"Social media, the Balkans and public diplomacy," foreignpolicynews.org
Image from article, with caption: Golubac Fortress in Serbia, guarding the Danubian frontier of the Balkans.
By Dr. Lisen Bashkurti
A smoking fog is encompassing the people’s brains; unsaid truths and unheard lies, a naked transparency and anonymous hypocrisy, a pride behind front lines and a belated intelligence; a devil that comes out of a bottle and behaves like an angel. An angel that is handcuffed in order to never be free. Teeth less mouth wide open that bites; sharp teeth that have no mouth where to stay; people that reveal photos without identity. Identities that emerge without a photo; all of these feelings come and go from the Social Media. Networks full of spectrums in light and shadow. Avenues with multiple exits, in the middle of them without the map of intelligence you can lose the path of life.
Social media, the change of society
Social Media is changing ideas, desires and human needs. It has brought into our hands all humanity. It has transformed the world into an orange. It is transforming the doctrine of globalization into an unwavering reality. The quantity of information is incomparable with a few years ago. The diversity of information is infinite. The dynamics of information is breathtaking. Humanity is in front of a true revolution. But in front of an asymmetric revolution, the asymmetry of revolution in the social media, its propensity, the trends of its movement and development, the contradicting impacts are not all heartedly traced from information that comes from these networks, but above all from the absorbing level that they have, analytical, selective and the interpreting character of the individual and social groups all over the society.
The society in the Balkans comes after a long period of communist indoctrination centralized from top to bottom, originating from a lower cultural level and a fully isolated mindset from western civilization. The confrontation of the Balkan’s society with the information revolution of social networks is generating a deep shake-up in the spheres of ideology, economics, social affairs, culture, moral and spiritual. All of these changes have produced a true storm, that will have unknown consequences in the future.
For the people of the Balkans the social media coincides with the period of democratic transition, with parliamentarian democracy, political pluralism, freedom and human rights, free market economy and the opening up of Euro-Atlantic integration. In this premature phase the social media entered with a great speed in the reality of the Balkans. Unexpected from this storm of information-communication, the Balkans society was involved on this chaos.
In the Balkans the truth is ignored, meanwhile all lies are illuminating. The values are attacked, meanwhile the anti-values are emphasized, identity is threatened, and meanwhile selfishness is tolerated. Intelligence is harassed, while mediocrity is legitimized. The smart ones are quiet under an overwhelming threat, while an ignorant gives lectures everywhere. Humanism and illuminist movement are always far and very far away from a series of leaderships that rise over the crime scenes, corruption and illegal trafficking.
The Balkan Peninsula is self threatened
The social media is an excellent channel of many sources and avenues with many lanes. It is overwhelming and cannot be censored. The truth and deception, the authentic and plagiarism, inspiring and provocative, the reasoning and lack of logic, the necessary and the destructive, the right and wrong, human attitude and criminal acts, charity and abusiveness, appreciation and lack of appreciation – are crossed endlessly, while creating pyramids of chaotic information at the mind of an individual and of all society. There are more dilemmas than ever before. There is ever more chaos than ever before.
It appears that social media in the Balkans is producing evil. Indeed they have simply brought the Balkan’s devil out of the bottle. Let’s recall that in the Balkans the angel and devil sleep together at a human being. It appears that social media is creating an anarchy. In fact it is revealing anarchy in the heads and desires of men and humanity in the Balkan Peninsula. It appears that social media is creating moral degeneration. In fact it is revealing wide naked the unscrupulous morality that dominates the Balkan politics. It appears that it is ruining the truth. In fact since the birth of truth, it has historically been challenged by the legendary lies of the Balkan nations. It appears that everyone is inspiring the Balkan nations to pursue actions similar to “the Arab Spring.” In fact the Balkan people are walking by themselves, without even knowing it, towards “the storms of a new global order.”
In the Balkan societies there is a revolution taking place. But not a classic revolution; it is a mental and cultural revolution. The rich and the poor, the intellectuals and ignorant, majority and minority, the young and the elderly, males and females, the powerful and the weakened, the enthusiasts and depressed, all of them are equal before the social media. All of the people in the Balkans are felt respected and discriminated at the same time.
The people in the Balkans are taking more information than the level of their intellectual formation. As a result they have more hunger than they can afford. As a result the level of risk has grown. The preventive measures are weak. The reaction is very contradicting. Only the growth of a selective attitude can make the current social media become healthy in this part of the world.
Just like any other social revolution
Can we avoid this information revolution? It is not possible. It can only be challenged. And the challenge cannot be faced from inside to outside, but from outside towards inside. Globalization is not a trend to everything; it is the arrival of everything inside us.
