Deep-lomacy Experts Blog

The Deep-lomacy experts blog by the cultural diplomacy forum - A knowledge-sharing space where Experts from various fields exchange points of view on cultural diplomacy - related issues.

The blog will host researchers, diplomats and practitioners that will discuss different questions, topics, and angels from the world of cultural diplomacy.

Deep-lomacy #12 - Cuba’s Best Seller – Che Guevara, Cultural Diplomacy, and the Commodification of the Cuban Revolution \ Maayan Padan, Junior Staff member in the Gender Program in Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the head of the Beer Sheva unit in Rothschild Ambassadors Program

Cuba is a fascinating country, mostly thanks to its persistence to maintain a 20th century-style communist regime. This attribute characterizes most of what can be argued to be Cuban cultural diplomacy. Whether it’s the Cuban medical internationalism, which was demonstrated in its enormous extent once again as the COVID-19 pandemic broke; whether it’s the island’s unique music genres and artists; whether it’s the infamous embargo of the island by its great neighbor in the north, its careful opening, and re-isolation by a president who seems to have a personal vendetta against Spanish-speaking countries – nothing represents the Cuban island and escapes the grinding teeth of the government and the party. Well, nothing but one Argentinian doctor, who went by the name of Che Guevara.

Arguably, very few people in the west have never heard of Che Guevara. His face is printed on T-shirts, ashtrays, cigarette-lighters, bags, and many other commodities made in the sweatshops of south-east Asia. His portrayal by Gael Garcia-Bernal in The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) stroke yet another generation with the cultivating myth of Guevara. But what made Guevara, an Argentinian med student with Latino-communist affiliations, a Cuban symbol? First and foremost, Guevara himself. Upon joining the Cuban rebels in Mexico City, Guevara assumed a Cuban accent and Caribbean manners, which assisted in positioning him as one of the Castro brothers’ confidants. Later, as the Guerilla army struggled to conquer Cuba from Batista, Guevara made sure the revolutionary message will be heard, by operating a pirate radio station from the Sierra Maestra mountains, where the army took cover before, during, and after its attacks on Batista’s soldiers. Upon the victory of the revolutionary army in January 1959, Guevara marched as the liberating commander of Santa Clara to Havana. There he was crowned as a Cuban hero, and there he was accepted as one.

The crowning was completed by the European left, who grew tired of the weary reformists of the continent’s socialist and communist parties and pinned its hopes in leaders who evolved from peripheral countries. Che provided them with a lot more than they ever dreamed of: starting in Cuba, moving to North Africa and then to Congo, and popping up in Bolivia, only to find his death under the command of a Cuban exile turned CIA agent. His iconic picture was printed and distributed around the same time he was executed, a fact that further extended his status as a Marxist martyr, and as a symbol of courage and youth. But as history would have it, the time of Guevara’s execution and of the picture’s distribution, juxtaposed with a rise in political protests all over the world, and especially in the western hemisphere - 1960. As political protests became the defining characteristic of the Zeit Geist, posters became an extremely popular tool to convey messages and recruit more and more supporters. In short, that is how Che Guevara became an icon. And just like other political icons, soon enough, Guevara was commodified into a status-symbol of youth and rebellious, that has nothing to do with communism, revolution, or working-class struggle.

This could have been a sad, cynical story, about how Capitalism defeated communism once again, if it were not for Guevara’s commodification that assisted 1990s Cuba, which struggled to stabilize its economy independently for the first time in 30 years, in rebranding itself as a Caribbean heaven frozen in time. Just like Guevara’s face, the Cuban island enjoys branding of a place time stands still in. This enables Cuba to leverage its shortcomings, mostly caused by the embargo, to become touristic assets, which in their turn, pump foreign currency in to the country, and maintain, despite numerous difficulties, a second-world regime, independent from Soviet investments.

This is a partial explanation to Cuban economic stability, as it is to Cuban cultural diplomacy. Both are intertwined and rely on the Medical Internationalism mentioned here. Also, a lot has changed since Fidel Castro died in 2016, and since Raul Castro resigned in 2018.

For further reading, please see:

Castaneda, G Jorge. 1997. Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara. New York: Vintage.

Eaken, Ken. Suchlicki, Jaime. Clerc, Jean-Pierre. 2016. The Cuba Libre Story: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6335696/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0

Gonzales, Mike. 2004. Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution. Sydney: Bookmarks.

Klein, Naomi. 1999. No Logo. Random House of Canada.

Lopez, Luis. Ziff, Trisha. 2008. Chevolution: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1202160/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Sinclair, Andrew. 2006. Viva Che! The Strange Death and Life of Che Guevara. Sparkfold: Sutton.

