interest", it does provide a very interesting, and quite informative, discussion on the subject.



This is indeed a pressing issue. Especially so with the ever more rapid decrease in the cost of acquiring and using information and communication technology (or, to use Nye's formulation: now that the "barriers to entry" are much lower). I am not claiming that the digital divide is gone; but the gap is certainly getting narrower by the day. This is all the more the case with governments, organizations, or even individuals in the less developed world who can actually afford the technology to "pose a threat" to more traditional power centers.

In terms of Nye's 3-D taxonomy of power, elaborated further in his Future of Power, it seems that "Cyberpower" would belong to the 3rd dimension: that of transnational issues, actors, and... chaos. And although he does discuss a very rapid diffusion of power in the cyberdomain, he also stresses that the Internet is not an international public good because it is limited (in its technical capacity) and because some of it still lies under sovereign government control.

Or, to use his quote from Richard Falkenrath: "The stakes are simply too high for governments to cede the field to private interests alone." I think the Al Jazeera documentary leaves that beyond doubt.

Yet, I am also amused by the conceptualization of the cyberdomain as the "fifth" aspect of warfare, presumably after land, sea, air, and, of course, the "human terrain" (i.e. hearts and minds of the targets). Such a separation implies a strict differentiation of the latter two from the first three.


Cartoon from Sketchblog.


But as everyday examples show (and as Nye correctly points out), this separation in "domains" cannot really be made, as activities in one will most probably have consequences in the other. For example, a cyber attack on Navy's communication infrastructure will certainly affect its operations on the ground [in the sea?], just as a shooting rampage by a marine or an inappropriate comment by a prominent politician can have devastating effects for the effort of winning "hearts and minds".

Might sound too complex, but these considerations need to be taken into account when strategies and policy actions are drawn up, so that they don't backfire in the process. But I'm sure that part is taken care of. What is more urgent at the moment is the education of the public - which still seems largely ignorant about the complexity of the situation (the reasons are many) - and the awareness about the risks and threats of the cyberdomain; but also opportunities, especially in terms of public diplomacy and the "human terrain".

Yet, it would be tragic to see the cyberdomain, too, oversecuritized. Sounds like we might be there already, though...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Oh that "Soft Power"

Now that I'm half-way through Nye's Future Of Power, and successfully completed his not-so-new sections on soft power and public diplomacy, I cannot help but think back - yet again - to good old Gramsci and his all-important concept of hegemony.




More thoughts will be coming later, of course, time permitting. But here's a quote from Robert Cox that is very telling:
"Hegemony is a structure of values and understandings about the nature of order that permeates a whole system of states and non-state entities.  In a hegemonic order these values and understandings are relatively stable and unquestioned.  They appear to most actors as the natural order.  Such a structure of meanings is underpinned by a structure of power, in which most probably one state is dominant but that state’s dominance is not sufficient to create hegemony.  Hegemony derives from the dominant social strata of the dominant states in so far as these ways of doing and thinking have acquired the acquiescence of the dominant social strata of other states."
The resemblance of hegemony to the concept of soft power is more than just striking. Nye - of course - sees this critique coming and attempts to refute this suggestion, claiming that hegemony is about coercion, while soft power is about attraction and free will (pp. 87-90). And yet, it seems Nye is distorting the very meaning of hegemony, which - at its core - refers to the projection of an actor's own way of seeing the world over others through means that are not necessarily coercive. Therefore, hegemony can involve "free will" among others, with the "free" component (relative in this case) being engineered through the actor's power.

In short, Nye is walking a very fine line between hegemony and soft power, all over again, being in denial all along.

A more comprehensive review will be coming soon. Hopefully.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

State Power vs. Social Movements

I came across this piece on Foreign Policy a couple of days ago and thought I'd repost it here, especially since I've been so silent lately. Again. After all, the state vs. non-state seems to be one of the new "major" debates not just in International Relations, but also in many other aspects of world as well as domestic affairs. More importantly, it directly affects public diplomacy and attempts to mobilize and organize individuals, groups, and movements, so as to bring about desired and concrete policy outcomes.




Anne-Marie Slaughter makes very strong points, and although Dan Drezner has a few good counter-arguments, her emphasis on networks (whether real or virtual) and their ability to organize and amplify their impact does merit attention. After all, in the increasingly complex structure of world politics, non-state actors are operating alongside states, with communication playing a key enabling role. It is here that public diplomacy and strategic communication can capitalize on the existing connections to strengthen and improve their achievements, whether directly or indirectly.



This is, of course, nothing new. Just interesting to see this debate in such a format. Long live social media!

If curious, here's the whole thing:



Friday, October 7, 2011

Putin's Army celebrating it hot

Remember those overzealous young women ripping their clothes off for Putin this summer? Obviously they haven't lost their zeal, even after the Future President said he will indeed be there. So, on the occasion of his birthday today, October 7, they decided to make him a tortik, a cake. In their own way, of course.




The following discussion on YouTube is hilarious. But some comments have disappeared already, so criticism is obviously unwelcome.

Wonder if Putin himself will take a minute to thank them for their hard work. Though they seem to have secured jobs for themselves for several years to come.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Some updates; quick thoughts...

I know I've been absent for weeks. Yet again. A lot has happened and I wish I had enough time to reflect and write about it. But since I don't, I thought I'd share a couple of news/videos I kept coming across these days.

