Monday, December 9, 2013

Putin Overhauls Russia's International Broadcasting: Back to Propaganda 1.0?

Today, Russia-watchers woke up to the news that Putin has issued a decree ordering the dissolution of RIA Novosti and Voice of Russia, and establishing - instead - a new media giant to be called "Russia Today" [Rossiya Segodnya] (and this one is different and altogether separate from RT - the TV network - which initially started as "Russia Today" but later formally changed its name to "RT"). The overhaul was not only aimed at these two agencies, which have been there since the early Soviet years. It also affected several other publishing houses and news/wire organizations, and was supposedly aimed at "improving cost-effectiveness and efficiency ahead of budget reductions in 2014 for state-run information resources." This new Russia Today's task will be to improve Russia's image abroad (again?!).

Image from: RIA Novosti

This was not the only shocker, though. Perhaps in an even more controversial - yet unsurprising - move, Putin appointed Dmitry Kiselev [Kisilyov] to head this new agency. Kiselev, who is a prominent Russian reporter and TV anchor, and has - in the past several years - served as Deputy General of the state-owned All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company [Rossiya], certainly has the prominence and the approval that have put him there. Apparently, Kiselev can also claim international broadcasting experience, having worked at the Norwegian and Polish Bureaus of the Foreign Broadcasting Center of USSR State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting [I know, it's a mouthful].

There are several major issues with this emerging picture:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

McCain's Op-Ed in Pravda -- The Other Side of the same Coin

After Putin’s bashing op-ed in the New York Times last week, Senator McCain was so distressed, he decided he absolutely had to respond. I missed it somehow, but apparently, he threatened to publish his response in Pravda (because, just in case you didn’t know, Pravda is a widely-read and highly-regarded newspaper in Russia, as the New York Times is in the US. Or so he thinks..?).

I was amused by his suggestion, taking it as mere demagoguery… but clearly, he wasn’t kidding. Neither was Pravda’s editor, who took him up to the challenge and offered to publish his response.

It came out earlier today, both in Russian and in English (since, you know, he’s also targeting the international audience) and makes for a fun read. It really feels like watching an international boxing match (just substitute Rocky and Drago with McCain and Putin… though I am aware that this analogy can’t go far). And in terms of public diplomacy, it is yet another disaster.

Image from: Foreign Policy

Friday, September 13, 2013

Jon does not disappoint

So... as I predicted in my yesterday's post, Jon Stewart did really provide some awesome commentary on Syria, Obama's foreign policy, and Putin's op-ed. Sharing a short clip here, since I can't embed the full episode. But you can watch it in full here (and I highly recommend that you do).


Thursday, September 12, 2013

A more satirical take on US-Russia relationship

If my previous post upset, infuriated, or caused any anxiety to you, here's a lighter take on Russian diplomacy and the US-Russia relationship. I'm sure there will be more gems coming from Jon tonight on that op-ed note, but for the time being...


... and the intro to yet another great piece by The New Yorker's Andy Borowitz:

Modern Love
by Vladimir V. Putin

Putin's Op-Ed, Syria, & the New World Order

The proverbial has hit the fan over Syria these couple of weeks. Everyone involved -- directly and indirectly -- is deep down in it, yet very few -- if any -- can really provide any accurate assessment as to what's going on there, on the ground, despite of what they'd have you believe. So instead, the focus is on haughty politics, war mongering, theatrical diplomacy, and well... (let's call things what they really are) political score-keeping within the US.

In the midst of all this, Putin came up with yet another idea of giving a piece of his mind to the American public. Directly. This time, in a form of a  New York Times op-ed. "Sovereign" public diplomacy, if you will. Nonetheless, it was a deliberate attempt at trying to make the Russian case to the American public, and weigh in on what seems to be an increasingly sloppy debate in this country.

Image from Breitbart

As an attempt at public diplomacy, the op-ed did very little. If anything, it did the exact opposite. The op-ed managed to succeed in getting intense coverage and scrutiny by Americans of every creed and political conviction, most of it -- even when justified -- simply hateful. And perhaps for a good reason.

