Public diplomacy shined for one day in Romania

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At the beginning of last week, more specifically on September 16, I took part in the European Forum for Public Diplomacy, organized in Bucharest at the initiative and under the coordination of Presidential Adviser Mr. Dan Dima and Chief of the Presidential Chancery Mr. Cristan Diaconescu.

The event was the first of this size in the field of public diplomacy in Romania and brought back the discussion over the need to establish a Department/ team of specialists that would be in charge of drafting and managing the country’s public diplomacy.

In the opening, I listened to the speeches of some of the most important and influential people in Romania, explaining the role of public diplomacy in shaping a better future for our country, through the lens of their positions and institutions.

There were also speeches by representatives of the diplomatic corps and business environment in Romania. I was pleasantly surprised by the address of H.E. Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Bucharest Mr. Marek Szczygieł, which focused on digital diplomacy as a distinct area of public diplomacy. H.E. indicated that the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is going through a phase of dramatic changes in order to adapt to the most advanced methods of communication and interaction with foreign audiences, like social media, the reason being very simple, “because that is where people are”. The Ambassador presented many of the advantages and challenges of new media that we have also indicated throughout our articles, but H.E. pointed out in the end an interesting perspective, that digital diplomacy represents the future.

For excerpts of the opening speeches, you can access the article published by the media partner of the Forum,

However, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the event was the academic panel, made up of four of the most representative specialists in the field of public diplomacy worldwide Philip Seib, Director of the Institute for Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California (USC), PJ Crowley, Associate Professor at George Washington and former US Department of State spokesman, Nicholas J Cull, Coordinator of Masters Programmes in Public Diplomacy at USC and Sean Aday, Director of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication of George Washington University. Their lectures, on various aspects related to public diplomacy, were followed by those of several representatives of the Romanian universities, which mentioned the importance of including public diplomacy as a distinct field of study for its professionalization.

Next I will share with you some of the most important ideas mentioned by the four speakers, which I believe to be relevant also for the creation and management of Romania’s public diplomacy:

– According to Philip Seib:

  • Public diplomacy should not commit to more than it could offer;
  • For an efficient public diplomacy, a first step would be to identify all strengths, among which a country’s citizens are also included, as they can be as ambassadors;
  • Public diplomacy and diplomats need to admit the transformative impact of new media and social media in particular, considering that the people’s expectations in terms of communication have changed dramatically.

– Sean Aday, on the other side, offered these views:

  • For an efficient public diplomacy, there a need to make a clear distinction between the image that we have of ourselves, the image that we believe other have of us, and the actual image that the others have;
  • Public diplomacy is not propaganda;
  • Public diplomacy involves informing, but it is about influencing attitudes;
  • Public diplomacy has to have a strategic goal;
  • In order to face the challenges of digital diplomacy, trainings in the use of social media are a must;
  • The importance of digital diplomacy comes from the possibility of interacting with groups or communities; The internet is not a giant mass of people, it is made up of networks of people that overlap more or less;

– Nicholas J Cull spoke about public diplomacy first and foremost from an academic perspective:

  • Public diplomacy encompasses five key elements: Listening – in order to understand the audiences you want to address; Advocacy – in order to present and explain yourself; Cultural diplomacy – in order to expose foreign citizens to your own culture; Exchanges – in order to facilitate meetings between your citizens and that of foreign countries; International broadcasting – in order to transmit your own views, opinions, ideas, messages abroad, through television, radio and internet;
  • Regarding digital diplomacy, parameters such as the number of likes or followers are deceptive, because the relationship that is built with the audience matters more; If engagement was an important aspect even before, now it is the main target;
  • Classical skills are still relevant;
  • Words are important, but policies are more important.

– Then, PJ Crowley spoke from the perspective of an individual who has practiced public diplomacy at the highest level:

  • Non-state actors play an important part in public diplomacy;
  • Informal groups created online will try to transform their virtual influence into real political power;
  • Hard power will be become more and more costly to use, image wise, while soft power offers broader opportunities for influencing audiences and obtaining legitimacy;
  • Legitimacy is power over opinion; Legitimacy is hard to obtain, easy to loose and costly to replenish;
  • An efficient combination between traditional public diplomacy and social media has the potential to chance perceptions over a country.

In the end, I am happy that this event took place in Romania, that public diplomacy has become a field of interest here and that I had the chance of seeing and listening to all those who went on stage. Moreover, it was a great opportunity to get to know other people interested in public diplomacy, such as the ones that obtained an invitation to the Forum.

Therefore, I look forward with enthusiasm to the next event on public diplomacy or related themes to take place in Bucharest.

N.B. For those of you who missed it, former US Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Tara Sonenshine, sent a message for the event, which was published by Romania Libera daily and Prof. Philip Seib wrote an op-ed in Huffington Post about the event and Romania’s public diplomacy.

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