Public Diplomacy and Global Communication 2014c

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More than a singing competition


The Eurovision song contest was found in 1956 and it can be argued that it was designed as a platform to promote european unity in a cold war context, with its purpose being the “ fostering good relations between neighbors after the violence of the Second World War.” (McGrane 2014; Jordan 2010) In a little over a weeks time between May 18 and 23, 2015 the 60th Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Vienna. This year the motto is ‘Building Bridges’. Hosting the Song Contest will allow Vienna to present itself as the open, energetic and dynamic city it is. With the Life Ball, Europes largest AIDS charity event, taking place this weekend, the Song contest next weekend and the 20th Rainbow Parade in June, Vienna is fully embracing diversity at the moment. The city has even installed gay-themed traffic lights.

“From the perspective of national governments, the principal objective of cultural diplomacy is positively to influence public and high-level opinion in a foreign state.” (Caspian Information Centre 2012) The Eurovision Song Contest is a suitable setting for states to achieve this objective. This year 40 nations will meet in Vienna to compete for the title, but also to share theire culture and to show the world who they are. The sound contest draws a large audience, it “remains the single largest televised annual cultural event in the world” (Ray 2015)

Azarbaijan, a country which did not have many opportunities to stand out positively in the first years of it independence, won the Song Contest in 2011 and making it the host for 2012. The country acknowledged the potential that being host of such an event could have for nation branding and integrated organizing the Song Contest in its wider Public Diplomacy strategy. (Ismailzade 2011)

While most contestants sing in english, each year some contestant decide to sing in their native language. Last year Sergej Cetkovic was one of them and his choice did not do him any harm, he became the first candidate from montenegro to make it into the final. He explained his choice “I think we need to keep our cultural heritage — that’s why I think it’s important to sing in my mother tongue” and added “We’re a new country. People have to know we exist.” (Donadio 2014) His statement shows the potential that participation at the Song Contest has for nation branding. By standing out of the crowd, small little known countries have the chance to put their name on the map. They do not have to necessarily have to win the contest to achieve this, but a extraordinary performance highlighting their culture can do the trick as well. 

The rules of the competition do not allow voters to vote for their own country. From a cultural diplomacy standpoint this is important, because it puts an emphasis on appreciating songs from other cultures. However it also leads to bloc voting where countries with close relations support each other. For example the balkan countries and the scandinavian countries usually make up one bloc each. (Donadio 2014) The degree to which the Eurovision Song Contest is a politicized event became evident last year. Not only was the Russian spokesmen booed at when trying to read out the countries result, also the countries giving high points to Russia were booed at. Russia was focus of international criticism during the event for the crisis in crimea as well as it’s ant-gay law. (Wyatt 2014)

However while it is unclear if politics have the power to decide the winner of the contest it is important to highlight that, despite the European Broadcasting Union claiming it is an apolitical event, the Song Contest has repeatedly been used as a platform to get across political messages by participants. One example for this is that Cyprus gave 8 points to Turkey in 2003 after only giving few if any points to the country since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. ‘Europe, peace to Cyprus, Turkey eight points’ Declared cyprus’ spokesperson, indicating a change in the relationship between turkey and cyprus. (Jordan 2010)



Turkey’s prime minister Erdogan’s rhetoric is in name of democratic and social liberties, prior to his reelection almost a year ago he released a “Vision Statement” in which he said “We should adopt democracy,not as a political model, but as a culture dominating every field of our lives.” However his actions are clearly contradictory to his rhetoric and since 2002 his rule has taken on an increasingly authoritarian direction. One way this has become evident is in relation to press freedom among others.  (Huijgh 2015) 

Especially the Gezi Park protest in Istanbul and other turkish cities two years ago have brought to the attention the growing restriction of press freedom in Turkey. The events were hardly mentioned by the turkish news media and even the “professional private” news channels refrained from extensively reporting on the events. (Baydar 2013) While CNN international reported new from Turkey, its local counter part aired a documentary on penguins. (Tufekci 2013) Turkish authorities wen as far as attempting to “to discredit the BBC and intimidate its journalists”. (Halliday 2013) According to Baydar this is nothing new Erdogan has the traditional news media firm under control and there have been news blackouts on other serious issues, especially regarding the Kurdish conflict. (Baydar 2013) Additionaly a growing number of investigative and critical journalists have lost their jobs in mainstream print and TV media during Erdogan’s rule. (An interesting article on this and the translation of a column that the turkish newspaper Millyet refused to print can be found here)