Deep-lomacy #11 - What Europe Day can tell us about power relations between the EU and Its partners \ Tal Hasdai-Rippa, PhD  candidate at the Department of Politics and Governance at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a senior researcher at the Arlozotov Forum for Economic and Social policy

What are the first words that come to mind when you hear the phrase “National Day”? A big party? Spending time with friends and family? A military parade? Does this day provoke A sense of pride and belonging, or rather distancing and criticism? In their seminal work, David McCrone and Gayle McPherson stated that “national days are commemorative devices in time and place for reinforcing national identity. In other words, national days are here to remind us who we are.  Wherever you are in the world, whether it’s a small island off the shores of India or a busty metropolitan in one of the global superpowers, you are all (or at least, most of you) celebrating, in one way or another, your national affiliation. In a more general sense, every political entity is trying to manifest its values and sense of community. The most traditional ways of this manifestation take the form of national symbols.

There are four main national symbols in any expression of nationhood by a political actor; flag, anthem, national day and currency. As national symbols are used to build national identity inside political boarders, sometimes those symbols can be exported in order to promote national interest. For example, Currency substitution is a phenomenon in which a country uses foreign currency in parallel to or instead of the domestic currency (Panama uses the USD as an official currency since 1904). Thus, research on the effect of the exportation of currency and flag outside its original borders has around for some time. On the other hand, research on the exportation of national days is hardly present in today’s IR studies, and rightfully so. The thought that a country will adopt a national day from another country seems counterintuitive.

Since the late 1960s’, the EU (then The European Communities) has pushed for a day to showcase the strong European identity among its members. In 1985 the EC has announced May 9th (the day marking the Schuman declaration) as ‘Europe Day’. Initially, Europe Day was planned to be carried out in schools in order to create awareness among young students regarding “the past achievements and the future potential of Europe”. In 2004, Europe Day was officially announced as part of the EU’s symbols, along with singe the EURO, the flag and the anthem.

As you may now suspect, my research deals with the exportation of Europe Day celebrations to other countries. As Europe Day celebrations are not publicly celebrated within the EU, the fact there are countries publicly manifesting their European affiliation can teach us a lot about power relations between the sender and receiver. My study has shown that while Europe Day is being promoted globally by the EEAS, Georgia, Ukraine and several other post-soviet countries have adopted a unique interpretation, with national wide cultural events, recreational activities and political speech (with local funding varies between country and location). This is a highly unusual phenomenon in IR. When a political symbol, especially such a visible one, crosses borders, one can easily conclude that this process is charged with political baggage.

This is quite an unfamiliar territory for diplomatic research. On the one side, Public and Cultural Diplomacy had traditionally kept a distance from formal political symbols since they were used mainly within a local context. On the other hand, this transformative event of a political symbol, taking the form of a cultural event, is a classic ‘actor to foreign public’ communication. This clash between local and global raises important questions in conceptualizing actors and foreign publics in European studies and in Diplomatic Studies.

This was an extremely short introduction to my research. I hope that this small taste of my research triggered you to find out more pieces of this fascinating puzzle. I hope that I would have the chance to share some of my findings with you soon.

Deep-lomacy #10 - Russia’s cultural diplomacy in the post-Soviet space: hegemonic practices of a former ruler? \ Domenico Valenza, PhD Fellow, United Nations University and Ghent University

“At the current critical stage in world order, and especially in the context of efforts to actively counter propaganda campaigns under the slogan of ‘containing’ Russia, cultural diplomacy is becoming increasingly important”. As this quote from the International Cultural Cooperation policy highlights, in recent years Russian authorities have increasingly looked to culture and cultural diplomacy as tools to strengthen the country’s international influence. In 2012, President Putin stressed the importance of culture as a tool allowing Russia “to become a great power. We remember this and we must effectively use our humanitarian resources and increase international interest in our history, traditions, language, and cultural values”.

Importantly, culture’s place in foreign affairs is not unknown in Moscow. Foreign activities in the cultural realm date back at least to the Cold War, when persuasion and messaging were considered fundamental to counter rivals and prevent military escalation. The idea was that, as soon as foreign audiences were shown positive images of an international actor, they would be able to pressure their government and shape policy changes. For this reason, Moscow considered cultural diplomacy to be a primary weapon in the strategic struggle between superpowers.

But Russia’s great power approach did not last long. In fact, 1990s witnessed the country’s major withdrawal from foreign policy ambitions. This was especially the case in the post-Soviet region, an area that Russia considered, not without legitimate concerns from local populations, within its own sphere of influence. As a countermove, from the mid-2000s and in response to the so-called ‘colour revolutions’, Russia attempted to re-engage regionally and counter the increased presence of Western actors. The identification of this priority came with the recognition that Russia had failed to engage properly in this area after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The cultural sphere, referred to as part of ‘humanitarian cooperation’, became a key area of cooperation in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Russia’s policy engagement was coupled with a new institutional design and the creation of a number of agencies that could enhance bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the region. Among the cultural diplomacy institutions and agencies, we can consider the Federal Agency Rossotrudnichestvo (2008), the network of the Russian Centres of Science and Culture (2008), the Intergovernmental Foundation for Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Cooperation (IFESCCO, 2006), and the Russian World Foundation (2007).

