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.

First, the discussion is still about "branding" and "advertising", even though they did touch upon media and cultural matters, as well. Secondly, no where did they seem to acknowledge Russia's own fault - whether in its policies or public diplomacy approach - in contributing to the problem. (By the way, this very much reflects the official discourse on the subject, too). It's all either the history's fault or that of the "West's": of the persistent negative image, ever-present stereotypes, evil politicians and their devout media (and yes, their intentional desire to mire Russia's international image).

Whatever happened to listening, public diplomacy of deed, or true relationship-building... Clearly, there is a long way to go. But it will have very little to do with actual marketing campaigns or spending sprees.

There is a lot of research still to be done on Russia, but also the subject in general. I tried to start doing that in my last year's paper on selective processing, but that was just a preliminary and very basic attempt. There is an ever-increasing need to have a better understanding about changing deep-seeded stereotypes and attitudes, especially when it concerns public diplomacy (and "soft power") issues.

UPDATE: And in case you were wondering, here is 'evidence' that proves beyond doubt that Putin is more like the rest of us than people might first think. Just in case you missed it... ;)


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  2. Oh yeah, 'CrossTalk rules'...Never mind that!

    Thanks for the post!

    You know what, I agree with most of what you said. The discussion barely produced any meaningful and useful conclusions that you could take home and reflect on. Same old talk about nothing. The only person that said something interesting on the subject was Andrey Kortunov from РСМД, but still very general stuff. Everyone seemed relaxed and content with the way the discussion flowed - with no diversity of opinion, no one to say something to the contrary, at least for the sake of playing the Devil's advocate. It's much easier to defend one's views with no one around to challenge them.

    I think it would be useful to have a look at this journalist's track record and the overall thrust of his articles. It's easier to understand why Panova says what she says as she looks at the issue from the point of view of the national interest - without digging into domestic politics and societal dynamics.

    Kortunov came across as the scholar of all three.

    But there are some interesting points, though, that I can understand and agree with to a certain extent:

    I think one important thing Kortunov has touched upon is professionalism in what government officials do, in our case a professional approach towards 'soft power'. I think you are right to say they need to take the issue more seriously in that they need to pay attention to cultural affairs etc. But cultural affairs, dialogue, and relationship building are only a part of a successful (read 'professional') SP policy. The other part is how skillful you are at actually 'selling' it. Nye said himself that you need to 'frame' and sell the story, by the way. Professionalism also means being able to conduct a good PR/branding campaign. How would you know it was good? You don't notice that! If a policy is successful, you are praised for that, people don't say it was a blatant propaganda/PR move. And my guess is part of the trouble with 'Russian soft power' is that the policy-makers in charge are not fit for the job - due to many things (but that's a different story).

    I absolutely agree with your point on Russia failing to admit its own mistakes and acknowledge its shortcomings that make it less attractve than it wants itself to be viewed.

    But I do think the picture is very mixed and the truth is somewhere in the middle. I do think that deep-seated stereotypes about Russia persist, some of them justifiable, some not, and that Western journalists are not doing a good job trying to convey a more or less balanced picture. Overall, my guess is there are people in Western governments and among Western elites that have their long-established views about Russia that they will hardly ever change (where there is a reason to do so). I don't know whether it is intentional or not (ditto the above issue of journalists being intentional in their portrayal of Russia), but I do believe this phenomenon exists, that is the Westerm media almost always writing bad things about Russia, hence the never-changing negative image. I mean both sides - Russia and the West - are culpable for the result.

    I think money matters in this affairs - you really need to have resources to promote a certain policy. But it's not so much about quantity, I guess, rather quality, that is the cost-effectiveness of the entire enterprise and how judiciously the money is spent, in the most effective way possible.

    I hope my rambling makes sense (it's the middle of the night, so I don't vouch for the clarity of my thoughts) :)

  3. Sorry I made a mess of your comments wall - didn't realise my first comment wouldn't be erased! So much for my typos...))