But this is not all! For Erdogan it is not enough to have the traditional press and news media under his control, more than anything social media is the thorn in his eye. “We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.” He said shortly before a ban on twitter was implemented following the leaking of recordings that supposedly reveal corruption in his administration on the social media platform. (McCoy 2014)

One of the first responses to Erdogan’s court orders to restrict the use of Twitter was Neelie Kroes’  (vice-president of the European commission), tweet: “The Twitter ban in  is groundless, pointless, cowardly. Turkish people and intl community will see this as censorship. It is.” (Letsch 2014)

Shortly after the ban started being effective, instructions on how to keep tweeting despite it proliferated and were shared among the social media community. (three ways to to tweet despite the ban) The number of Tweets even rose after the ban was in effect, “according to social media agency We Are Social the number of tweets sent from Turkey went up 138% following the ban.”(Letsch 2014) The reaction within turkey and also the international perception show that social media have become a vital mean of communication in the 21st century and it has highlighted the will of people to find ways to express themselves freely. It also has shown that in todays world you cannot shut down a whole social media platform (especially not in a country that is democratic), just because you are a powerful leader. 

Erdogan’s attempt to ban twitter has also shown another important thing. Before the emergence of social media it was enough to control the conventional new media and censor ship was more easily applied. However today in a world where you can share your thought with the rest of the world within seconds, social media has the overhand and as his failed attempt at shutting down twitter has shown it is far harder to control social media than it is to control the conventional new media. People are eager to express their opinion and freedom of expression has found a new outlet, enabling to circumvent censorship by the state.

Here you can find the story of the turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar on why he was fired from Sabah,  according to the author “one of Turkey’s oldest and most vocal ‘mainstream’ papers.”

Here you can find an Article on the number of journalists jailed in Turkey



Food is a vital part of a nations identity. This can be observed by the fact that every nation has dish that represents it, emphasised by phrases like ‘as American as apple pie’, when we talk about a country we usually draw connections to their cuisine. [1]People often identify with their national dishes or traditional family recipes and miss those and regional products when they are abroad. However often the origin of a dish is unclear (for example Dolma, which is eaten in varying forms from central Asia to the Balkans and from north Africa to Russia) and there are often outdated prejudice about the gastronomic culture of other countries. While the British are known for bad food, Bavarians are known for beer and pretzels, these are only prejudices based on stereotype. It might be true that traditional pub food is not appealing for everyone, but the number of gourmet restaurants offering food from all over the world is paralleled with that of other gastronomy capitals of the world and while no one could imagine Oktoberfest without beer and pretzels and Weißwurscht (only invented in 1857[2]) , Bavarian dishes representing the culinary culture of the region better include the Schweinsbraten (pork roast) usually served with Sauerkraut and Knödel, which is traditionally eaten on Sundays, and the Schweinshaxe usually served with sauerkraut and potato mash or roast potatoes.[3] (an entertaining blogpost about Bavarian cuisine can be found here)

‘Culinary diplomacy is defined by Sam Chapple-Sokol “as the use of food and cuisine as an instrument to create cross-cultural understanding in the hope of improving interactions and cooperation.”[4] Gastronomy has always been recognized to play a part in entertaining foreign diplomats and envoys. However until recently the relationship between food and diplomacy was rather passive. While private culinary diplomacy, negotiations and conversations while sharing a meal or drink, used to dominate in the past, the focus now is on public culinary diplomacy as a part of cultural diplomacy. The main idea behind this concept is “nations employing their culinary distinctiveness to appeal to foreign publics.”[5] It is argued that little known countries which are lacking a well-respected image, by promoting their cuisine can attract international attention.[6] While food certainly has the potential to put little known countries on the map, gastro diplomacy’s has the potential to spread knowledge about the countries’ culture and traditions is uncertain. Moreover it is highly questionable whether food has the power to change peoples conceptions of a certain country or that gastro diplomacy can have a clear impact on policy. Like in other areas of public diplomacy, success is hard to measure.