Rossotrudnichestvo is today Russia’s major foreign actor in the area of culture. The agency comes from the transformation of the Russian Centre for International Scientific and Cultural Cooperation, which was in turn the heir of the All-Union Society of Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. In order to advance bilateral cooperation, the agency acts as an umbrella for Russian centres for science and culture. In 2018, 62 states hosted the 72 existing centres. Although they include the word ‘science’ in their name, science and technology are not the main area of work, while their primary focus is on the dissemination of Russian language and the organisation of compatriots’ activities. In this perspective they operate as “cultural centres, in the usual diplomatic sense”.

Russia’s cultural diplomacy has also been supported through intergovernmental cooperation and particularly in the framework of the CIS. IFESCCO was created in 2006 by the Council of the Heads of Governments of the CIS. Its funding relies substantially on Russia’s donations, which accounted for more than 70 per cent of total envelope in 2017. The ‘CIS Capital of Culture’ is a good example of cultural initiatives supported by IFESCCO. The programme mimics the European Community’s proposal launched in 1985.

In addition to official channels, Russia has also relied on several government-sponsored institutions. Set up in 2007 through presidential decree, the Russian World Foundation (Russky Mir) is today the most important of these actors and promotes the popularisation of Russian language and culture. In the post-Soviet region, the foundation has developed partnerships with educational institutions and supported local actors through its grant program. Examples of funded organisations are research centres, language schools, and cultural organisations.

Russia’s cultural diplomacy in the post-Soviet region enjoys several advantages. The Russian language remains a key factor for successful work: despite a predictable decline, Russia can still capitalise on local populations’ fluency in many countries. The presence of an audience with exposure to and interest in Russian cultural products make the post-Soviet region a suitable space to run ad hoc initiatives. Also, educational opportunities in Russia or in foreign-based campuses of Russian universities put Moscow in a more comfortable position.

In spite of these important assets, several shortcomings can be found in Russia’s cultural diplomacy. First, its cultural paradigm remains strictly ‘civilisational’ and built to satisfy domestic appetites for foreign influence. This in turn creates scepticism in third countries and fosters readings of Moscow’s ‘soft’ policies as hegemonic attempts of the former imperial ruler. Second, and a consequence of the first, Russia’s institutional model provides little to no opportunities to engage with Russian and local civil societies, in what should be an attempt to enhance people-to-people bonds. Russia does not seem willing to co-create culture with local authorities and operators on an equal footing. While there is no doubt that political priorities always matter in foreign policy, in Russia’s case they seem to dwarf cultural activities and frustrate spaces for meaningful cooperation. In the end, only a balanced and mutual approach can defuse the scepticism of elites and the general audience in the post-Soviet region, and open new spaces for enhanced and longstanding cultural cooperation.

Domenico Valenza is a PhD Fellow at the United Nations University and Ghent University. His area of expertise includes EU affairs, Russia’s foreign policy, cultural relations, and discourse analysis. He holds a MA in European Studies from Université Paris 8 Saint Denis and Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), a MSc in Russian Politics from King’s College London, and a BA in Communication Studies from Università degli Studi di Catania. Prior to joining UNU-CRIS and Ghent University, he worked at No Peace Without Justice as a program officer, and at the College of Europe as a Senior Academic Assistant.

Deep-lomacy #9 - Cultural icons as discursive measures of common denominators between peoples - Why has the biblical prophet Abraham appeared in the peace treaty between the UAE and Israel? \ Netanel Govhari, Intelligence Analyst, Middle Eastern Geopolitics

The peace treaty between the UAE and Israel, signed on September 15, was labeled by the parties involved as the Abraham Accords. This is not the first time in which the biblical prophet has been used to label an Emirati project.

On September 20, 2019, the UAE unveiled its plan for the construction of the Abrahamic Family House, a complex in Abu Dhabi that will contain a church, a mosque, and a synagogue, as a projection of “interfaith fraternity”. Abraham is viewed as holy in both Jewish and Islamic cultures, and as the patriarch of the Arab and Jewish peoples alike, through his sons, Isaac and Ishmael.

 

The revered prophet, thus, serves as a symbolic discursive measure in the peace treaty itself, as the common denominator of the parties. This is reflected in the sixth clause of the Abraham Accords, which stipulates that “the parties undertake to foster mutual understanding, respect, co-existence and a culture of peace between their societies in the spirit of their common ancestor, Abraham, and the new era of peace and friendly relations ushered in by this treaty, including by cultivating people-to-people programs, interfaith dialogue and cultural, academic, youth, scientific, and other exchanges between their peoples”.

 

For the Israeli side, this discursive measure, and its implementation in a peace-making process with an Arab state, carries another symbolic meaning. As the father of both Arabs and Jews, Abraham the prophet serves to bestow upon the Jewish state historical continuity, promoting the discourse that Israel is an integral part of the Middle East. This serves as a counter-narrative to a prevalent Arab discourse that the state of Israel is a fruition of a colonial project. The treaty, in this context, bears a symbolic, yet strategic importance. 

Deep-lomacy #8 - Hybrid Diplomacy; The role of Informal Diplomacy in shaping cultural diplomacy / Sharona Shir Zablodovsky - Project Manager/ Social-Biz Entrepreneur / External relations

In the last years we have witnessed a number of interesting phenomena that express diplomacy in the informal sense. The technological leap has changed the rules of the game and hybridized some aspects of diplomacy due to the necessity of adjusting it to the new reality.

