Saturday, June 1, 2019

Embassies Embrace Fashion as Public Diplomacy Tool

Stephanie Kanowitz, The Washington Diplomat, May 31, 2019 known for high tempers than high fashion, Washington, D.C., has seen catwalks pop up in the unlikeliest of places recently: embassies, historic buildings and even the State Department.
That’s because people in the diplomatic community are realizing — and relishing — fashion’s role in diplomacy. Much as food, art and sports can say a lot about a nation’s culture, fashion does, too.
“There’s tremendous power in what we wear,” said Jan Du Plain, president and chief executive officer of Du Plain Global Enterprises, an international public relations and events company that helped launch Cultural Tourism DC’s Passport DC program. “If one of our high-level women or men wears something that is inappropriate or can be seen as questionable, fashion speaks. When we wear something, it can have such a strong impact on people because we are watching, particularly those that are high up in government.”
Du Plain recently worked with Indira Gumarova, wife of Czech Ambassador Hynek Kmoníček, and the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) to host “Glamour & Diplomacy,” a fashion show at the State Department. The April 9 event featured female ambassadors and ambassadors’ wives wearing ensembles by contemporary designers from around the world. More than a dozen countries and five continents were represented.
Three days later, the Embassy of Uzbekistan presented Marhamathon Umarova, founder of the MarU brand and one of the country’s leading fashion designers. She spoke about the evolution of ikat, a textile, and presented her latest collection.
“The style and the patterns that they used and the cloth that they created from their own country was fascinating to learn about,” Du Plain said.
In March, the embassies of the Czech Republic, Malta and Slovenia hosted “Fashion Night Ignites” featuring several designers, including Burnett New York; Charles & Ron; Dur Doux; Maja Stamol; and Poner. After the show, cocktails and cuisine from each country were served. More than 250 people attended the event at the historic Perry Belmont House.
Gumarova — a PR consultant who previously hosted a showcase of designer shoes by Manolo Blahnik, whose father was Czech — had a hand in all three events and said more fashion shows are in the works. She is working with the Alliance Française Washington DC on a program at the French Embassy in September, and she has been approached about doing shows in New York and London.
Now is the right time for fashion to take its place in Washington because people are less judgmental of cutting-edge clothing, said Gumarova, founder of the newly formed group Diplomacy & Fashion.
“Now with the Trump administration, you actually can wear color, you can wear anything you want and you will be less judged,” Gumarova said. “And also, the money is here. The uber rich people are here and they don’t want to wear the same dress that was already in the magazine, so they start to pay more attention.”
While D.C. has traditionally been a fairly conservative city dress-wise — and still is to a large extent — Gumarova said it is an ideal hub for innovative, unconventional fashion given its international character. “Washington is the right place because we have almost 200 embassies and every embassy promotes their culture so why not promote through fashion when they already promote through food or through sport?”, Substance and Double Standards
The idea of using fashion as a public diplomacy tool has been building for quite some time. Over the years, various D.C. embassies have hosted fashion or jewelry shows to promote their native designers — among them Estonia, Lebanon, the Philippines and Canada, just to name a few.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry also recognized the power of fashion. In 2016, he welcomed ambassadors and diplomats from about 80 countries to “Diplomacy by Design,” an event hosted by the U.S. Department of Protocol and ELLE Magazine that highlighted fashion as a diplomatic platform (also see “‘Diplomacy by Design’ Examines What Clothes Say About Us” in the December 2016 issue).
“The clothes we create, the food we eat, the sports we play and the traditions that we honor are all part of a nation’s identity and therefore an integral part of how countries relate to one another,” Kerry told the audience via video link. “We know that America’s standing in the world isn’t determined solely by political and security policies,” he added. “On many occasions, cultural diplomacy can achieve what traditional diplomacy cannot because it speaks a universal language.”
But sometimes that message can get lost in the clothes we wear. Also, with greater freedom in fashion choices comes greater responsibility — and scrutiny, especially for women. Take first lady Melania Trump’s $39 “I really don’t care. Do u?” jacket that she wore in June 2018 to McAllen, Texas, the site of many family separations of illegal immigrants. The media, and many others, had a field day trying to discern whether the former fashion model’s choice held a hidden message. Was it a rebuke of her husband’s immigration crackdown, or a show of support that she didn’t care what his detractors thought?