Some suggest that he has no moral authority or credibility to be lecturing the US on matters of human rights, given his own record on the matter. Others point out that he's being hypocritical, when talking about the need to stick with the UN, criticizing his administration's obstructionist stance on many of the issues that actually do get to the UNSC. Some laugh at his insistence on non-interference and the principle of "sovereignty", reminding each other of "Georgia 2008" or even his current support of the Assad regime. While others call him an outright liar for claiming that poison gas "was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces" (while, we're all still waiting for actual evidence that counters his claim to materialize).

Most of those are great objections. If you're looking at it from the American/Western perspective, that is.

Which brings me to the central point here: "exceptionalism". That final paragraph - Putin's punch line - clearly didn't go down well. He touched something sacrosanct, something no foreigner has the ability to grasp or the legitimacy to criticize. Especially not when you're the leader of a country which has served as a contrast point to American identity for almost a century now. And yes, a lot of the hysteria - when you boil it down to its essence - is precisely over this.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Conflict Kitchen": Gastrodiplomacy in Action

This past weekend, I happened to be in Pittsburgh for a brief stop-over on a much longer roadtrip. We spent the morning in the University of Pittsburgh's fascinating Cathedral of Learning, where we toured some of the 25+ "Nationality Rooms" (which probably deserve a separate post of their own, but for the time, I'll just direct you to their virtual gallery - check it out!).

Yes, there was even an "Armenian Room". Pretty impressive, I should say...

Soon after, however, we were in need of a lunch. So, as we were strolling down the park in search of open eateries, we stumbled upon Cocina Del Conflicto, or Conflict Kitchen. Intrigued, we rushed to find out what it was all about, and surely enough, we discovered what must be the best gastrodiplomacy project ever to have existed!

The Conflict Kitchen was established in 2010 by a professor (!!) and his former student, who already co-owned a Waffle Shop. Apparently, the idea was born from an initial plan to open up a restaurant serving cuisine that was not available in Pittsburgh. Then, they decided to rotate the menu, offering street food from countries that the US is in conflict with. Iran was first, followed by Afghanistan, Venezuela, and now - Cuba.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cartoon: On Security Challenges in #Sochi2014

So, Russia Behind the Headlines published a piece on "Challenges and cooperation for Sochi 2014 security" (which I just saw), talking about how Russia will need to impress the world and demonstrate that it is not only a fully "modernized" country, but also one that can put on a good show and ensure security during such a major event. But it's not the "Russian image" or public diplomacy aspect of the article that got my attention.

I almost fell off the chair when I saw the cartoon. It's hilarious (and tragic at the same time). It just had to be re-shared. Enjoy...

From: RBTH

As for Russia's stereotypes of Caucasians (the real ones; not the WASPs) -- I'll cover that in my next post...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Panel on Soft Power & US-Russia Relations

Last night I had the privilege of participating on a panel about soft power, Russian public diplomacy, and US-Russia relations. The event was organized by the alumni association of the Alfa Fellowship, a program that supports professional exchanges between Russia and the US and UK. It was a great honor to be there, with other notable panelists: Dr. John Brown (of Georgetown University and the author of the Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review), Jill Dougherty (of the CNN) and Jason Jarell, President of the Alfa Fellowship Alumni Association.

C-SPAN covered the event, so fortunately, we have a full video of it. (It is not "embeddable", but you can watch it in the C-SPAN video archives here.)

It was a great discussion, and yes, there is much more to be said on the subject. But I hope that this could serve as a small - yet meaningful - contribution to the topic. I was just very happy that there was interest in this subject at all and certainly hope to see more of such events in the future. More importantly, it was great to be witnessing a US-Russia intellectual exchange taking place right there, last night, with a lively audience from US, Russia and elsewhere, visibly interested in the current relationship between the two countries.