 

Governments and individuals from different fields have understood that informality can be advantageous. In this way, a new and at times unmediated channel of communication has opened. Using this channel, messages from spokespersons can easily reach a range of populations all over the world.

 

Informal Diplomacy has also developed among representatives of culture and the arts. Over the years, Israeli cinema has seen complicated periods of creation and attempts to break into global markets.

In the last two decades, this branch, whose leaders have worked tirelessly throughout the years, has blossomed and achieved recognition on an international level. It has become a central and informal tool for conveying messages, and one of the leading Israeli “ambassadors”. Today, Israeli cinema is a bridge for indirectly building relationships with many other countries.

 

A clear example of the immense success of Israeli cinema,is through Ari Fullman’s film, “Waltz with Bashir”, which broke boundaries and won praise. The film competed in 2009 in two of the most highly regarded awards in the world: the “Oscars” and “Golden Globes”. In “Golden Globes”, it was the first documentary film that participated in the competition and even won the prestigious prize - an amazing achievement by all accounts for a country of 9 million residents, which is constantly dealing with issues of an emerging society, combined with existential uncertainty, as expressed in this film.

 

Cinema is an expressive tool that is becoming increasingly sophisticated and is changing in the rush of time, adapting itself, like the phoenix, to the zeitgeist. It can be said that if it weren’t for these creators and films, the state of Israel wouldn’t have managed to be in communication with nations with which we are not in diplomatic relations; to establish its unique cultural cornerstones abroad; to use culture to create a direct dialogue that wouldn’t have been able to take place otherwise; and most of all, to touch the hearts of the viewers and, if only for a few moments, bring them into our world to get a taste of the unique texture that is Israel and share our story with them.

Deep-lomacy #7 - Pnima Israel – putting people and their stories at the forefront of tourism experiences / Megan Turner - Assistant Director of Responsible, Community Tourism, Pnima

Tourism, especially in our present day, is much more than just coming to visit a place and take it in at face value. People more and more are interested in hearing the stories of those living in a place just as much as hearing about the history of that place. It’s these stories, this intimate interaction between people of different cultures, that inspired us to build the responsible tourism initiative, Pnima Israel, to help tourists, local and not, see and understand this complex place through the eyes of those living, changing, and improving society here.

 

Pnima Israel is part of a larger non-profit organization called Eretz-Ir (meaning “country-city”) that works to bring about urban renewal and innovation by encouraging community-building, social entrepreneurship, and employment opportunities in Israel’s geographic and social periphery. The challenges that present-day Israel faces are many, not the least of which is the overpopulation in the center of the country and the neglect and stagnation of cities and towns (and subsequently, the communities making up these places). Eretz-Ir believes that by strengthening the people in these periphery locations, we can encourage people to populate these areas while helping them to enjoy a high quality of life. And responsible tourism is our way of showcasing these amazing communities and entrepreneurs, allowing the locals to be the experts at telling the story of a particular place.

Take, for example, the all-female artists’ initiative, “Ve’Ahavta,” in the old market of Afula, an Eretz-Ir project. Three women, two from Tel Aviv and one local, all artists, decided that they wanted to make an intentional artists’ community within Afula. Their plan was to essentially breathe life back into this medium-sized town that was meant to be the main hub of the North, but which has experienced stagnation and no substantial growth in the past two decades. When the women entered into the market almost ten years ago, it was mostly empty, full of crime and drugs, and totally neglected. They began cleaning up the place, painting beautiful murals on the dirty walls, and opened an art gallery for exhibitions and lectures. Step by step, the market’s culture began to shift and to come alive again.

Coming to visit now makes it hard to believe that this vibrant, colorful place was once so dark and empty. All the market stalls are occupied, young and energetic businesspeople have opened restaurants, breweries, and art shops, and on Thursday nights and Friday mornings, the pathways of the market are bustling with light and life.

This wasn’t an easy feat to accomplish, and the women are still working tirelessly to create connections between the new crowd and the locals. And they’re doing this everyday with pride and determination.

We host tours with these incredible women (and many other inspiration people from our network of communities and initiatives), and they share their personal stories, what brought them to this place, why they’re doing what they’re doing, the challenges they face, and how they’re tackling them head-on.

That’s the essence of Pnima Israel – putting people and their stories at the forefront of tourism experiences!  

Deep-lomacy #6 - International Corona lockdown – consequences for Culture and a Swedish alternative? / Amb. Karl-Erik Norrman, Co-Founder and Secretary General, European Cultural Parliament, ECP, Author, Faculty Member of ICD, Academy for Cultural Diplomacy, former Ambassador of Sweden

Throughout history, Governments forcing citizens into horrible wars and disaster have mainly been authoritarian. But with the arrival of the corona pandemic in 2020, we can witness how 190 more or less democratic governments are forcing their citizens into another type of disaster: lockdown and isolation.  According to World Food Program the Corona lockdown will cause long-term collateral damages which are likely to outnumber the fatal consequences of the covid-19 virus itself. It is already evident how the lockdown hurts the poorest people in the world. Lockdowns mean job cuts, fewer means to get food and other necessities, and in already overcrowded slums or poorer areas – a wonderful place for a virus to flourish and rip families apart that have little or no access to healthcare. The brutality of inequality is demonstrated in a tragic way.

