By Dr. Jorgji Kote
Public diplomacy, also known as “diplomacy of the image” has constantly, especially in the recent years, represented an absolute priority for all states and even more for countries such as Albania and our official diplomacy in particular. Even more, in circumstances when we have realized or are in the process of finalizing major objectives, such as NATO accession, EU adherence, independence of Kosovo, etc., one of the most important objectives of our diplomacy for the future remains the strengthening and the constant improvement of the country, “the export” of the best cultural, artistic and civil values and traditions, etc.
Here, much more care and perspective efforts are needed and not “campaigns”, because the building, improvement and the constant strengthening of the public image of a country constitutes of a long process, where many factors exert their influence; also this image may be threatened, damaged and rapidly ruined, even in a single moment by irresponsible actions; even more when the press and media are always alert, because they are constantly looking for “a prey”.
This explains the fact that although there are positive examples and phenomena everywhere, with rare exceptions, they are not interesting for the press and the media. Otherwise, there are examples that show how negative stories of one or few individuals find great echo in the press and media. Every time I write about this topic, I think about a meeting organized in Brussels in 1999, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the creation of the European Investment Bank. One of its senior officials, in response to a “critic” as to why EIB was not that known to the public, he answered with humor: “Yes, EIB is little known in public. How can it be any different, when in 50 years of activity, EIB has not seen any cases of scandals or affairs? This is what they deserve!” And everyone laughed.
It must be stressed that the work and achievements for the image have a significant budgetary cost, but also greater benefits, not only financial, but even in other aspects, which in contrast to costs, they cannot be accounted for. One of the most significant examples of the image is Brussels. Every time this name is mentioned, the image of the European capital comes before the eyes, the host of the largest European and Euro Atlantic institutions. This is why it’s often said “I’m not going to Belgium, but Brussels!” Another common expression is “in case you want to be heard, speak in Brussels!” This perception is so strong that the Belgian Foreign Minister, Didier Reynders once said, “some people that I’ve talked to believe that Belgium is part of Brussels and not the opposite”.
In fact, the image of a country is the result of the interaction of many major actors and factors-especially from politics, economy and culture. It’s known that Federal Germany changed in a record time its ruined image after Second World War thanks to its legendary politicians, with their vision and the support of Marshal plan, Germany realized within the first decade after the war its social and economic miracle. Meanwhile, the former fishermen’s village in Saint Tropez created an entirely new image and was turned into a tourist magnet, where the beauty queen and cinema icon Brigitte Bardeau and other artists started to go for holidays.
A very big impact on this image has been given by the “main brands” in the domain of education, academic world, cultural world, scientific world, etc. Names of famous universities such as that in Bologna, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Humboldt, Sorbone, Lomonosovi; by elite operas-La Scala, Covent Garden, Metropolitan, Bolshoi Theater; by famous museums such as Louvre, British Museum; famous government seats such as White House, Versailles, Champs Elysee, Downing Street No. 10, Kremlin, etc, are the biggest names with an emblematic sound and image. A spot in the podium of honor has also been occupied by the “Nobel” prize and other known international prizes.
International diplomacy has played its role in this aspect. Thus, there are countries and very small towns little known by the public before, but thanks to an important diplomatic event, they have earned a notable public name and profile. A majority of people in the world have not known and may not know that Schengen is a village in Luxembourg, which in 1985 entered history as the place where the Agreement for Free Movement in the EU was signed; more or less it’s the case with Maastricht in 1992, where the famous Treaty that bears his name was signed.
Experience shows that there’s a whole army that has an effect on the formation and the improvement of the image of a country-press, media, civil society, art, sport, academics, writers, philosophers, etc. The hierarchy of the “artisans” of the image starts with the common citizen, from the elementary student to the academic, from the ordinary worker to the President and especially the king with his successors in the constitutional monarchy. With their ideas, stances, behaviors and values, with the messages that they convey every day. The monarchs and especially their heirs, are offering a very positive example for the refreshment, strengthening and improvement of the image of monarchies, earning public admiration of the public of their country, but also in other countries. Without any doubt, here we can mention Elisabeth II of England, which with her name, authority, notable values and stances in several decisive moments during her 63 years of rules, has become a true great symbol-representative of this country. Such image is also being offered by other monarchies.
Often, part of this hierarchy of subjects are also military people engaged in the prevention of different crises or peacekeeping missions. One of the most notable examples is that of the western ally forces during the Soviet blockade on Western Berlin from 1948 until 1949. The courageous air supply operations to help the population of Western Berlin with food and other basic goods, offered a much likable image for all other countries. During these operations, the American pilot, Gail S. Halvorsen and others after him with air maneuvers, started to throw chocolate baskets for children of West Berlin, which entered history as “rosinen bomben” or “the chocolate basket”. A spontaneous and very original element for the creation of an image of sympathy for allied countries, after the bitter experience of the Second World War.
Quality changes in the domain of the image have turned into a real challenge even for today’s diplomats. But mistakenly, in some cases, the creation of a positive image for the country and themselves is associated with age, external appearance, branded clothes, fashion, etc. Of course, the elements of the look have turned into important accessories for everyone and even more for diplomats; however, they are not enough to offer the full and true image of a modern diplomat. The creation of the image requires the diplomat to be open, without complexes, erudite, intermediaries and above all, they must be strong communicators in all aspects. They must also have a very good grasp of the history of the country where they work, norms, customs and traditions, music, art, literature, sport, etc. Because in the present days, diplomats are required to have more contacts with other public “diplomats”, with NGOs, think-tanks, journalists, artists, public personalities, etc. Today, they attend not only diplomatic receptions, but also concerts, cultural activities, different meetings, where they speak and write about the values of our culture, in interviews and in newspapers, radio and televisions, etc.
*The author is a notable publicist in Albania and a writer. He’s a career diplomat and currently works as a diplomatic adviser in the Albanian embassy in Brussels