The topic of Melania’s mysterious jacket came up at another discussion on fashion called “Diplomacy X Design” sponsored by the Meridian International Center and held the National Museum of Women in the Arts last November. There, Robin Givhan, fashion critic for The Washington Post, said first ladies in particular can send powerful messages via the clothing they wear — but only if there’s a clear strategy behind it. In Melania’s case, however, the message seemed muddled.
“I haven’t seen much evidence of Melania Trump having a real, clear message behind her tenure of first lady, thus far,” Meredith Koop, Michelle Obama’s stylist and one of the panelists, said at the discussion. “I hesitate to analyze it because I feel like it gives it too much weight.”
Of course, Koop might be a bit biased given her close relationship to Michelle Obama, but there’s no doubt that as first lady, Obama endured her fair share of fashion scrutiny, both positive and negative. worked to highlight emerging American designers and break the mold of staid skirts and suits. She wore everything from striking pink silk suits, to intricately patterned wrap dresses, to bold red off-the-shoulder ball gowns. At the time, even wearing dresses that bared her shoulders and toned arms caused a stir.
Looking back, the shock of seeing bare shoulders on a first lady seems quite tame compared to the risqué attire Melania wore as a top model. But as first lady, even Melania has hewed close to tradition, often opting for elegantly restrained, though still eye-catching, gowns reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy’s classic style.
But perhaps no other woman in politics has had to navigate the minefield of fashion more than the woman Melania’s husband beat for the presidency. Long before becoming the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, Hillary Clinton struggled against the fashion microscope she found herself under as first lady in the 1990s.
She was often criticized for her bulky, dowdy suits and various hairstyles. Once she entered the presidential race, however, her look evolved to embrace more form-fitting, sleeker suits, although her overall style remained minalimist and unmemorable as she fought to keep the focus on her politics and not her appearance.
Clinton’s cautious clothing choices serve as a reminder that in the top echelons of politics, where people take notice of smarts and savvy, clothes are still an afterthought and design shouldn’t serve as a distraction. Yet Clinton is also a prime example of the double fashion standards applied to women, who often feel pressured to look attractive but not too attractive in a professional environment.
Givhan agreed that American women tend to sacrifice style for being taken seriously. “There often seems to be a sublimation of the pleasure and delight in fashion in exchange for being perceived as authoritative and powerful.”
Vanessa Friedman, writing in a July 2016 piece in The New York Times, said that high-level women often tone down style in favor of substance and “that for a woman to wield power in what was historically a man’s world, she had to pretty much dress like a man — but brighter!”
Global Imprint
Female political figures continue to play it safe, as evidenced by the bland button-down suits worn by every single female candidate in the current race to become the Democratic presidential nominee. times are gradually changing as people venture out of their closet comfort zone. And part of that evolution is due to a greater appreciation of fashions from other countries, both traditional and up-and-coming, among Western consumers and designers.
American designers are increasingly incorporating elements of signature styles from abroad, such as Indian saris, Japanese kimonos and Nigerian headdresses.
This international trend was on full display at the “Glamour & Diplomacy” runway show at the State Department, an event that itself symbolized how far a modestly dressed government city like Washington, D.C., has become. “Let’s face it, when is the last time you had a DJ in the State Department,” joked Czech Ambassador Kmoníček at the show.
“Glamour and diplomacy has arrived in Washington, D.C.” said Marie Royce, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs,” opening the program to loud cheers. “It’s cutting-edge designs,” she continued. “It’s innovation, it’s entrepreneurship. These are all important values that we promote in the United States and around the world.”
“Each costume that these lovely women wore had its own special motif, ethnic in origin and international in style,” Gumarova said, “and each costume recaptures with elegance the modern and sophisticated style of each designer’s respective country.”
For example, Arikana Chihombori-Quao, ambassador of the African Union, burst onto the stage donning a yellow robe, with pearl accent jewelry, that represented a Selma design from Ghana. Meanwhile, Changu Newman, wife of the ambassador of Botswana, wore a number designed by Isabel dos Santos, wife of the ambassador of Mozambique, who plans to develop her own fashion line in her home country (also see “Mozambican Wife, a Former Diplomat, Enters World of High Fashion” in the May 2019 issue). Other notable models included Hemal Shringla, wife of the Indian ambassador, and Ivonn Szeverényi, wife of the Hungarian ambassador. The dresses and designs spanned from lesser-known labels like Carolina Estefan of Colombia to Roberto Cavalli and Lilly Pulitzer.