 

But there is another vital pillar of every society that is suffering from the global lockdowns: Arts & Culture. What will be the consequences of Corona for culture?

 

On March 13, 2020 I was in Amsterdam, planning to attend the Opening Performance on March 16 of a famous Kurt Weill opera. However, on this very day, after the last regular rehearsal, the General Director of the Royal Dutch Opera came up on the stage and announced that the whole production would now have to be cancelled. Hundreds of musicians, singers and people behind the stage were sent home, immediately. Some had traveled internationally and paid for hotels and food upfront. Four weeks of hard rehearsals had been in vain. Everybody was in tears and despair.

 

This is only one example of the consequences for cultural life of the Corona crisis. All opera houses, theaters and concert houses closed down, leaving both resident and freelance artists without income. Hundreds of thousands of similar disasters have occurred in other branches of arts & culture and in the event business. Now, about four and a half months later, all culture houses and event venues still remain closed. Millions of artists and other people related to the arts & culture sector are suffering.

 

In previous wars and crisis times, culture has been a necessary escape, a vibrant reminder of the beauty and joys of life. Or it’s been a vessel of critique against oppression, a lens through which to view and make sense of what is going on in the world. Now, it may take years before international cultural life comes back to normal. And many theaters and festivals will perhaps never open. They have already gone (or are about to go) bankrupt. Music and Arts, in institutions, in festivals or in open air-concerts are backbones of peace-promoting and bridge-building Cultural Diplomacy. When we are deprived of these platforms and when live- and real-time meetings cannot take place, the whole idea of Cultural Diplomacy is suffering. Lots of articles and reports have been published in recent months, describing “digital alternatives” as almost as good as real performances, but this is an illusion. Such messages are pointing the wrong way. The essence of Arts & Culture is about the live experience. The success of Cultural Diplomacy is about Tourist Diplomacy, great Sports events, Music Diplomacy, Cuisine Diplomacy, Fashion Diplomacy and Expo-, Fairs-, Festival- and Event Diplomacy. People meeting People – live! All these platforms are now closed. Where are the proportions? Would it not have been possible to save lives from the covid-19 virus without total lockdown?

 

Swedish scientists took another strategy than most parts of the world. The Swedish strategy was, and still is, controversial, but was based upon experiences from previous pandemics and not upon the “Chinese shock therapy” practiced in Wuhan in January-February 2020. Why did politicians all over the world, nervously and uncritically, try to copy the Chinese, totalitarian solution? In many parts of the world this type of shock therapy seems counterproductive. Sweden did not close nursery schools or schools up to 9th degree. Sweden did not close restaurants and bars. Sweden did not lock down the whole society, but rather issued a series of strong recommendations, including keeping distance, washing hands and isolating risk groups. Unfortunately many elderly people have died, but this was due to previous negligence in elderly care institutions, not due to the corona strategy.

 

Nobody knows the best way to fight this terrible pandemic, but I submit that perhaps the Swedish strategy, a version of the typical Swedish middle way, might be better in the long run?

 

Air travel is now allowed again, with relevant precautions, but with 150 people sitting very close to each other, so why shouldn't theaters be allowed to open, with similar precautions? Dear politicians, we have had enough of streaming everything only on digital platforms! So, for the Arts, for Cultural Diplomacy and for our hearts and souls, please open the theaters, concert halls and festivals, so that we can have the full experience of the Power of Arts!

Deep-lomacy #5 - Cultural Diplomacy, Corona times / Ziv Nevo Kulman, Head of the Cultural Diplomacy Bureau at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The COVID-19 pandemic poses significant challenges to the promotion of international cultural relations. At the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we, too were forced to cope with the continued crisis. The transition to online activities and the need to find unconventional solutions to unconventional situations, is also an opportunity to add new tools to the cultural diplomacy toolbox.

At the beginning of the crisis, it seemed that cultural ties would be pushed to the margins of diplomatic activity. What relations could possibly be promoted when cultural institutions in Israel and in the world are closed, international festivals postponed, and states are closing their gates to foreign visitors?! Our main concern at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs was the repatriation of tens of thousands of Israeli citizens before the skies closed. At the same time, the economic division in our ministry was preoccupied with mobilizing our representatives around the world to help find the necessary components in its struggle against the pandemic.  Since the professional operation of the Israeli cultural attachés abroad lies under my responsibility, my concern was aimed, first and foremost, at the health of the employees, as more than a few of our representatives, Israeli and local, including some cultural attachés, were infected or put into quarantine.

Maybe it was the singing on the balconies - a phenomenon that began in Italy and captivated the whole world - that made it clear to me that culture is a basic existential need,  especially during times of crisis; and that it has the power to bring different people and cultures together. That is exactly the goal of cultural diplomacy in the first place.