Firstly, of course, there's this: the Great Leader (past, present, and future, as we finally found out) of Russia, had not really been all too successful with his archaeological finds back in August, when he took that dive in the Black Sea. Of course it was a set up. The most hilarious thing, however, is that his spokesman openly admitted it. I wonder if he actually has doubles when dealing with tigers and whales. Or when driving the LADA...





Then, there was this peace by Al Jazeera about the celebration of the Grozny Day, in Chechnya. Obviously, it was as much an "international" public statement about where Chechnya has got by now, as much as it was a populist one, to improve "Head of Chechen Republic" Kadyrov's domestic ratings (well, and maybe Future President Putin's). Cheap public diplomacy and PR, many would say; but then, it was obviously not that cheap [I'm sure, the "divine support" will be there for many more years to come]. Yet, seems like very few Western explanations can actually account for the substantial support he does have among the public. Oh well... [And by the way, I sincerely sympathize with Van Damme; he didn't seem all too happy being out there...]





Going to Russia Today... Obviously, after the ridiculous United Russia congress a couple of weeks ago, Putin's popularity around the world needed a boost. Enter, Larry King. [I sometimes wonder if international leaders are now treating him as a global "equivalent" to what Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart are to the American public: make an appearance and your political ratings will most certainly go up, and/or your product (movie/book) will sell better.] So, Larry King gave an interview to RT, where he discussed Putin's "It Factor"... It's both hilarious and sad; and yet having King doing Putin's "personal public diplomacy" (not to call it PR) is something not to be missed, I think.





Lastly, just a note on the whole "Occupy Wall Street" debacle, that is now spreading all across the country. I don't want to be commenting on U.S. domestic issues here, but in terms of public diplomacy, this case is certainly working against the U.S. image. Such issues and footage, like the one below, are not only detrimental to the international perception of American values (and how they are upheld), but can also be recontextualized and "exploited" by many "information rivals", such as Russia Today. American "public diplomats" have to keep this in mind.






Hope to have more, later...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The US Advisory Commission on PD: September 2011 Meeting

The US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy - charged with "appraising U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics" - held its Nth public meeting today morning. Acting Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs J. Adam Ereli was the special guest, presenting all the great American efforts in public diplomacy through cultural and educational exchange initiatives.


Ambassador J. A. Ereli. Photo from US Embassy in Bahrain.


The meeting was announced early on, it was webcast live, and Executive Director Matt Armstrong did quite a good job of utilizing social media to spread the word. And although it was a public meeting, since it was taking place in the State Department, one would still need to register well in advance and go through the whole security screening process upon arrival. As a devout fan, I had decided I should go, despite the increasingly hectic schedule.

So, I did. Arriving there half an hour before the start of the meeting turned out to be insufficient, even though we were advised to show up just 15 mins earlier. After standing in one line for 20 minutes, I was told that I should probably go to the other exit. At 9:55am, five minutes before the start of the meeting, there were close to a hundred people outside, waiting in line, to be enlightened about the most recent developments in public diplomacy and exchanges. The line was there for half an hour. No one was let in. The reason? Apparently, the security screening machines had broken down. And no, it didn't matter if you had registered in advance (which involved sending them quite a bit of personal information), you still couldn't get in for seemingly obvious reasons. (Could this be a great example of the efficiency of the State Department?)

Long story short, by the time we got in it was close to 10:35am (i.e. we missed more than half of the meeting, and certainly most of the presentation), so my account starts at that point.

As we walked in, Ambassador Ereli was recounting all the virtues of exchange programs, Fulbright featuring most prominently among those. In terms of impact, he said that the Bureau's evaluation - mostly through surveys, it seems - shows that most of the participants of the exchange programs go back to their countries with better understanding of and a positive disposition toward the U.S. Ereli also talked about all the positive input of these alumni in their respective societies through the multiplier effect and their ability to engage various local networks. He emphasized on the importance of technological innovation and the diffusion of that knowledge and technology in other societies precisely through such alumni networks.

All great buzz words and ideas.

In the Q&A part, Ereli told the touching story of a young Arab-American musician who had grown up in Oklahoma and liked country music, and was invited to perform at the Ambassador's Residence in Bahrain, touching the hearts of as many as 300 high school students. He also seemed very optimistic about Middle Eastern musicians' life-changing discovery that certain American drummers can catch and actually tune into their rhythm. Seems like it is at that mysterious, metaphysical level that American public diplomacy is at its best.

Perhaps the most interesting point that the Ambassador brought up was in the very end, when he emphasized the need for more people-to-people contacts. He did not want to discount the importance of digital diplomacy, and yet, he reminded the audience that nothing can replace the in-person engagement of the public. To quote him almost verbatim: "It is only then that we can win them ["the other guys"] over".

Last weekend marked the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks: Ten years since public diplomacy supposedly regained its importance. Ten years of experimentation and theorizing... and yet, it seems the DoS still has a lot to learn. Public diplomacy is still about "winning over" and "influencing". What is more, public diplomacy - especially cultural diplomacy - is obviously not fully understood. How does it work? How does it work best? Is it really just about chemistry?

Again, I should say I missed most of that meeting. Ambassador Ereli might have discussed much more substantive and informative issues while I was waiting in the line outside. To find out, I guess, I will have to wait for some four months for the minutes of this public meeting to be released.