Finally, I should thank the Alfa Alumni and Dr. Brown for the invitation, yet again. It was a wonderful experience!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Russia's "popularity" in the West

Someone sent me a piece from The Moscow Times today, published earlier this week. The title - "Kremlin Grapples With Series of PR Disasters" - might be misleading, since the focus of the article is not on the government's PR issues at home, but rather about the country's unpopularity around the world (that is, the country as a whole, and not just the current government's specific policies or the popularity levels of the leadership -- although, those are certainly interrelated).

The article refers to the 2012 Transatlantic Trends survey, emphasizing the declining popularity of Russia in the West. Although I don't think that opinion polls can be truly representative of a country's public diplomacy success, let alone of its "soft power", they can - over a long period of time - provide an insight into the spikes of popularity (and unpopularity) of certain foreign policies of governments, as well as perceived threats from them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On Russia, Spies, Soft Power, & Dissertation

If you haven't yet heard of the most recent spy story from Moscow - a la 70's - I highly recommend you take a closer look: it's very entertaining, featuring wigs, paper letters, and GMail setup instructions.

Russia's RT "broke" the story, and Voice of Russia followed the lead. Here are the basics:

[And for more realistic analysis, I suggest the "Vintage Espionage" piece on BBC.]

Watching this story break and then chewed, analyzed, and recycled by Russia's main "public diplomacy" outlets (and, later, the others) was an amusing process. I highly doubt this was a serious "spying" case - at least I hope it wasn't - but even if it was, the Russians are clearly trying to make a point here.

(And if Fogle was a "spy" for real, we can all rest assured now -- GMail has been proven as the most reliable means of communication! 5-star rating provided exclusively by the CIA...)

Those of you who know me and/or follow this blog, know that I'm currently working on a dissertation on Russian public diplomacy. And yes, now that I successfully defended my prospectus (last week!), it is as official as it can get. During the prospectus defense I was kindly reminded about the need to have an "elevator speech". I'll admit that I haven't made much progress on it since last Tuesday, but I'll give it a try here.

Friday, May 10, 2013

New Publication: Armenian Nationalism & the Struggle Against Intolerance

Unzipped reminded us yesterday that May 8 marked the one year anniversary of the bombing of the gay-friendly DIY club, downtown Yerevan, which sparked a months-long national debate on issues relating to gender, sexuality, homophobia, and chauvinistic nationalism. Unfortunately, much of the heated discourse has died down, while the hate and the intolerance are still very much alive and kicking.

Having witnessed some of the events last May in person, I believed they needed to be contextualized within the greater issues currently facing the country - beyond the mere homophobic discourse. I tried to express some of these thoughts in a short piece that was published in the most recent issue of the OSI Scholar Forum which I received in the mail a couple of weeks ago (yes, a lot of the details might be out of date due to the long publication process, but that doesn't change the essence much). I had promised to share the article here, but as the entire publication is not available online yet, I am linking to my scanned copy. You can find it here.

The demonstration against the "Diversity March" in May 2012. Yerevan, Armenia (My photo)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Depardieu & Azeri Gastrodiplomacy

Many of my American friends couldn't understand the warm welcome Gérard Depardieu received in Russia and other former Soviet countries after he made the headlines earlier this year. But yes, the French actor is well-known and much-loved in the CIS region particularly thanks to many of his co-appearances with Pierre Richard, in what must have been more acceptable "Western" cinema in USSR.

And now, he's back to reclaim his fame, and help many of those countries (along with their far-from-democratic leaders) "put themselves on the map". For the details, I'd highly suggest reading a piece by EurasiaNet from earlier this year. But here, I wanted to point out a tourism ad for Azerbaijan that was just released on YouTube yesterday.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Free Thought University (AFU) in Azerbaijan shut down [UPDATED]

There was a lot of outrage on my Facebook feed today. Free Thought University (Azad Fikir Universiteti [AFU] ) in Baku, Azerbaijan was shut down by the authorities. Here is the initial update from the University's page on FB:
Dear friends! Today in the morning, the representatives of the Chief Prosecutor’s Office arrived at the Free Thought University without any prior information, sealed the door and closed the office. We are trying to find out reasons at the moment. Because the office of AFU is shut down by the authorities, we are unable to continue our weekly lectures and other events. Therefore we have to postpone events at AFU for unknown period. The lecture about translation problems in Azerbaijani literature scheduled for tomorrow – 11 April has been postponed as well. We will update you on all new information. Please follow us for more news.
A long-time enthusiast and advocate of freedom and peace in the region, Onnik Krikorian, wrote that "[...] Azad Fikir was really quite exemplary in the South Caucasus and was something that Armenia and Georgia could do with, let alone Azerbaijan."