Like many organizations around the world, we have also phased into online activities. Regardless of the crisis, Digital Diplomacy - in the form of social media activity aimed at reaching diverse audiences by digital means - has taken a central place in recent years. COVID-19 is accelerating the process in which we are faced with the question of how we can expose Israeli culture without leaving state boundaries, in the boundless online space.

At the beginning of the process, we shared numerous posts of artists who empathized heavily with peoples and countries who suffered more than we did during the first wave. The cultural attaché in Rome initiated a series of videos in which leading Israeli artists greet  the Italian people in their own language, and wish to see each other soon. Another example is a series of videos produced in partnership with the production department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where artists performed from their homes during quarantine, with an encouraging message to audiences across the world.

However, we quickly understand that there is a degree of satiation with these kinds of expressions of solidarity. We began to discover original initiatives that connect artists with communities, in ways we hadn’t previously been familiar with. Here are some of the most beautiful and moving examples:

The Israeli embassy in Bucharest joined a local solidarity fund to assist actors in distress. Together with Etgar Keret’s local publisher, they started a project of readings of stories by the well-known author in Romanian. The actors posted the filmed readings on their social networks, and the embassy gained substantial media exposure. The idea has successfully been “replicated” since in other locations in the world.

Our Consulate in Istanbul joined an artistic project from Israel. Together they recruited thirty Israeli and Turkish artists for a “rolling art project” that connected between artists. The project resulted in an exhibition that was launched on an online platform and will be on physical display, too, once it will be possible to do so.

The cultural attaché in Tokyo initiated the shooting of a short film based on the story by Etgar Keret “Outside”, which was written during the COVID-19 period. The film was directed by Keret and choreographer Inbal Pinto, who is also very well known in Japan. It first appeared in the country’s most prestigious newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, which has a distribution of almost eight million.

Beyond these initiatives, we have been dealing recently with the dilemma of how we can hold “Exposure” events in the winter - where we host over 500 artistic directors in Israel each year - in times of COVID-19. In this case it is also necessary to think “outside the box”, and facilitate the exposure of Israeli music, dance and theater, even in times where the guests won’t be able to be physically present in Israel. Not an easy task - but the potential of reaching artistic directors who have never been in Israel due to cost, distance, or other reasons, is huge.

It is worth noting that cooperation between governments in areas related to culture, science, education and sport is flourishing during the COVID-19 period. We are sharing information and “best practices” and learning from the experience of our friends all over the world.

These forms of cooperation and ideas are examples of a highly innovative arena that is unfolding before our eyes. That being said, I have not the slightest doubt that nothing can replace physical contact between the arts and its audience. It’s still too early to determine what of all the online collaborations will survive “the day after”, but it’s clear that the COVID-19 crisis - with all its destructive implications on our health and wellbeing - is also a kind of opportunity to “crack” a new code of cultural diplomacy.

Deep-lomacy #4 - The multifaceted Cyprus – Israel partnership, A message from
H.E  Thessalia Salina Shambos, Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to the state of Israel:

Most of you may already be aware of the multifaceted Cyprus – Israel partnership that has been growing stronger. During the last few years, we have built on our common values, mapped opportunities, identified shared interests, and united our respective strengths.  We successfully embarked in joint projects on a bilateral and trilateral level with Greece, and more diversely, within synergies in the 3+1 context with the US, but also on regional platforms of cooperation like the Egypt -led EMGF.  All these formats enjoy wide support for their positive potential, as practical examples of geostrategic merit that contribute to the stability and prosperity quotient of our region. Likewise, we have identified the possibility of including other countries in our neighborhood in these formats, countries that share our common vision that peace, stability and security is a most valuable strategic asset. A fitting example of our partnership is our collaboration in the East-Med pipeline project, which represents a viable and strategic choice shared interest, allowing natural gas transfer from the Israel and Cyprus, through Greece, to the rest of Europe.

Indeed, these are not easy times in our region. We know this as friends and partners. Regretfully, even during the pandemic, we were faced with terrorism, revisionist ambitions and outright belligerence that pose a serious threat to the fragile dynamics of our entire area.

Our partnership entails a high degree of “immediacy” and it's guiding principle has always been nothing other than “a friend close by is better than a relative faraway".  The COVID19 pandemic has highlighted how quickly the reflex of our bilateral cooperation works. On this novel war terrain our alliance grew stronger. The reason for this is simple: The strength of our partnership lies on the common values and shared interests, elements that bring us together. This was paramount during the last few months. Here we were, fighting on uncharted war terrain as we naturally turned to each other, identifying opportunities for joint action, which assisted us to effectively address some of the ripple effects of CV19, in Cyprus, Israel and beyond.

 

Our collaboration during the pandemic has been for me personally, as the Ambassador of Cyprus in Israel for the last five years, the vivid epitome of our affinity towards each other, of our commitment to overcome these times of challenge, together and more resilient than ever before. Being fully cognizant that no country can beat this war by itself, made the diverse nexus of the Cyprus - Israel synergies even more important in fighting the pandemic.