-----------------
UPDATE [9/17/2011]: I was contacted by Matt Armstrong, the Executive Director, who said that they are aware of the issue and will certainly try to address it in the future. Happy to report that the Commission has been responsive!
Thank you.

--

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Joe Nye at the School of Int'l Service, American U

Joseph Nye visited American University on Thursday, September 8,  for a talk about his latest book, Future of Power. The room was packed and the small number of books available sold out within minutes. Although the book had come out earlier this year and Dr. Nye had been actively promoting it in person and in the media, this talk was particularly timely, since I had spent the first half of the week reading on Realism.


Photo courtesy of Manith Hang


Nye started the talk by briefly outlining the major points in his book. It seems that his theory has come a long way from the initial concept of "Soft Power", evolving and taking on further dimensions. Here are some highlights:

Power is the ability to affect others to get the things you want. Tools:
1. Sticks: threats and coercion
2. Carrots: payments, economic incentives
3. Soft Power: getting others to want what you want [and although Soft Power does not solve all problems, it can help you save a lot on carrots and sticks].

Smart Power, on the other hand, combines all three, and is thus most effective and valuable.

Major power shifts of the 21st Century:
Power Transition: shift among states, namely from West to East (i.e. Asia)
Power Diffusion: from states to non-state actors


Power Transition

According to Nye, the center of world politics is rapidly shifting towards Asia, which he sees more of a "recovery" than emergence. Yet, he specifically underscored his belief that it applies to all of Asia - which is not a unitary entity - and not just China. Skeptical of Americans' most recent "scare", Nye warned against too much hype around "The Rise of China" and the basic Realist belief that wars often start due to perceived threats. Firstly, he suggested that a more economically (or militarily) powerful China will not necessarily engage in conflict with the U.S. Secondly, he argued that although China might be doing better overall - whether in terms of total economic prosperity or relative to its own former military capabilities (as it is still too far away from the U.S. in those terms) - when taken per capita, it is easy to see that it can in no way compete with the United States.

As for Soft Power... Indeed, the Chinese government has been making a concerted effort to improve its global performance over the past several years. Nye said, however, that China doesn't seem to realize that much of American Soft Power doesn't come from its government but rather its civil society as well as its values. Noting China's authoritarian political system, as well as its top-down and centralized "Soft Power activities", he argued that China will most likely achieve very little success in that regard.


Nye discussing his then newly published book with Al Jazeera's Riz Khan, in April 2011


Power Diffusion

The Information Revolution of the past several decades has also significantly affected the nature of global politics. Various ICTs have become much more affordable and widely available, giving rise to new non-state actors as well as empowering the already existing ones - whether positive or negative (the latter will largely depend on the perspective). What is more, Nye pointed out the significance of the "new alternative" power capabilities and vulnerabilities, emphasizing the importance of thinking beyond the military security realm, per se. He rejected the idea that the state is no longer relevant; however, he pointed out that it now has to function in a much more crowded environment.


The 3D Chessboard:

Based on his categorization of three "kinds" of power, Nye has developed the idea of a three-dimensional distribution of power around the world. According to him:

- First Dimension: Military relations --> are still largely unipolar, with one dominant power (the U.S.) in the lead

- Second Dimension: Economic relations --> largely multipolar, with a number of major actors dominating the field

- Third Dimension: Transnational relations --> chaotic distribution of power, often held by non-state actors, results in a large number of issues of a new nature.


Nye seems to be focusing mostly on the latter dimension, emphasizing the need for state actors to cooperate so as to be able to find a solution to the problems they face. Again, he is not discounting the importance of the other aspects of power; yet, he insists on a holistic approach that incorporates elements of all, i.e. "Smart Power".

There were a couple of things that struck me about his talk, particularly in light of my recent exploration of Realist thought. Keeping to his criticism of it, Nye pointed out that power, especially the 21st Century power, is not a zero-sum game: it's not a "power over" but rather "power with" others. States should not perceive military threats from other states simply because their overall economic indicators seem to be improving. On the contrary, they should start paying more attention to "non-traditional" transnational threats and devise innovative approaches to dealing with them. That is where he suggested that the U.S. and China should cooperate, for example, instead of engaging in a competition over perceived threats.


Yes, got it signed :)


It was interesting to see Nye emphasizing the the third dimension of power (i.e. the transnational issues) to that extent, as well as focusing so much on the short to meduim-term. Indeed, it might be decades before the various dimensions of power really shift towards Asia (and here I mean for real), but what would he suggest as a reasonable course of action after that point has been reached? What is more, what if China - precisely due to its authoritarian nature - does use its newly found riches to keep investing heavily in military capabilities, despite the inadequacy in terms of per capita income? Nye does reject the Realist perspective, and yet he still seems to be trying to make a "rational choice" argument, falling victim to several of the latter's most prominent fallacies: wishful thinking, readjustment of desires with the perceived set of given (and increasingly limited) opportunities, and - the very basic - tendency for irrational choices.

What is more, I'm still stuck with the question: if this is where anarchy persists, and if this is the more "problematic" dimension, why should states try to dominate over those non-state actors if he is indeed advocating against a Realist approach? Does that imply that there should, still, be an aspiration to achieve hegemony - even if just regional - so as to have a more stable and predictable "system" for states to operate in?