For countries large and small, breaking into the world of high fashion is critical, both from a financial and cultural standpoint. Today, fashion is a $2.4 trillion global industry that employs tens of millions of people. For decades, it was — and still is — dominated by luxury Western fashion houses. But as developing nations such as India and China increasingly enter the middle class and become fashion consumers, the industry is poised for change.
It’s also key for countries to export their own brand of fashion to raise awareness of their cultures and growing economies in a globalized world. Gumarova often mentions the struggles that countries face trying to overcome inherent prejudice and stereotypes when it comes to foreign designers, with traditional national attire often overlooked by the mainstream fashion industry.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the trend of cultural appropriation can go too far if it’s not handled carefully. instance, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family were ridiculed by Indians after wearing elaborate traditional outfits that the BBC called “Bollywood-style bling.” Gumarova, speaking at the “Diplomacy X Design” event, said the problem with Trudeau’s attire was that many viewed it as a cheap public relations stunt that didn’t convey authenticity. Audience members pointed out that instead of going all-out like Trudeau did, diplomats can opt for simpler gestures such as wearing the national color of a country as a sign of respect.
Fashion Statement
It’s these kinds of tricky subtleties that can speak volumes, particularly in the protocol-dictated world of diplomacy, where public interactions and events are carefully orchestrated to avoid any faux pas.
“Fashion — what we wear — at [diplomatic] events is a big statement to the other country as well as what we want to represent of our country,” Du Plain said. “Fashion speaks. Fashion has a language all its own.”
It makes a statement to others about not only how we feel about ourselves, but how we feel about others — and that we’ve taken the time to dress appropriately, she added.
“Diplomacy, for me, is really the art of interacting with others and the art of making others feel comfortable because from the interaction that we have with people, then we can trade with them, then we can talk about the political strife, then we can discuss things of, shall we say, more challenging levels,” Du Plain said. “If the setting is right and the food and the dress and all of that comes together and sets an atmosphere for people to have really good diplomacy … all of that is, I feel, what diplomacy is about.”
Gumarova said she frequently fields questions about what to wear to diplomatic events. It can be confusing because countries have different protocols. She noted that “business casual” can mean very different things in two places.
For instance, the most popular outfit choice in D.C. for an event that requires “smart casual” attire is a black dress with pearls for women, she said, but in Prague, that means a jacket and high heels or flats.
Attendees also have to be mindful about the designer of the clothes they wear to events. “If you go to a Palestinian reception and wear a dress made by a Jewish designer, it can be offensive,” Gumarova pointed out., it’s a sign of disrespect to wear gloves in Asia because it impedes handshaking, she noted.
“On the diplomatic level, we have to follow diplomatic protocol, but we also want to follow fashion protocol,” Gumarova said.
Hats Off to Power of Fashion
Fashion and diplomacy aren’t new bedfellows. When Benjamin Franklin traveled to France in 1776 to present his ambassador credentials to King Louis XVI, he wore a fur hat to keep his head warm. The French so admired his “rugged American frontiersman” look that he ordered more hats to wear during his visit. While Franklin choose the hat out of necessity (his head was cold), his choice was a breath of fresh air in a country fed up with the gilded excesses of Marie Antoinette’s court.
Fashion has come a long way since Ben Franklin’s time, although fur hats of all varieties remain in vogue today. Moreover, just as Franklin’s hat symbolized a newly independent country’s grit and break with tradition, fashion continues to convey a country’s heritage and values — whether it’s America, Azerbaijan or Argentina — while also serving as a cultural bridge.
It’s a jumping off point to help people relate to one another, Du Plain said. Ultimately, that lays the foundation for relationships that can withstand differences when they arise.
“I love the idea of people learning about different cultures and countries and therefore when we do, we have more empathy and understanding,” she said. “If we’re ultimately talking about a better world, a perfect world, a peaceful world, it’s going to come from our relationships and our ability to interact with people.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat. Editorial assistant Samantha Subin contributed to this report.

