The important aspects of Public Diplomacy: the Kosovo case, por André Aprígio

Kosovo declared its independency on February 17th, 2008, yet it is still in a position of a country without real sovereignty, even after almost two years from what would be one of its historical dates (or the most historical one).

The roots of the Kosovo conflict run deep. For generations, the territory has been disputed between Serbians and Albanians. Those disputes contributed, over time, to a negative public image before the international community.

Despite stirring words of Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, to Parliament on the fateful 17/02, “From today onwards, Kosovo is proud, independent and free”, the truth is that in several European countries, Kosovo name still evokes images of conflict and organized crime (what can be addressed to as perception).

In addition, internationally respected publications have reinforced the negative image of Kosovo, such as the Corruption Barometer 2007, a report by Transparency International, where Kosovo is presented as the fourth most corrupt country in the world. The expectation for change is high not only domestically, but also throughout the international community.

The previous statement gains strength when we consider the situation of the young state of Kosovo, eager to become active in world diplomacy, attract investment and be part of the Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Another struggle currently faced concerns to the acceptance of independence by the international community. Kosovo has been recognized by only 65 (Jan. 19th, 2010) of the 192 Member States of the UN. Some countries avoid facing this process, including five of the 27 Member States of the EU: Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain. These countries refuse to recognize the independence of Kosovo because of their own internal affairs.

Nye already stated in 2005 that policy in the information age is not just a matter of winning army, but of which story was best told. He adds, “Power is the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes you want”. Furthermore, “Governments compete for credibility not only with other governments, but with a wide variety of alternatives, including the media (…)”.

After a history of past conflicts, the struggle to be waged in this new scenario will be for the recovery of Kosovo’s sovereignty and the creation of a positive image before the international community.

Although independence has been declared, the UN still maintain the presence of the Special Representative of the Secretary General in Kosovo, responsible for leading the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

While possessing a status of young Republic, Kosovo only counts with ten diplomatic missions abroad, that have been opened in mid-October 2009, which are: Washington (USA), London (UK), Brussels (Belgium), Paris (France), Berlin (Germany), Vienna (Austria), Rome (Italy), Bern (Switzerland), Ankara (Turkey) and Tirana (Albania), and needs outside help to “equip” its institutional apparatus.

Indeed, the largest individual aid comes from the United States, through USAID, independent federal agency that receives guidance from the U.S. State Department. The United States are also present in Kosovo with programs in the areas of Economic Growth (Political and Economic Institutions, Private Sector Development, Energy and Infrastructure Reconstruction), Democracy and Governance (Rule of Law, Media and Civil Society, Governance and Political and Legislative Processes) among other Special Initiatives Programs. More directly connected to this work, we emphasize the Kosovo Ministry of Foreign Affairs Support Project, within the scope of Governance.

The Project is designed to assist Kosovo’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to become functionally able to manage its foreign affairs, by supporting the implementation and establishment of embassies abroad and in the development and implementation of policies and procedures relating to privileges and diplomatic immunity, for instance.

The project is divided into three pillars: (i) Supporting to missions abroad, (ii) Building institutional capacity of the Ministry and (iii) Establishment of regulations for decentralization.

Traditional Diplomacy includes instruments by which States constitute or maintain reciprocal relationships. It is through diplomacy that States politically and legally interact with each other, using their official representatives.

In the work of José  Calvet de Magalhães we find, “(…) all the resources and specific activities that a State dedicates to the service of its foreign policy”. Diplomacy was patterned after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, intensifying the practice of international relations.

According to Article 3 of the Vienna Convention some of the functions of the diplomatic missions are: (i) representing the sending State in the receiving State, (ii) protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits of international law, (iii) negotiating with the Government of the receiving State, (iv) ascertaining by all lawful means conditions and developments of the receiving State and (v) promoting friendly relations between sending and receiving States.

As seen, there are very few diplomatic missions in Kosovo and abroad, for this reason, efforts in improving its reputation, if made (only and/or solely) based on traditional methods would be more difficult (and/or slowly) achieved.

The Public Diplomacy (PD) seems, in this scenario, therefore, an instrument for facilitating and supporting the process of image reconstruction.

Jan Melissen argues that the PD can be seen as an “instrumetalization of soft power”, the latter being defined by Nye as the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals and foreign policies.

PD means influencing others, it is about relationships, communication to building trust, credibility and, as an instrument of soft power, it is the cornerstone of the resumption of Kosovo’s positive public image. It is so, indeed, due to the fact that Traditional Diplomacy (which has its active focus on Government-Government Relations), seeks support from and is related not only to governments, but has broadened its focus to the relationship between non-state actors (NGOs, civil society, multinational corporations, media etc.).