Yet, I should admit I have just started reading the book and most of these questions might be answered or clarified there already (i.e. more thoughts coming later, after I've gone through it). Dr. Nye had a noteworthy quote about Realism, however, which is quite telling and is hopefully explored further in the book:

"Realism is a good place to start the analysis of international politics, but it's a lousy place to end it."

I certainly look forward to reading more!

Lastly, I found it interesting that Nye specifically pointed out that in the U.S. power is still overwhelmingly thought of in traditional (i.e. Realist) terms. John Mearsheimer, however, had suggested that the American public is averse to Realpolitik and the discourse surrounding it, and that is why policymakers - among whom Realism is actually quite alive and kicking - often tend to cloak their actions in liberal rhetoric.

That was Mearsheimer ten years ago and quite obviously a lot has changed since, both in U.S. foreign policy as well as in domestic public discourse: both seem to have become much more Realist, despite the increasing realization of the significance of the so-called "Soft Power" dimension. I'm curious to see if the American public sentiment will stick to this trend (or rather, dare I say, will keep reacting to all the rhetoric from certain political circles), creating yet another intellectual/practitioner divide over theoretical analysis that has been trying to chase reality.

Most of all, I'm curious to see how it affects American public diplomacy and its effectiveness.

And, to end with another highlight, since it's the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, here is a Joe Nye piece from New York Times, reflecting on the events and subsequent developments:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

[New] Chaos is Back

It's been a while since I last blogged, for which, I realize, I deserve a reprimand. But now, well into my second week as a Ph.D. student, I guess I no longer have an excuse to be lazy about it.

Where had I been all this time? Mostly in DC, getting ready to start school for the forth time, which involved stocking up on lots and lots of books (most on International Relations). Unfortunately, universities are still to start offering a Doctoral degree in Public Diplomacy - for better or worse - so if you're a PD enthusiast, like myself, who wants to take the time and the effort to explore the field thoroughly (and here I'm talking about years of time and effort), you're most likely to end up in a Communication school. But then, since the debate on public diplomacy's location (discipline-wise) is still raging, and - as I found out - some would even argue over whether public diplomacy can be theorized at all, I decided to go the IR [International Relations] route.


Cartoon from Genevalunch.com.


There are multiple reasons for this choice. Firstly, I see the difference between the "communication" and "IR" approaches as being similar to the one between marketing/PR and public diplomacy. PD should be based on and informed by good old communication and persuasion techniques. It can also gain a lot from understanding how various media and media systems work in shaping, changing and maintaining certain images and perceptions. However, since PD deals essentially with foreign publics, since it emphasizes genuine understanding and engagement - beyond mere product promotion or image management (or at least, it should) - and since it takes place within a certain political and international context, isolating its "subject matter" within the field of Communication is clearly insufficient. IR, especially the flexible and multidisciplinary program at the School of International Service, therefore, provides the complexity, the freedom, as well as the openness necessary for such an approach.

And yes, my semi-stated aspiration for the next several years will be to build a coherent and inclusive approach for studying public diplomacy (I won't go as far as calling it a "theory", of course). This endeavor will need to incorporate elements not just from communication and international relations, but also from cross-cultural communication, anthropology, psychology and perhaps sociology.

Heh... good luck to me!


Cartoon from Outsideivorytower.com.


Yet, in line with the typical "American academic approach", we will be spending our first year or two reading (and re-reading) the major works of thought and methodology in the field of International Relations. My PD perspective on all that will, most probably, remain largely unchanged. However - and here comes the disclaimer - given the slightly different focus of the literature, as well as its sheer volume, you might start finding more IR-related discussions and thoughts on Global Chaos as well. My hope is that it will only enrich and complement the subject of public diplomacy, and yet, not all thought (and certainly not all practice) in IR is relevant or compatible with PD.

In short, I will not be giving up the blog, even if you see my posts becoming increasingly infrequent at times. If anything, I hope Global Chaos will incorporate new perspectives and ideas, as I advance. And, as always, I will greatly appreciate any comments and suggestions from the reader!

A lot has happened in the past two months - i.e. since I last blogged - that merits attention. I hope to catch up on it all some day. As for now, I wanted to share two more or less new pieces with you here:




The first is yet another of my papers published in the Fall 2011 issue of the Journal of International Service: "Hizballah’s Media Strategy: Creating a 'Theater of Terror'." Although it does not focus on public diplomacy per se, the paper analyzes the communication strategies of the Lebanese terrorist group within the larger framework of asymmetric information warfare. What is more, the subject does still carry PD relevance, since I was focusing primarily on Hizballah's foreign-language outreach when analyzing its "new media" strategy. With the increasing prominence of non-state actors and transnational issues, the analysis of such cases has become indispensable, even if for the simple reason of devising a "counter-attack".

And yes, this was just a test-run. Larger and broader projects will hopefully follow.

The second piece I wanted to share here was a program recently made by Al Jazeera, as a part of their "The 9/11 Decade" series (which, by the way, features a great collection of reports and perspectives). This one is called "The Image War" and, I should say, is a very interesting, insightful, and (perhaps) at times provocative take at some of the major PD-related issues that dominated the past decade.





