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)