A case study conducted by Braden Ruddy has come to the conclusion “that food does have the potential to change public perceptions of national image” it also finds that “out of the range of potential benefits to arise from changing public perception through food, the potential to increase tourism was the most pronounced and tangible for countries.” Thailand discover the potential of gastro diplomacy and the first nation to launch a campaign based on the concept, many argue it was also the most successful nation of implementing “gastro diplomacy. The Global Thai campaign aimed at increasing the number of Thai restaurants around the world with the goal to “not only introduce deliciously Thai food to thousands of new tummies and persuade more people to visit Thailand, but it could subtly help to deepen relations with other countries.” (the economist) The initiative additionally aimed at ensuring a certain standard of Thai cuisine abroad by introducing a brand to certify restaurants. Thailand’s success inspired other such as south-Korea to follow suit. The Korean campaign ‘Korean Cuisine to the Word’ aims at increasing the number of Thai restaurants as well as making Korean one of the most popular ethic cuisines. [7] Taiwan also launched a gastro diplomacy with the aim to “differentiate the country from its giant and sometimes antagonistic neighbour, China, and to end the perception that Taiwan is little more than a mass-production workshop at the end of the world.”  It is not surprising that ,as another south-east Asian middle-power, Malaysia also joined the “gastro diplomacy” club.

While gastro diplomacy is thought to be most useful for small to middle-sized countries, superpowers like the United States also engaged in it in 2012 the diplomatic culinary partnership was launched. The campaign is endorsed by Hillary Clinton, however her outlook on the potential of gastro diplomacy might be a bit to positive.

Surprisingly another superpower, that is known around the world for its gourmet food, France is also concerned about gastro diplomacy. The video below addresses why a nation known for excellent food sees the need to engage in gastro diplomacy.

Two noteworthy “gastro diplomacy” projects are the Turkish Coffee Truck, that toured the United states before taking up Europe and provides free Turkish coffee with the aim to provide information on the history of topic and share the traditions that go hand in hand with enjoying coffee in turkey and the Conflict Kitchen in Pittsburgh, which only serves food from countries that are in conflict with the united states. Previously the conflict kitchen served food from Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela and at the moment the focus is on food, culture and politics from Palestine. Cultural dialogue is encouraged by events, performances, publications, and discussions organized by the conflict kitchen.

While “gastro diplomacy” initiated by the government often has a top-down approach and can easily seem to be a form of tourism promotion rather than a way to promote open dialogue about cultures or raise awareness for hot topics, private or partly state funded projects such as the Turkish coffee truck or the conflict kitchen have potential to provide historical context as well as encourage and stimulate cultural dialogue.

[1] Culinary diplomacy the hague journal



[4] Culinary diplomacy the hague journal

[5] Culinary diplomacy the hague journal

[6] Culinary diplomacy the hague journal

[7] Culinary diplomacy the hague journal

A common language that we all speak

Sport has the reputation to bring together nations in a peaceful setting, which has its roots in the Olympic Truce of ancient Greece. Every for years for the weeks of the games a truce would be called, enabling to enable the athletes to get the athletes to the games safely to that than inter-city hostilities could be resolved though sports competition rather than by force. However while some argue that sports competitions could be used as proxies to resolve hostilities and therefore to reduce the likelihood of armed international conflict, it could also be argued that the emphasis on competition among states that already have tense relations could enhance hostile feelings towards each other. The paper ‘Sports-Diplomacy: a hybrid of two halves’ (while not denying its potential to do good) gives a detailed overview about the negative effects that mixing diplomacy and sports can have.

While it is questionable wether sports can directly resolve international conflicts by taking them to the football field or track, or if it has the power to directly influence foreign policy sports transcends cultural differences and brings together people, it therefore has great potential to facilitate cultural exchange and to promote international understanding. As Ban Ki-moon said “sport is a language everyone of us can speak.” Sport has great potential as a tool of public and cultural diplomacy (for example in the form of sports exchanges), to enhance the image of a country (by successfully hosting a major sports event, like the Olympics or the Fifa World Cup) and to bring together states that have otherwise tense relations with each other.