Stay tuned...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Global Chaos goes to Georgia

I mean, Georgia the country.

Although I had spent years abroad and have traveled half-way across the world from Armenia, I had never visited its closest neighbor. It's one of the only two borders I could cross from Armenia (the other being Iran, which is a different story...), but I had never had the opportunity of making that trip. And despite the realization that I can trace some of my own heritage to Tbilisi, I had never gotten an excuse to actually learn more about this amazing place.

[*Photos by Yelena Osipova. Click for a larger view.]

All this, coupled with related academic interest, curiosity, and perhaps even regret finally took me there. Here are some of the impressions of an Armenian, a global nomad, an international relations student, and a public diplomacy enthusiast. I know, there's always "a first time" and first impressions might be misleading, but since public diplomacy rarely allows for long-term and consistent efforts, the experience of a three-day tourist might be quite opinion-changing.


Armenia. Past Alaverdi, Lori Region. So pretty!


We left Yerevan early in the morning. Thanks to the very generous Armenian Ministry of Transportation, which cannot even properly maintain one of the major so-called highways connecting this tiny, landlocked country to the outside world, I spent about four hours shaking on the backseat of a cab (a Lada, of course) to make the 200km trip to the border. [Forget public diplomacy for visiting foreigners; what of the economy, after all?!] Fortunately, we were driving through some of the prettiest landscape in Armenia; that kept me and my camera occupied for a while.


The Armenian-speaking Azeri lady who sold us expensive peaches on the other side of the border. They were good, however...


Crossing the border was easier than I anticipated. Of course, my Russian-sounding name caused some suspicion and I had to answer a set of extra questions; but that was all. The newly-renovated highway beyond the Armenian border took us through some Azeri- and Armenian-inhabited villages, as well as the spot where the old granny had damaged Armenia's fibre-optic Internet cable earlier this year. A big contrast with Armenia, of course.


Information society in Marneuli, Georgia. Although the town was in the middle of nowhere and seemed to be pretty poor, most of the windows featured at least two satellite dishes.


Locating our hotel in Tbilisi, however, proved to be more than just frustrating. I could find no well-detailed maps online or hard-copy ones with the few travel agencies that I checked; while, to my surprise, there is no map of Georgia or Tbilisi on GoogleMaps at all. [By the way, that's another interesting subject to explore. The official Google explanation is irrelevant, since there are quite detailed maps of Baku and Yerevan by now; I wonder if it's anything similar to the case of Israel...?]. Yet, the most annoying fact was that there were very few signs - if at all - in Russian or English.


UNM (United National Movement) is the President's Party.


I guess that's a general observation and a very important complaint from a public diplomacy perspective: the issue of the foreign language. Yes, Georgia (rather, its current administration) has made it clear that it wants to distance itself from Russia and the other CIS countries, which includes dramatic changes in foreign policy, rewriting of history, a lot of public diplomacy [or should I say, propaganda, in this case..?] and forgetting the Russian language. And although many - even from among the older generations - have successfully internalized this latter point, forgetting (or rather, pretending to have forgotten) their Russian, they have thus far failed to learn English (or any other foreign language, for that matter).





Checking the dictionary or Googling a phrase does not require special language skills. And yet, one's got to appreciate the effort...


This applies not only to the general population at the capital or the shopkeepers who have to deal with foreigners on a daily basis, but also to most of the street signs as well as the police, who couldn't even help with directions. I respect the uniqueness of the Georgian language as well as the ambitions of the Georgian government - that's not the issue. The problem is communication, and as much as one might despise a foreign nation, if the latter's language is one of the six major and official languages in the world, forgetting it altogether is a big mistake. Georgia cannot change its geography, while if it wants successful communication with its neighbors or the outside world (no matter the issue), it needs to seriously work on its language skills. Just for the record.


The New Presidential Residence. One Tbilisi resident told me they refer to it as "the egg". It's a pretty view; especially at night.


The new bridge enjoying special lighting effects along with the TV tower and the Presidential Palace.


The town is pretty and certainly represents Georgia best: the blend of history and modern ambitions; remnants of the Soviet era alongside major Western symbols; extreme poverty next door to conspicuous wealth; beautiful green parks with ugly recent constructions; and of course diversity [unparalleled in the region] alongside extreme chauvinism.


The new Residence, the blue bridge and the bright cupola of the new cathedral are simply too bright, even if modern.


President Saakashvili has undertaken the herculean task of restoring and improving the face of his capital: renovating the Old Town and some of the historical constructions, while building several new giants (including his Residence), which, although pretty on their own, do not blend in with the cityscape at all. In a way, perhaps, this further underlines all the paradoxes and incongruousness found in modern-day Georgia.


The still Soviet building of the Academy of Sciences (please note the star on the top) with a grand McDonald's next door. It seemed to be pretty popular.


Too many houses falling apart, a couple of blocks from the Presidential Residence. Yet, there are people still living in many of them. Restoration projects will take years.


Yet, really changing perceptions abroad cannot be achieved simply by touching up the appearance of the country or its capital. Some of the people I talked to sounded more or less optimistic and expressed hope for the not-so-close future [yet, please note: there's still hope for the better, unlike the case in Armenia]; many others, however, were very sarcastic and unhappy about their "current situation", complaining of no substantial changes since the Rose Revolution and despising the seemingly endless paranoia. I guess that was expected.