A New Path Ahead For U.S. Public Diplomacy Advocates In A Digital Age?

Alan Heil, Public Diplomacy Council, May 28, 2019

What is public diplomacy? [JB -- see also (1) (2) (3) (4)]

It’s a term used more widely than ever in the 21st century, as a leading scholar of the concept, the University of Southern California’s Professor Nicholas J. Cull explains: “Public diplomacy deals with the influence of public attitudes on the formation and execution of a nation’s foreign policies.”
Dr. Cull adds that PD encompasses dimensions of international relations beyond traditional diplomacy, including:
  • The formation of public opinion in other countries
  • The interaction of private groups in one country with those of another
  • The reporting of foreign affairs and its impact on policy
  • Communication between those whose job it is in various countries, including diplomats and foreign correspondents.
These themes reflect a wide range of intercultural communications, public and private, via cultural and educational exchanges with international visitors and US-funded global broadcasting.

What Are The Public Diplomacy Council (PDC) And The Public Diplomacy Association Of America (PDAA)?

PDC’s new president, Dr. Sherry Mueller, addresses the crowd at a First Monday Forum.
These two non-profit citizen volunteer groups headquartered in DC are exploring ways of supporting effective public diplomacy in unprecedented ways. Together, they have nearly 600 members, many of them retired foreign service officers or alumni of international communications organizations. This month, former PDC President Adam Clayton Powell III, who is also the director of the University of Southern California’s Washington office, and former PDAA President Ambassador Cynthia Efird are moving on from their non-governmental public diplomacy leadership posts. How have they strengthened a long-sought cooperative effort of both organizations? A number of US government alumni, including this writer, are members of both the PDC and PDAA.

Inspiring First Monday Forums

First Monday Forum participants
At a First Monday Forum, Executive Director Bob Heath chats with two attendees.
For the first time in 2017, the PDAA joined forces with the PDC and USC in co-sponsoring First Monday informal lunchtime roundtables at George Washington University’s School of International Affairs. These are led by expert public diplomacy advocates — private sector and government — at the beginning of each month. According to Adam Powell, there now have been nearly a hundred First Monday sessions since 2010. Attendance has now approached capacity crowds, including a growing number of GWU students.
Recent roundtable leaders have included:
  • U.S Peace Corps director Dr. Jody Olsen, who shared success stories from her organization’s volunteers in 64 countries as diverse as Albania, Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Macedonia  and even the People’s Republic of China.
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce on American educational and cultural exchanges, in all their variety and richness, as they build person-to-person friendships globally.
  • Sister Cities International President Roger-Mark De Souza, who noted that “by sharing ideas with other countries’ municipal leaders, here and abroad, we help shape America’s foreign relations unofficially, one handshake at a time.”
  • VOA anchor Greta van Susteren, who produced an on-scene documentary, Displaced, reflecting the horrific conditions in a refugee displacement camp for Burma’s Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh.

Monthly Seminars with Mid-Level Foreign Service Officers

Former US Ambassador to North Macedonia Jess L. Baily discusses the Role of Public Diplomacy in Resolving the Greece-Macedonia Name Dispute. Photo by Hunter B. Martin.
As part of the Public Diplomacy Council’s continuing commitment to foster the people and practice of public diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State we work with two FSO volunteer co-chairs to sponsor informal seminars around a variety of professional themes.  The seminars provide an opportunity for mid-level public diplomacy officers, many of whom are on their first Washington tours and widely dispersed around the Department, to meet each other, discuss professional and policy issues, learn about different types of public diplomacy assignments and consult with senior or retired officers in an informal setting.  Themes for discussion are chosen by the 30-50 FSOs who regularly participate and expert speakers are invited to address the contributions of public diplomacy to critical U.S. Department’s foreign policy challenges.  The PDC provides lunch; the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) kindly provides a conference room at their headquarters.