Mainly because, and according to Melissen and Gonesh “International politics is no longer shaped primarily by political leaders and a few top officials. Nor is diplomacy a closed world of diplomats and other government representatives.

Moreover, several other contemporary phenomena force a rethinking on the part of States in relation to their activities in the international arena, such as communications revolution and the rise of transnational problems, to name just these two.

PD “traditionally means government communication focused on foreign audiences to achieve changes in ‘hearts and minds’ of people”. Indeed, we can think of PD as a trinomial: (i) Identity, (ii) Image and (iii) Communication, where Identity means how the country really is; Image relating to the perception that others (people, countries, non-state actors) have from one State, and Communication, on the means by which identity is transformed into Image.

There is a video widely circulated on the Internet, dated 2001, showing a civilian vehicle being shot at by a tank in the streets of Kosovo.

Today, the image Kosovo intends to show to the world is completely different. Efforts are to present Kosovo as one of the youngest countries in the world and also a place with the youngest population in Europe, with an average of 25.9 years of age, which brings the young country, an optimistic air and acts directly in the perception of the international community.

Reinforce this concept, for instance, the words of the US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Judith A. McHale:

As we communicate with people around the world, we must move beyond messaging. We need to listen more and lecture less. We have to learn how people listen to us, how our words and deeds are actually heard and seen. And we need to explain our positions and policies upfront and not after the fact when opinions have already hardened. The more languages and venues we communicate in, the more respect we show for our audience, the more effective we will be.

We should not forget, however, that PD should help shape the policies that really consider the ideas and common interests, as explained in the trinomial of PD. Communication, itself, is just not enough. The external message should be consistent with the internal actions of the State.

According to official sources in Kosovo, the Israeli agency S&S (Saatchi & Saatchi) belonging to the Parisian Publics Groupe was awarded a contract for 5.7 million Euros to improve the country’s international image. As a result of this effort, the brand Kosovo and the slogan The Young Europeans were born, bringing a new spirit and a direct communication, young up-to-date strategy.

It was also decided to use social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. This variety of channels allows the insertion of a younger audience in discussions and understanding of the message sent by the Government.

This younger audience is a niche of the population that is increasingly more attentive, willing and eager for information and, above all, to be heard, since “the new concept of Public Diplomacy assumes that the domestic audience has a voice in the dialogue of foreign policy”.

On Facebook, the call notes that the main focus of the campaign is “to place Kosovo firmly within the family of nations, within Europe and beyond. The strategy is to focus strongly on the power of Kosovo’s young people”.

To support the effort of the new identity, a television movie has been produced and widely available in channels such as CNN, BBC World News, Bloomberg and YouTube, bringing a positive political message and implicit appeal for tourism and investment.

Well-dressed young people (fashion styles) gather pieces of a puzzle on a giant map of Kosovo as a background music proclaims, “It’s time to start over”, whose lyrics follows: “Dawn rolling over. The clouds bring the rain .It’s time to start over .Time to join hands .The sun slowly rising. Shining on earth. The sky’s open minded Today.And I’m feeling the life that I wanted. Coming to me. I’m feeling the love that I want you. Want you to see.”

Kosovo remains dependent on foreign aid, particularly from the United States. It is imperative to open its market for foreign direct investment (FDI), to extend diplomatic relations and resolve the issue of its internal structure.

As mentioned earlier, communication is just not enough. The external message should be consistent with the internal actions of the State.

Countries that have recognized Kosovo’s independence must now take further investment, trade agreements and assistance programs that will corroborate that the “Kosovo independence is an irreversible reality”.

If the internal foundation of the country is not well structured and solid, the public diplomacy efforts, or any other, is not useful.

With international recognition still hanging in the balance, the reputation (read image) is even more important. And in this sense, PD uses not only concepts of International Relations (traditional diplomacy, soft power, etc.), but also concepts from sociology, anthropology and marketing/communications, with the comparative advantage and ability to “get where traditional diplomacy can not achieve” [emphasis added]. Not being correct, however, to confuse PD action with simple propaganda.

The past and the internal structure of Kosovo suggest that there is possibly only one sure, yet imperative way for the country to ensure a positive image before the international community: investing in soft power, with the help of a strategic communication plan that also takes into account the perception of the audience.

Together, these two tools become the front line of the “war of ideas” in the information age, confirming the words of Nye, originally presented.

REFERENCES

André Aprigio is a M.Sc. Candidate in International Relations at University of Minho, Portugal, and received his postgraduate Diploma MBA in Strategic Services Management from ESPM, Brazil. [andre.aprigio@gmail.com]

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