Surb Norashen Armenian church that had caused some controversy in the past in downtown Tbilisi. The walls had cracks, windows were broken, and there were clear signs of fire. Right next door, in the same yard, there was a fully-restored Georgian Orthodox church.


I found certain other things just as I expected, too. Tbilisi had historically been the cultural hub and the most diverse spot in the Southern Caucasus and it still remains as such. Georgia's stubbornly pro-Western foreign policy as well as the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict have made Tbilisi the international center of the region as well, as it hosts many of the regional representations of international organizations and companies, along with various conferences, seminars, and trainings.


Georgians do have a sense of humor, don't they?


Walking in the streets I could catch conversations not just in Georgian, but also in Armenian and Azeri, as well as some hushed voices in Russian; yet, only in Tbilisi can an Armenian enjoy a marvelous evening with Georgians and Azeris at a Soviet-themed cafe called "KGB". [I guess I should make a disclaimer here, that because of my Armenian passport I cannot visit Baku to make a really regional comparison. But something tells me, that's not the case. Just as it is not in Yerevan...]


Loved being in "khatchapuri-land" [cheese in dough]!


And the food...? Oh, don't get me started on the food. I'll just limit it all to one word: amazing.


A traditional Georgian supra [meze or tapas], with copious amounts of cheese and walnut puree.


Of course, it's not all happy and pink (despite all the roses around; literally). One just needs to read the news to get the full picture: seemingly peaceful political protests were broken up in May with not a single criticism from the international (i.e. "Western) community; religious minorities could not get legal status up until very recently; despite the relatively improved "Freedom House" score, the state of political freedoms remains worse than during the pre-2003 era; while what would be criticized as oppression of "media freedoms" elsewhere, is being left to "two governments" to sort out privately. There is obviously a long way to go, before Georgia can become a real democracy. But then, everything is indeed proving to be relative and it is in this relative perspective that Georgia's strength lies.


The Narikala Fortress and Metekhi Church/Fortress/Prison. Pretty at night!


In short, I am impressed and very glad to have taken the trip. Georgia, you did a pretty good job with your hospitality, but [and here comes the ever-present complaint] you could have done a much better job for what you are and what you want to be. I might disagree with some of the politics, but when it comes to making an impression, you are learning the ways. Just remember, you don't have all the time in the world.


UPDATE [07.19.2011]: As I was going through my pictures, I realized there was another one I intended to post here.




It is a monument dedicated to the "Eternal Memory of the Heroes of the Revolution" in a park in downtown Tbilisi. It seems to be roughly done and carries the dates: 1905, 1917 and 1921 (the year Georgia actually became a member of the USSR). As you can see, the monument is in a pretty bad shape. And yet, it is still there, standing.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Oh, "Blyuuuberi Khill"

Of course, it will be a while before the world forgets Putin's memorable performance on that very warm December evening. (By the way, "fundraising for Russia's sick children II" is already on its way, despite all the previous controversy surrounding it.)

Not that the official and unofficial PR corps of "Russia’s judo-hurling, butterfly-swimming, tiger-tranquilizing strongman PM" would let him be forgotten. The following video appeared on YouTube some time over the past week, and what did Russia Today TV do? They reposted it, of course.




I wonder if such form of "recycling" also implies endorsement. After all, the Putin vs. Medvedev battle is already on... What this means for Russia's public diplomacy - a job which RT is allegedly tasked with - is a different question.

Russia's great leader, even if only the "second" at the moment, has tirelessly worked to increase his profile domestically, as well as abroad. Long rides on yellow Lada-s, roaring bike appearances and attempts at making statements of "warmth" in English are only a part of the bouquet.

Here's another interesting piece of info: remember that 2003 international poll where the majority of the respondents referred to communism, KGB, snow and mafia as their top associations with Russia? It seems like 8 years on the image might have changed, a bit; but whether it's for the better, is very questionable.

About a week ago, Russia Beyond The Headlines posted an unofficial poll on their Facebook page through the "Questions" application asking: "If I say Russia what do you think of?" Of course, it's no where close an actual, credible or systematic poll to be cited as trustworthy research; however, there were 416 votes from all over the world, making this an interesting "pilot" project.


As you can see, "Vodka" is on the top - by far - getting 98 votes. "Putin" comes next, with 51 votes. "Mother Russia" and "Beautiful girls" are next in line (I just hope the latter does not refer to "sex-tourism" and mail-order brides...), with Kalashnikovs ("AK-47") among the top five, too. Perhaps the other very ironic association was "Chernobyl" (although it got just 4 votes), which is (and was, even back in 1986) in Ukraine, and not Russia.

Glad to see historical figures and events as well as references to arts and culture in the list, too. Yet, it is obvious that some of the not-so-positive stereotypes are not gone at all. Most of all, it's interesting to see the current Prime Minister figuring so prominently: perhaps he is after all Russia's best public diplomat, for better or worse?

He is trying to personify strength, will, and power, as well as demonstrate some moderate closeness to people and the fauna. I feel compelled to quote the sociological axiom: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences."

I'm not quite sure it's the best approach to public diplomacy in the case of Russia, however. Particularly in the West.