Image from KP on Facebook

Monday, March 18, 2013

A quote on Cultural Diplomacy

Not that I didn't have enough to do... but well, next month the International Studies Association (ISA) will be holding its Annual Convention, again, and as a good aspiring academic I have two paper presentations and a panel to prepare for. So, while everything else is put on hold, I'm now frantically doing last-minute brush-ups (all right, and last-minute writing) on issues that, among other things, include cultural diplomacy research.

While looking for more articles on the subject today, I came across this piece by Helena Finn, published 10 years ago in Foreign Affairs: "The Case for Cultural Diplomacy: Engaging Foreign Audiences". Here's, then, the quote du jour:

During the 1990s, an isolationist Congress, its understanding of the world singularly unsuited to the new realities of American power, challenged the idea that the United States should disseminate information through educational and cultural exchange. Foreign Service positions were cut, leaving many embassies with skeletal public-diplomacy staffs. American Centers, crucial organs of local outreach, shut their doors. The general sentiment in Washington was that the United States could afford to get out of the business of person-to-person interaction: in an age of mass electronic communication, so the thinking went, technology could do it all. ‘What do we need diplomats for?’ asked Ross Perot. ‘Just send a fax.’

10 years ago! Now, it would be a tweet. Or even better -- a drone!

So much has changed since, especially in terms of the American understanding of the importance of public diplomacy... or has it? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ah, branding...

I don't have anything particularly "new" to discuss in this post, but in the past couple of days I kept stumbling upon a "story", so I thought it would be a good excuse to break the silence on Global Chaos, even if briefly. I just wanted to share a couple of interesting videos and pictures, which I probably should have done way earlier...

So, on Sunday, The Washington Post ran a story on its home page about Brand USA, the public-private partnership aimed at promoting the US on the international travel market, i.e. it was charged with branding the country. Here's a little snippet of that effort's "Discover America" campaign:

Monday, February 4, 2013

New Paper on Armenian-Turkish Rapprochement

After quite a long period of deliberation, write-up and revision, a paper I co-authored for the Rethink Institute finally came out last week. Titled "Revisiting the Armenian-Turkish Reconciliation", the paper presents what we hope to be an alternative look at the troubled relationship between the two countries, and calls for a compromise by all the sides involved in the issue.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Russians Are Here. Again.

If you were to open the New York Times home page yesterday, your screen would suddenly shift to this:

Then, you would be treated to another image with lots of links:

It's been a long time coming. The ads and trailers for the new spy show set in the early 80's have been all over the place for months, and the big day of Episode 1 was yesterday. CNN seems to have liked it, while The Nation humbly noted that "'implausible' is too generous a word" to characterize the show. Since I don't have a TV and am actively trying to avoid watching it, I cannot truly speak of the quality or the entertainment value of the episode.

And yet, given my obsession with the subject, I couldn't resist the urge to bring this up on Global Chaos. Just like the SALT movie some two years ago, this show relies on the ever-present fear of sleeper cells and spooks deep under cover, who are constantly plotting to bring down the US, while living among unsuspecting and innocent Americans. Mix in some old footage, lots of red, faded posters, and some Communist symbols, and it makes for a great story!

Monday, January 28, 2013

CrossTalk on Perceptions of Russia Abroad

I finally watched RT's program on Russia's brand and perception abroad that was aired last week. Funny, that despite everything said and done on public diplomacy and soft power over the past decade, the Russian approach to the problem is still stuck in the early 2000s.