PDAA Annual Awards to Recognize Public Diplomacy Successes

PDAA works with the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs to recognize annually outstanding public diplomacy efforts. The awards have gone to foreign service,  civil service, and locally employed staff, both overseas and in the U.S. A worldwide cable solicits nominations for innovation in serving U.S. policy objectives through a range of public diplomacy tools. The winners each year receive a certificate, a cash prize, a year’s membership to PDAA, and are honored at an annual brunch.
To fund the award program, PDAA raises money throughout the year, as well as contributing some funding from membership dues. This year on May 5 at the Army-Navy Club in Washington, DC, four awards were given:
  • Niles  Cole, CAO Kampala, received  an award for reaching 32 schools in 15 districts with the bus “Explorer Lab,” equipped with computers  and encouraging learning  through problem solving. The students’ interest led to the government purchasing US air quality equipment and drafting new environment regulations.
  • Christopher Hodges, PAO in the Palestinian Affairs Unit, US Embassy Jerusalem received his award for  extraordinary leadership during a period of low public opinion of US policy. He maintained effective contacts and shaped messaging through media interviews in fluent Arabic.
  • Natella Svistunova, PAO US Embassy Belmopan was awarded for an innovative plan to combat gender violence. She designed a  successful media campaign to create an  anti-violence label for a sauce. The product with the label was rolled out in an event attended by the Prime Minister’s spouse and family, engendering Belize-wide attention.
  • Debra Torbiong, Public Affairs Specialist at U.S.  Embassy  Koror  in Palau. She was cited by the Ambassador for a program that redesigned the Palau school lunch program and encouraged healthy eating and exercising. The Ambassador said she promoted health and food security through an “innovative, responsive , interactive and effective” campaign. Both Svistunova and Torbiong were present to receive their awards. The others were accepted by representatives from the respective geographic regional offices.

Coordination Initiatives Continue

Adam Clayton Powell III greets Roger-Mark De Souza, president of Sister Cities International, at the First Monday Forum Speaker on Feb. 11.
I asked USC scholar Adam Clayton Powell how he first became interested in public diplomacy. He has headed USC’s Washington office for more than a decade. He wanted to move to DC from California in 2010 and asked the former USC president, Max Nikias, what the office assignment here entailed.  President Nikias replied: “Connect the links.”
That meant from USC’s perspective, enhancing the contacts between the separate PD-related organizations in the nation’s capital: the Council (primarily an advocacy group in U.S. media and on Capitol Hill) and the Association (focused on perfecting public diplomacy practice in State and at missions overseas). Another key goal was to share knowledge about PD practices with newly-named FSOs and to encourage them to value 21st media vehicles (listening and viewing as well as counseling) as their careers are built. Adam Powell offered one example in “connecting the links”: an introductory seminar for new FSOs entitled: “What do expect to happen in your first day at your first overseas post?”
The PDC and PDAA continue to increase their links.
All those interested in the activities I mentioned above can learn more on their new, shared website at There, you can learn about all the initiatives of both PDC and PDAA, which are expanding programs that are available to members of both organizations.
Cynthia and Panel
Ambassador Cynthia Efird addresses the crowd at a First Monday Forum.
The PDAA’s former president Efird reports that its board last month voted to “request the PDC to form a joint exploratory group with it to look at how to move further on closer cooperation, keeping in mind the organizational legal and other issues both memberships might have. “Cooperation,” she added, “is a work in progress, but a work that could be important in securing the health of both organizations and increasing the understanding of public diplomacy among our memberships and in a wider audience, as well.”
Two veteran public diplomacy advocates and nominees to succeed as presidents of the PDC and PDAA, Dr. Sherry Mueller of the Council and Jan Brambilla of the Association, appear to recognize the importance of sustaining the unprecedented contributions of their two predecessors.  Dr. Mueller, former President of Global Ties U.S. is a professor teaching cultural diplomacy at American University and Jan Brambilla is a longtime member of PDAA and a former distinguished personnel director at VOA.
I submit that the late great journalist and head of the former U.S. Information Agency, Edward R. Murrow, once offered a perfect prescription for public diplomacy all might easily agree on:  “To be persuasive, we must be believable.  To be believable, we must be credible.  To be credible, we must be truthful.  It is as simple as that.”

Russian sharp power targeting the European elections in Central-Eastern Europe, 2019/06/01

Image from article: Vladimir Putin (left) with Victor Orban, one of the pro-Russian politicians in the Central-East European regoin. Photo: wikipedia 