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UPDATE: A friend just shared the following article, which indirectly continues my line of thought in the post above: "Top Kremlin aide says Putin is God's gift to Russia". Quotes of note:

""I honestly believe that Putin is a person who was sent to Russia by fate and by the Lord at a difficult time for Russia," Vladislav Surkov, a staunch Putin supporter and one of Russia's most powerful men, was quoted by Interfax news agency as telling state-run Chechen TV.
"(Putin was) preordained by fate to preserve our peoples," said Surkov, who is also the Kremlin's first deputy chief of staff. 
Two months ago, a nun-like sect appeared in central Russia claiming that Putin was a saint and a saviour. A spokesman said Putin "does not approve of that kind of admiration"."

Oh, so now he's a Saint, too...?!


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The anti-"SoftPower Inc."

Did you know there is a social network and youth-driven uprising going on in Belarus? Most probably, not... many might not even consider it "news" anymore. And yet, things have gone from bad to worse most recently, again.

Fed up with the political and economic situation in their country and inspired by the Arab Spring, many young Belarusians have been organizing online and taking to the streets (yet again) in non-violent protests against Lukashenka's government. The center point? Twitter [@internetREVOLT] and VKontatke, the Russian equivalent of Facebook [Revolution Through Social Networks --> Movement of the Future].





Activists claim that hundreds have been detained throughout Belarus within the past couple of weeks only. While Bat'ko, the Father of all Belarusians, has lashed out against the protesters during the military parade marking the 20th Anniversary of Independence. He blamed external forces for meddling in his country and reiterated that he will not bow down to (the unknown) "them". Here's a quote:

"(Somebody) is trying to copy a 'coloured revolution' scenario here," he said, referring to protest movements in ex-Soviet republics such as Georgia and Ukraine in 2003-2004. 
We understand that the goal of these attacks is to impose uncertainty and turbulence, to destroy public consent and in the end to put us on our knees and to bring all the achievements of our independence down to zero. This is not going to happen."


It's more than just obvious who the Great Leader was referring to, but for those needing further clarification, there is this video:



Thanks to Vilhelm Konnander for sharing. [P.S. - Do pay attention to the green screen in the very beginning. Quite amusing...!]


Too bad it's not available in English. But I guess the video sort of speaks for itself. In short, it ridicules the online activists, referring to America's "Soft Power Inc." as the perpetrator and the official sponsor of chaos. It labels online activism as "the best job for an idiot" (paid for by the U.S. State Department), while suggesting that the followers/participants are all "hamsters" in a mob. Most importantly, the video makes it clear that the movement is closely monitored and that the names and photos of the activists are all taken note of.

A bad piece of Lukashenka propaganda: badly put together, blunt and old (rather, antiquated) style, despite the new packaging. Most of all, it's a great example of counter- (what the U.S. would call) "American public diplomacy through democracy promotion". This masterpiece would probably work great with those who already follow and trust Belarus' official media, obviously the primary target of this YouTube "campaign".

And this is how Belarus fights the information war.

As for the "2012" movie reference, seems like it's a popular trend in the former Soviet area. Remember this?

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UPDATE [July 6, 2011]: Here's a great post regarding these events and the related online activity on Global Voices Online. This is certainly not over.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Clinton on the relationship with Russia

A couple of days ago, I saw this interview on Russia's 24/7 news channel. The interview wasn't too long, but she also touched upon public diplomacy among several other issues.

After a long search, I finally found the video online:


Хиллари Клинтон: США и России надо углублять отношения

Apparently, Russia Beyond the Headlines even featured the translated transcript of the interview. Here is what she said on public diplomacy:


Q: You are the coordinator from the American side of the Presidential Medvedev-Obama Commission. Do you think it’s effective enough, and what do we have to do to improve it perhaps?
H.C.: I think the commission that our two presidents established has been very important because it provided an organizing mechanism for our governments and for our citizens to find ways to cooperate. So look at what we’re doing, of course, in the media, as you are one of the leaders of. But on energy efficiency and renewable energy, on nuclear security, how we protect nuclear power plants, especially after what happened in Japan. On sports exchanges – there were a group of young Russian basketball players who came and played basketball with President Obama on the White House court. So I think what we’re doing is building these connections.
In international politics, countries have to work hard to find ways of cooperating, and we have done that on this New START Treaty, on Iran’s nuclear threat, on Afghanistan, on counternarcotics, on counterterrorism. We have a very important and growing set of activities between our two governments, and then the commission takes that and then adds onto it cultural exchanges, artistic exchanges. We’re going to have a year-long exchange of cultural programming coming to Russia – the seasons of America, everything from ballet to jazz to hip-hop. So this commission that Foreign Minister Lavrov and I co-chair for our presidents, I think, has made a lot of progress.

Clinton seemed to be in great mood and her constant laughter did demonstrate confidence and ease. She didn't even shy away from more personal questions and took the opportunity to reiterate, yet again, that she is not eyeing the position of the U.S. President.

I do recommend watching the video (even if you don't understand Russian) and/or reading the transcript. Clinton sounds very positive and enthusiastic about it all.

Perhaps too positive for a diplomat?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Armenian rabiz, ballet, and public diplomacy

Over the past two "democratic" decades, the Armenian culture has experienced a boom: a "rabiz" boom. It's hard to explain what the rabiz sub-culture really is (you know it when you hear it, I guess - and unfortunately, it's very hard to escape in current Armenia), but I believe the word came from a Soviet-era Russian language abbreviation which stood for "worker of art" ("rabotnik iskusstva").