One of the most famous examples of sports-diplomacy is the visit of the US table tennis team to China in 1971. While first proposed by the not-for profit National Comitee on USA-China Relations, it was embraced by Mao and Nixon as a means to test how the public would receive a rapprochement. Another famous example is the cricket diplomacy of India and Pakistan “An attempt to use sport to create a feel good atmosphere between the two countries at a time when the atmosphere of suspicion and hostility towards Pakistan is very strong.” First after the kashmire krisis in 2002 and again after the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008 cricket was used to reduce tension and pave the way for the slow normalization of relations.

North Korea raised international attention in relation to the topic of sports diplomacy based on Dennis Rodman’s unofficial Basketball Diplomacy. While opinions on Rodman’s “friendship” with Kim Jong-un polarize and many argue that it could possibly do more harm than good other aspects of sports diplomacy in North Korea have received less media attention.North Korea, a country that is not easy to visit even under normal circumstances, banned tourists from entering the country in the fall of 2014 due to concerns about the spread of Ebola. It reopened the borders in the realm of the Pyongyang marathon to allow “foreign amateurs” to take part in the sporting event. A more unconventional example was the first government sanctioned surf tour of 21 international surfers organized by the Korean International Travel Company in cooperation with the non-profit Surfing the Nations with the intention “to use surfing to create an atmosphere where we could promote a peaceful relationship between North Korea and the rest of the world” (Segoine) and the following announcement that north Korea would now commence surfing tourism. (more on North Korea and surfing here, a lecture by Laderman on surf diplomacy here and here you can book a surfing holiday in North Korea) 

Aside of the positive interaction in the realm of sport events, north Koreas nuclear expansion is still a threat. The country “could be on track to have an arsenal of 100 nuclear weapons by 2020.” Until now the US and its partners have not been able to engage in continuous negotiation with North Korea. Possibly building on the interaction in relation to sport, could work to facilitate a more active level of negotiation.

Another unconventional form of sport diplomacy is Skateboard Diplomacy, worth mentioning because of the potential of exchanging culture and values the close relation among members of the skate community bring with them. “Skating is not just a board with four wheels; it’s a way to bring together people from all kinds of cultures to make a family.” One example of Half-pipe Diplomacy is the mission of Miles Jackson and a group of his friends to built the largest skate park of Latin America in Cuba. (An Article on this can be found here) Another example is the US sponsored initiative documented in the video below. 

Concluding it can be said that while sport is not a panacea for hostilities between nations it can play an important part in building a bridge among two countries that have an otherwise tense relationship. In the words of Nelson Mandela:

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair. Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand.”


Just A Flirt Or Long-term Commitment

The United Nations has recognized the potential of celebrities to raise funds and attract global media attention a long time ago. It „has enlisted the volunteer services and support of prominent personalities from the worlds of art, music, film, sport and literature to highlight key issues and to draw attention to its activities.“[1] Its official engagement with celebrities began when Danny Kaye was appointed as the institutions first goodwill ambassador in 195. What needs to be highlighted about the early goodwill ambassadors such as Kaye, Peter Ustinov and later Hepburn is their loyalty and commitment to the UN agency they were affiliated with “they saw it as their role to promote UNICEF’s activities.” [2] Portraying ‘good international citizens’, in the early days of celebrities’ relationships with organizations of the UN, their role was limited to promoting certain issues or causes in an apolitical manner.

Possibly the most glamorous goodwill ambassador of all was Audrey Hepburn. She was the epitome of the ‘good international citizen’ and her engagement with UNICEF left footsteps that are hard to fill. Current and future goodwill ambassadors should take her as a role model, not only because of her tireless work-ethic and unquestionable loyalty to UNICEF, but foremost because of her pure intentions. She had a strong credibility, strengthened by the fact that she had been a recipient of help from the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration during the end of the Second World War. Hepburn was effortlessly glamorous and her simple attire while travelling to projects emphasized her authenticity.