Article by: Lóránt Győri and Péter Krekó
While much attention has been paid in the international media to the abilities of the Kremlin to influence foreign elections, relatively little is known about why and how everyday citizens resonate to these attempts in post-communist countries of Central-Eastern Europe. Political Capital, therefore, explored the vulnerability and resilience to Russian hostile influence by focusing on the horizontal, online “grassroots” communication between citizens. Our research revealed not only the basic societal drivers behind these influence operations but how these came into play during the 2019 European elections campaign in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.
International polling, such as Pew’s 2018 research, has been proving the failure of Russian “soft power” since Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. According to Pew, just 34% and 26% of the global public (covering 25 countries) expressed a favourable view of Russia or President Putin respectively. Similarly, only a fraction of the population of the V4 countries (3-13%) would consider themselves as “part of the East” culturally or politically based on the Globsec Trends 2018 data in Central-Eastern Europe. So, we can quite confidently say that Russian “soft power” or the “weaponization of culture” that relies on cultural and political appeal, the beauty of Mother Russia’s landscapes etc. is failing, despite the Kremlin’s expansive and expensive international media empire (RT, Sputnik) and their local media clones’ presence in Europe.

The rise of Russia’s “sharp power”

Instead, our research proved the significance of the Kremlin’s so-called “sharp power,” one’s ability to influence and manipulate the geopolitical perceptions of foreign target audiences through feeding them negative or positive messages, disinformation.
Compared to hard power based on military or economic means or soft power mostly relying on public diplomacy [JB emphasis] and culture, sharp power tries to make the Kremlin and Russia look bigger, better, stronger on the world stage, a force to reckon with among great powers such as the USA or China.
Political Capital’s big data research in cooperation with Bakamo.Social has revealed that the formula has worked excellently in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. An explicit aim of the research was to leave behind the “elitist,” top-down approach of analyses on hybrid warfare and investigate ordinary conversations, so BakamoSocial’s social listening methodology mapped millions of “natural,” spontaneous online conversations of average citizens related to Russia or the Kremlin in a two-year period (between 20 November 2016 and 19 November 2018).

The number of conversations sampled in the three countries between 20 November 2016 and 19 November 2018
Based on our research data, the Kremlin’s perceived international “omnipotence” could be confirmed by “folk perceptions” in the three countries under revision. Although, the majority of online conversations related to Russia were either negative (46% of messages) or neutral (33% of messages), the two leading views in each country attributed direct and unrealistic influence to the Kremlin as a military “aggressor” or an “invisible manipulator,” capable to spying on people and/or changing their minds on certain issues.

The six basic perceptions about Russia and their representation in the three countries
Hungarian people seemed to be the most charmed by Russian influence and looking to the Kremlin as a “strong protector” (10%), which reflects the positive and uncritical approach of the Hungarian government to Hungarian-Russian bilateral relations. Moreover, we could identify “consumer groups” of Russia-related news or disinformation.
Around the third or 30% of each society belongs to three pro-Russian consumer groups or public segments with markedly different profiles in their relation to Russian sharp power.
The group we called “Russian fan boys” (10% of the sample) is receptive primarily to the masculinity and militarism of the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin; the group of “admirers of Russia” (10%) is more interested in high culture and the Soviet legacy. The third consumer group with positive attitudes was labeled “Russia is the safer bet than the West” (8%). They interpret Russia’ role in pragmatic economic and political terms based on Russia’s geopolitical proximity and economic or military power, so they provide a fertile ground for anti-sanctions rhetoric.
Russian fanboys are easily found among Eastern European and European far-right parties or paramilitary organizations maintaining excellent political relations with the Kremlin, while Soviet nostalgia is typically present among the older generations who spent their youth in the communist era and were especially hard hit by the economic outfall of the democratic transitions in the 1990s.
We also revealed a regional or Central-European pattern and basic drivers of the Russian sharp power. Foreign authoritarian influence in the CEE is strengthened by three main societal factors connected to the region’s geopolitical crisis.
First, there is a pro-Russian political elite, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban or Czech President Milos Zeman, Slovak far-right leader Marian Kotleba, who overestimate the significance or influence of the Kremlin for their own political or financial interests and whose rhetoric is echoed by Russian or pro-Russian media throughout the region. Second, specific ideologies, such as Pan-Slavic historical narratives in Slovakia or the Czech Republic, Soviet nostalgia in Hungary, create special bonds between Russia and Central-Eastern European societies. Finally, Eurosceptic rhetoric against Brussels makes Russia look like as an alternative power, partner to turn to preserve “national sovereignty” or escape the “colonization” efforts of the European Union.