In search of a better "definition" I googled the word and here's what the Urban Dictionary tells me:

Rabiz (n). A slang word describing a social class of Armenians that exhibit socially questionable behaviors. The "rabiz" are similar to the "redneck" class of Americans [...]. Those typicalled dubbed "rabiz" by the Armenian community generally exhibit the following characteristics, although this is not a definitive list:
1. materialistic flamboyancy,
2. the desire to wear sunglasses on all occasions, regardless of weather conditions,
3. formal clothing typically consisting of imitation Italian leather shoes, slacks, and collared silk shirts,
4. strong blend of Russian and Armenian slang words
5. "rabiz" music which, ironically, is an adaptation of Turkish songs adapted for a rabiz-Armenian audience.
6. strong body odors, prominently onions.
7. over-confidence of "picking up" girls regardless of location, occasion, or setting. 

I wouldn't want to say I like this description, but it's pretty close.

Students of anthropology, cultural studies or sociology can surely fill books writing about this weird phenomenon, but here I just wanted to mention the music. The Balkans have their pop- and turbo-folk; Azerbaijan has "mugham"; while Armenians go for rabiz. Here's a quick intro:




The great irony is, of course, that despite the supposed national conviction and the ever-present propaganda that everything Turkish, Azeri and/or Arabic-related is inherently evil, the fans of rabiz seem to have no qualms about adopting themes and styles (and sometimes even the translated lyrics) from these cultures. For instance, here is a "song" that has absolutely nothing "Armenian" about it culture-wise (if we are to take the typical ethnocentric, xenophobic and isolationist perspective).




I cannot stand this music (just as I despise the so-called sub-culture) and I do my best to avoid it as much as possible. Yet, the tragedy of it all is that over the past several years it has come to play a central role in Armenia's public diplomacy, especially within the aspect of the popular culture.

Thanks to Armenia's geography, history as well as economic "well-being", there are more people who would identify themselves as "Armenians" abroad than within the country itself (some estimates of the Diaspora range from 4 to 6 million, while the country has, officially, a population of about 3 million, though many would say that's a gross over-exaggeration).

The significance of public diplomacy in reaching out to diasporas, as well as mobilizing them for the work of public diplomacy is already a much-discussed (and well-practiced) theme. It becomes even more important for tiny and insignificant countries, like Armenia. (And, although I dislike this example, I'll draw the parallel with Israel since prominent Armenian leaders at home and abroad always seem to be looking up to it.)

The numbers of these expats (essentially, emigrants) increased over the past couple of decades as the Soviet Armenia, as well as its economy, collapsed. With them, they took their most recent culture and music tastes - often along the lines of the rabiz - inevitably making the latter the representatives of modern-day Armenia. This view is further reinforced by the Armenian TV channels broadcast from Armenia over the satellites (I believe there are about 4-5 different channels of "Armenian origin" that people can get in various parts of the world).


Here, for example, one can witness the extraordinary blend of an Oriental Armenian pearl with American-Armenian rap. (Horrible...)


It's not just TV, though. The very prominent Armenian oligarchs (the so-called "major businessmen") based in Russia, for example, have recently started sponsoring major Armenian concerts and musical festivals, usually held in Moscow, that feature - more often than not - rabiz "artists". Earlier this yearone of these events stirred up a major controversy, for instance. Yet, I guess one should be grateful that they are not making it to places such as Eurovision; not just yet, at least (although this year's Armenia's representative wasn't much better, even if she was different).

Why all this intro? Just to demonstrate why it pains me to see "decent" culture, and especially high culture, virtually absent from Armenia's cultural and public diplomacy. Yes, the National Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as certain other artists do sometimes travel abroad, but I can (most definitely) bet that the audience they reach numbers in the hundreds, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) reached by the rabiz.


Photos by Yelena Osipova


Last night I had the opportunity to attend a ballet - Prokofiev's "Romeo & Juliet" - performed by the National Opera and Ballet Theater. Yes, perhaps there is nothing "Armenian" about this piece, either (written by an Englishman, and composed by a Russian); yet, the choreography as well as the performance was all done by Armenian artists. What is more, the Armenian Ministry of Culture was the one to provide the major chunk of the financial support. Why not use this opportunity for "high culture" public diplomacy, whether live or televised? After all, the Montagues and Capulets can speak for the Armenians as well as for the British... as long as there is will.

Sergei Prokofiev - Dance of the Knights








The ballet was well-done and most of the lead roles performed very well. Although there can be very little comparison with Russia's Bolshoi or the Mariinski, I still walked out from the hall quite impressed. And although many would say that high culture is inherently exclusive and not well-fitted for the "cultural enlightenment of the masses", I am more than just confident that when it comes to Armenian public diplomacy, the impressions and formed opinions will be infinitely better than those by the rabiz (and its admirers).







After all, such occasions provide the great opportunity of bringing the more or less familiar and much-liked pieces of global culture (to foreigners, but especially to Diasporans who might, in many ways, be closer to their host cultures than to the modern Armenian "pop folk") with what can be seen as "Armenian packaging".




I just wish the so-called Ministry of Diaspora starts considering musical culture as a real PD issue, as well...

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