Social media is new. It has created a mountain of contradicting illusions. It appears that evil has run over humanity, but in fact humanity is only discovering it. It appears that lies are burying the truths, but in fact the truths are becoming accustomed more than ever before. It appears that the powerful are suppressing the weakest population, but indeed the weakest are more powerful than ever before and the most powerful are weaker than ever before. The power and weakness already depend on the words and its expressions.
Social media without leaving behind the other communication media; the legitimacy of everything is in a constant test. Transparency is passing every limiting barrier. Responsibility is becoming an individual trend. Participation of everyone in the affairs of all is happening more than ever before. At the end of this information revolution of social media it is demonstrated once again that humanity in general and Balkan societies in particular had suffered more for information than for bread and freedom.
Currently the people of the Balkans feel good and bad at the same time. They feel appreciated and neglected at the same time; defended and threatened. But all of them feel much more vivid than ever before. They all feel their participation in this world. Through the social media humans are transformed into a selfie photo. Selfies become vocal humans. Dreams become realities and realities become dreams. Virtuosity becomes a way of life. Life is lived through virtuosity. All of the people in the Balkans live in two states of mind: in the rude reality and in the virtual reality. Those who are not accomplished in reality become accomplished in virtuosity. The reality and virtuosity are intertwined, at no limits, within the Balkan Societies.
This is the asymmetric revolution of information in social networks. Humanity has found what it was looking for. Humanity has discovered what it wants. As a result humanity has returned to itself. The asymmetry of information revolution of social networks has crumbled the walls inside men and humanity.
The revolution of paradoxes
After a long period of xenophobia in communications today the Balkans speak less, but communicate even more among them. The Balkan nations are silent, but more active. They are introvert, but more open in the eyes of the world.
The fate of this social media revolution will be decisive within the struggle between the truth and lies. At the substance it is the greatest Cultural Revolution in the history of humanity. From this revolution the future belongs to highly educated societies. This is why Balkan societies more than anything else need culture. Otherwise the Balkans will be threatened by an unpredicted chaos and unwavering transformations.
In this social revolution humanity is entering into a field full of light and shadow and in a road with many lanes. We need to use inner lighting in order to separate the lights from shadows and to navigate with the compass of wisdom. Otherwise very easy we can lose the path of life.
The Diplomacy in the Balkans, Europe and United States
In the Balkans, diplomacy stays away from social media just like devil standing away from church. And this has many reasons. Politics in the Balkans is not considered as a public good, it is an oligarchic stature. Public matters are not communicated in public but in a very conspiring way. Foreign Policies of the Balkan Countries continue to take place under the shadows in dark hallways.
In this socio-political environment, diplomacy is considered as a luxury of the most privileged standing away from public matters, public relations and public communication. In the Balkans privileged political clubs are used, and abuse with diplomatic matters as an international manipulation instrument in order to cover up the domestic fiascos, to falsify the truth before international audiences and to extend the agony of their respective people.
In the Balkans there is no public diplomacy let alone diplomacy of social media. Diplomats behave just like monks with a mouth shot before a public communications policy. Camera, microphones and especially social media are considered ‘a prohibited apple’ for the Balkan diplomacy.
In front of this mute diplomacy the people of the Balkans draft their own informative urban legends. But all of these Balkan urban legends while rising over the darkness of a communication that is absent in public diplomacy channels, are elaborated by myths, tales, legends of the past that are full of conspiring theories and conflicts.
And it is normal when today’s diplomacy is silent before the public and the past rises inside their people. This way it is widened the path between diplomacy and their respective people, therefore conversations, dialogue and negotiations are threatened. Signed agreements are frozen, gridlocked and they fail to materialize. The Balkans will return into its old tradition …that of becoming “a barrel of dynamite.”
It is clear that the Balkans is ready to return into a traditional diplomacy that was shaped after the Balkan wars and supported by the two World Wars. It is also very clear that European Diplomacy is behaving with the Balkans the same way as it acted in the XIX century. European Diplomacy is moving over two train racks which sometimes stand parallel with each other and sometimes cross each other, but they never reach a unified position towards their affairs with the Balkans. European Diplomacy is established over a symbiotic strategy that is shaped between the traditional diplomacy of individual countries and integration diplomacy of European Union. In this duality are intertwined the Machiavelli style attitudes of the Balkan Countries’ Diplomacy. Europe and the Balkans are playing the game of cat and mouse; with skepticism, fear, dishonesty and ignorance…
Thanks to U. S. Public Diplomacy that often dissipates the European-Balkan fog and strengthens hope, clarity and trust among the people of the Balkans. It is evident that the Balkan countries need a growing long term presence of United States Diplomacy in the region, which is the founding father of public diplomacy in our time.
The diplomacy of United States continues to be many steps ahead of the world diplomacy. And this advanced position has been successful due to its close contact and communications with all citizens of the world not only with audio – visual media and press releases, but also through social media. Social Media has made the U. S. public diplomacy to penetrate in every individual of this enormous world.
Translated from Albanian by Peter Tase