Along with an increase in celebrity engagement in the 80s and 90s came a transformation of the relationship between the UN and the celebrities it worked with. Moving away from an apolitical role as ‘international good citizens’, goodwill ambassadors such as Liv Ullman started to be more political conscious. Whilst political engagement underpins the sincere intentions of celebrities fighting for a certain cause, political work outside of the UN and its affiliated organizations can be controversial and is not always in the UN’s favour. Richard Gere, who has previously represented the UN in various matters, for example fell out with the UN over the non-recognition of Tibet and went as far as accusing the UNHRC of being manipulated by the Chinese. It is apparent that Gere’s actions were harmful to the UN’s image, shading a bed light on the relationship of the UN with its goodwill ambassadors. While goodwill ambassadors don’t necessarily need to limit themselves to be apolitical ‘good international citizens’, they should consider carefully if they want to take on the responsibility of being a goodwill ambassador and if they do they should be sure that their political stance is not in contradiction with that of the UN. They should only take on the role of good will ambassador if they can guarantee their loyalty to the UN.

Some might argue that Angelina Jolie is today what Audrey Hepburn was in the 1980s. However, while both of them have shown serious commitment to a specialized Un agency as well as a capacity for compassion, two very distinct approaches to the role as goodwill ambassador can be identified. Audrey Hepburn’s activities as a celebrity diplomat started when she was no longer developing movies. She always separated her personal life from her public appearances and kept the focus on the main issue during the numerous interviews she gave. Roger Moore pointed out: “ they only wanted to talk about movies but she would not let them… she kept on the issues that were facing children then and which still face children today.” [3] Angelina in contradiction is devoting time to humanitarian causes while at the same time having an active career. Additionally her personal and public life are intervened, as can bee observed by the fact she shares her humanitarian work with her husband Brad Pitt. The Brangalina phenomenon is a real media magnet. These differences between the work of Audrey and Angelina can be traced back to the fact that most celebrities now engage in diplomacy when their fame is at its peak, enhancing their power to attract attention and influence important global players. Another aspect is the fact that Audrey Hepburn always stayed impartial she “combined a concern with access to decision makers with persistence in vocalizing issues to wider publics”, but never took a side. [4] This illustrates the possibility to be an influential celebrity diplomat, without taking a political stance and getting caught in controversies such as Richard Gere did.

It is hard to measure the impact of celebrities to the UN’s work. It is true that they have a great potential for fundraising and attract large amounts of media attraction, however a symposium of the university of Southern California came to the conclusion that “in policy terms, it remains unclear whether the un’s celebrity diplomats are effective in helping the UN achieve its objectives in promoting the world body’s goals in peace building, disarmament, human rights, environmental protection and human development.”. [5] Additionally it is also questionable whether the media attraction raised by celebrities does actually have an impact. It is supposed to raise awareness for the issues among the general public, rather than the elites who are actually able to influence policy. Additionally it is questionable whether it is successful in actually raising awareness over the long term, rather than causing instant popularity for a cause that is forgotten as soon as the media-hustle around the celebrities’ engagement diminishes.

While the long term commitment to a relationship with the un of stars such as Hepburn, Jolie and has proven as a powerful tool of promoting the UN’s values, some of the rather short and casual relationships have proven problematic. In Sarah Fergusons case financial collapse caused her break up with the UN, while in Geri Halliwell’s case it was the inability to perform the tasks she had committed to. [6] The later seemed to have a strong commitment at first “ am famous, and I am damn well going to use my fame positively. If I save one persons life just by awareness, I’m going to damn well do it.”[7], however it quickly became evident that her relationship with the un was just a short fling rather than a long-term commitment. The un has seemed to have learned from past mistakes, realizing that fame alone does not alone decide whether one is suited for the role as goodwill ambassador. In 2005 the manager of the goodwill ambassador program declared “we don’t name anyone anymore without a period of engagement.”[8] This is a step in the right direction, getting to know the candidates well is vital in order to decid

[1] (Accessed 10.4.2014)

[2] Wheeler, Mark (2013): Celebrity politics. Polity Press p.145-6

[3] Cooper, Andrew Fenton (2008): Celebrity diplomacy. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers. p. 20

[4] Cooper, Andrew Fenton (2008): Celebrity diplomacy. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers. p.19

[5] The Public Diplomacy Role of Celebrity Diplomats.” Center for Public Diplomacy Workshop, University of Southern California, April 21, 2009. in (Accessed 8.4.2015)

[6] Wheeler, Mark (2013): Celebrity politicsPolity Press p.159

[7] Cooper, Andrew Fenton (2008): Celebrity diplomacy. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers. p.29

[8] Cooper, Andrew Fenton (2008): Celebrity diplomacy. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers. p.30

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