It was not surprising that making the most of this immediacy and of our evident geographic proximity, Cypriots and Israelis were from very early on in a position to identify a plethora of opportunities for partnership to battle COVID19. From the very beginning we took part in a Task Force of health experts from several countries that Israel initiated, and groups of our key - clinicians institutionalized a method of exchanging knowledge and best practices on treating COVID19 cases, while our key epidemiologists teamed up to share relevant data on the development of virus early detection applications. Cyprus also supplied Israel with large numbers of generic Chloroquinone manufactured by Cypriot pharmaceuticals and we proceeded with the purchase of medical equipment from Israel.  Likewise, direct communication between Cyprus' President, Nicos Anastasiades, with both President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regularly took place in the last few months.

For the end of June, we had even planned in Jerusalem what would have been the 14th meeting of President Anastasiades with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the last 5 years, coupled with parallel ministerial meetings on Energy, Foreign Affairs, Defense and Tourism. Though  this “jumbo” visit had to be postponed, due to the unfortunate steep spike in COVID 19 cases in Israel, we did manage to hold a very productive half a day meeting between our Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Christodoulides and Ashkenazi, with all discussions taking place at the Ben Gurion airport, where Minister Christodoulides arrived by a Cyprus Air Force helicopter. This very fact is proof in itself of the close distance between our two countries that in fact share a common sea border. 

All in all, and despite the challenge of not being able to meet in person as regularly as used to, we managed,  through high tech applications and on- line communication tools, to ensure a good level of remote contacts for a number of ongoing projects of collaboration, and in keeping momentum within our pillars of compact cooperation such as in energy, defense, communications, cyber, culture, tourism, entrepreneurship and innovation, academic cooperation, emergency response, environment, joint youth diaspora projects and crisis management and, by extrapolation, in tackling a pandemic of colossal proportions.

Looking back in the last five months it would not a hyperbole to admit that handling the COVID 19 pandemic, in some respects, has shed light on some new vistas of potentially worthy cooperation. The need to face together, and in an interoperable way, this health crisis of ecumenical proportions has strengthened our resolute to focus on how to best collaborate as reliable partners against challenges that we identify as common, in whatever shape or form. And that is of prime importance for generating security and stability in our volatile neighborhood.

It goes without saying that Cyprus as a close neighbor and as a close ally of Israel, continues and shall continue to work towards strengthening this geopolitically important partnership, in the known spirit of unwavering camaraderie that connects our two countries and our peoples.

 I assure you that as soon as we jointly manage to effectively keep at bay this destructive health threat, neighboring Cyprus, which last year welcomed 400,000 tourists from Israel who took the 40 minutes flight, will await each one of you and your loved ones, for a much deserved, short and safe break, with open arms.

Deep-lomacy #3- Tweeting Diplomacy during Covid-19

Social media changed the way we connect in our days, it also had a major impact on the way we perceive and operate on cultural diplomacy related issues and more precisely on the tools that states use. In this digital era, you can mistakenly assume that every day is an international social network day. We are constantly connected, often to more than one social network, no matter the situation - anytime, everywhere, always. Officially the International Social Network Day was marked recently and for this occasion, we will dive into a brief analysis of how social networks assist countries in their external relations (direct and indirect- with other countries and its citizens). The analysis was conducted by Yasmin Kremer, a researcher at the Simone Veil Research Centre for Contemporary European Studies. Yasmin's main research focuses on the role of the Eurovision Song Contest in the context of cultural diplomacy theory. Recently Yasmin participated in an international study that examines embassies use of the 'Twitter' network before and during Covid-19, led by Professor Francesco Olmastroni from the University of Siena. Yasmin examined the United States delegation to the European Union Twitter account also known as @US2EU and this is her fascinating findings:

What was the effect of Covid-19 on the behavior of the United States Embassy to the European Union user on Twitter? During the first outbreak, the Twitter account barely published original tweets and mostly posted re-tweets. It was also noticeable that more and more tweets were characterized by a personal and direct appeal to the member states of the European Union. In comparison, the pre-COVID-19 period was more about general tweets directed to the EU member states as a whole.


During the pandemic outbreak, the tweets of the American delegation can be identified by United States image promotion. In comparison, in the previous period, the American delegation tweets dealt with external relations and less with glorification. It can be explained by the uneasy situation the United States dealt with in mid-April, leading the chart with the largest number of COVID-19 cases. Therefore, The United States made efforts to show the world and the European Union in particular, that it is still a leading and influential force.

Incidentally, the findings of the study show that the United States Embassy to the European Union Twitter account is not very popular and does not receive much attention. It has only 24,000 followers even though the account opened in 2011 (for comparison, the corresponding Twitter account of the United States Embassy to The United Kingdom has three times as many followers). Moreover, the United States Embassy to the European Union tweets do not receive many likes, comments, or re-tweets. Thus it can be assumed that they do not have a significant distribution. An intriguing anecdote that emerged from the study shows that President Donald Trump, who has considered to own an active Twitter account, is not among the top ten most retweeted people, compared to the often re-tweeted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

To sum up, I would like to recommend a great website that gathers statistics on Twitter accounts for your free use: http://www.twitonomy.com

Deep-lomacy #2 - The first-ever World Cup of Flags

 

In light of the International Flag Day, we asked Yonatan Herskowitz, a researcher in the Simone Veil Research Centre  who researches nationalism and identity through the prism of national flags to tell us about the role of flags in the new era of diplomacy. He came back to us with this lovely story:

 

Two months ago, when the world was quarantined, a Twitter account called World Cup of Flags started an online competition. The structure of the competition was similar to the one of the football World Cup, except that the audience vote was for the Emoji's of, well, national flags. The competition gained momentum and after the first stage where 2 flags qualified from each division, the knockout stage became more dramatic than expected. At this point, organizers have noticed that there is massive mobilization behind certain flags, particularly the ones of Zimbabwe and Trinidad and Tobago. The Zimbabwean flag has systematically received a number of votes significantly higher than its rivals and it was suspected that Zimbabwean citizens voted solely for their flag and did not participate fairly in the competition. As it happens, in the later stages of the competition, the Zimbabwe flag competed against the Trinidad and Tobago flag. In each poll up to that stage of the contest, the number of votes was around 3,000 per poll, where in the specific poll between Zimbabwe and Trinidad and Tobago, close to 40,000 people voted. If that wasn't enough, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago tweeted from his personal account urging the citizens of the small state to vote for their national flag.

The competition drew tens of thousands of people from small and large states, who saw an opportunity to demonstrate a different form of patriotism than usual. They transformed a competition of design, or shapes and colors of trivial emoji's, into a competition between nations and an intense demonstration of nationalism and national identity. This story teaches us that while the flag, for many people, may be just a colorful piece of cloth (Hi there, flag of Libya pre 2011), it has a huge and important meaning. The flag is an ubiquitous visual symbol that aims to project the history, aspirations, beliefs, and collective values of the nation-state. One of the flag's main functions is to stimulate the citizens sense of identity and belonging, therefore the flag is seen as a sacred symbol. It is thus not surprising, that the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago took the stage, calling on the citizens of the state to unite around the flag in order to bring respect to the country in the shape of victory in the flag competition. The flag symbolizes the unique identity of the state, so the tiny flag emoji is not the true winner of the flag competition, but rather the citizens of the state itself who are so significantly represented by it.

For those interested in the results of the competition, in the final, Jamaica's special flag beat South Africa's colorful flag and won the 2020 World Cup.


Did you know? The flag of Jamaica is the only national flag in the world that does not contain one of the colors blue, red or white!

Deep-lomacy #1 - Pinkwash diplomacy

 

In honor of Pride Month, here is another angle of the story. We invite you to take a look into the concept of Pinkwash and to this end we approached none other than Dr. Chen David Misgav Hauftman, an urban politics, gender and sexuality researcher - here are his thoughts:

 

In November 2011, Sarah Schulman, a professor of Literature, a writer, an activist and a Jewish-American documentary series maker (particularly known is her joint film with director Jim Hubbard, which reviews the history of the ACT-UP movement in which she was a member in the 1980s and 1990s) published a column under the provocative title "Israel and 'Pinkwashing'". In the column, Schulman argued that Israel, as a state, uses the rights of the LGBT community to portray itself as a liberal, progressive and western state - one that maintains and promotes human rights, while in practice it is a system that systematically violates basic human rights due to the regime of occupation and oppression applied to Palestinians in the occupied territories and the discrimination of Palestinian citizens of Israel.


Schulman developed this thesis in an equally evocative book called "Israel, Palestine and the Queer International" in which she explained her sources of inspiration - critical intellectuals such as American Judith Butler and Jasbir Puar, Canadian Naomi Klein and Israeli Dalit Baum, as well as her exposure to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) and queer activists involved in this movement.
The concept of "Pinkwashing" has since gained momentum and has become a code name for actions by states and corporations who use LGBT rights to "launder" crimes and violations of human and civil rights, therefore drawing themselves a positive and liberal image. The concept has gained momentum in the academic, intellectual and public discourses and has since gained development, that led to theoretical and political debates, and to an adoption in political contexts in the Middle East.
The theoretical meaning is fascinating, since the concepts used in the academic discourse in fields such as political science or international relations are most often created in Western or Anglo-American political and diplomatic contexts and from there are adopted in the global and academic periphery, while the "Pinkwashing" was developed in the context of the Middle East and the the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


In the public and diplomatic sphere too, the concept of "Pinkwashing" caught on and became a vanishing point expressing the various perspectives on what was recently defined on Israeli channel Kan 11 - the gay revolution in Israel.


On the one hand, Israeli critics all over the world, as well as LGBT and local queer scholars and activists, embraced the concept in its original and critical sense towards Israeli government policy. Contrarily, Israeli speakers and diplomatic representatives (and its unofficial emissaries such as U.S. Attorney Professor Alan Dershowitz) have, in the past decade, been battling an all-out war against this attitude and claim it to be anti-Semitic and even violent.