Russian sharp power in the European elections

The monitoring of the current European elections campaign (by Political Capital, Globsec Policy Institute and Prague Security Studies Institute) has proven the interplay of these drivers of Russian sharp power.
Most of the pro-Russian disinformation narratives disseminated by local pro-Russian media networks in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia centered around the issue of “immigration” to highlight the Eurosceptic political players nationalist and anti-Brussels political platforms.
On the one hand, disinformation framed the European Union as some sort of a non-democratic “monster” crushing national identities, for instance, Sputnik CZ quoted SPD representative Radim Fiala’ parallel between the EU and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, or forcing Hungarians to abandon their Christian faith and traditions in favour of Muslim mass migration allegedly “enabled” by Brussels.
On the other hand, the Kremlin clearly supported the new far-right and pro-Russian political group titled Alliance of Peoples and Nations (EAPN) to be established by Matteo Salvini (League Party) and Marine Le Pen (National Rally Party) in the new European Parliament – an initiative that would welcome PM Orbán and his Fidesz-KDNP ruling coalition as well. Different narratives about the Union’s responsibility for immigration and related conspiracy theories all contribute to the EU’s negative issues, as seen on the chart below.

Dominant types of Eurosceptic narratives on the monitored Hungarian pages over time
While anti-Russian attitudes and narratives are still dominating the political discourses in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, research pointed to the fragility of this kind of societal resilience to Russian sharp power. Russia’s image is shaped by a relatively small minority of active users that amount to only 30-60,000 users or opinion leaders in each of the three countries we examined. Consequently, it would take only a small effort to fundamentally change the current anti-Russian perceptions in the CEE. More importantly, Russian sharp power already has the ability to circumvent the official communication channels via the existing, strong pro-Russian discussions and consumer groups on the grassroots levels of everyday communication.
The authors are grateful for the generous support of the National Endowment for Democracy that made these researches possible. For more on Russian sharp power in the CEE see Political Capital’s dedicated website.
Lorant Gyori is a sociologist and political analyst, with a masters in social sciences from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, where he is currently working as a geopolitical analyst for the Political Capital think-tank on issues such as Russian soft powerdisinformation, and populism in Europe.
Péter Krekó is a social psychologist and political scientist. He has been the executive director of Political Capital since 2011. During 2016-2017, he worked as a Fulbright Visiting Professor in the United States at the Central Eurasian Studies Department of Indiana University. He focuses on Russian ‘soft power’ policies and political populism and extremism in Europe. His publications include a book on The Hungarian Far Right, and another one on the phenomena of fake news and conspiracy theories.

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The West Point Speech and the Foreign Service

Donald M. Bishop, Public Diplomacy Council, May 30, 2029

President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address at the United States Military Academy at West Point commencement ceremony at Michie Stadium in West Point, NY, on May 28, 2014. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.
“America must always lead” was the theme of President Obama’s speech at West Point on May 28, 2014. This essay – posted on the former website of the Public Diplomacy Council on June 3, 2014, now republished for reference – was a response.
Five years later, the nation has a new president, but the four trends mentioned in the essay endure  It’s still true, for instance, that “no cavalry troop with a stagecoach of gold is headed our way.” And the need for strong diplomacy is as necessary in the current administration as it was in the last.
The columnists and talking heads have given out grades – ranging from “A” to “F” – for President Obama’s speech on foreign policy at West Point. Me? I’m just confused – indeed baffled.
Borrowing an old phrase from the 1960s, what “blows my mind” is that no one has noted the obvious area of consensus among supporters and critics of the President. All implicitly agree that the United States must have more diplomacy in the future – strong diplomacy.
For those who support the President’s posture and believe America should lean away from use of military force, the clear implication is that our nation must rely on diplomacy.

Seals of the United States Armed Forces.
Those who are convinced of the opposite – that the United States must be willing and prepared to use the armed forces – must come to the same conclusion. First, the armed forces can respond to only the most severe crises, so diplomacy must handle the others. Second, it is diplomacy that marshals coalitions. And third, senior military commanders all know that deployments require strong diplomatic support – for bases, access, transit rights, supply, use of the radio spectrum, status of forces, and many other matters. These are all diplomatic tasks.
Henry Kissinger noted that once policy is set, the State Department and the Foreign Service tend the “nuts and bolts.” It is American ambassadors and their staffs who make things happen. Foreign Service Officers inform the governments and the citizens of our allies, partners, and foes of new policies. They deliver demarches. At the negotiation table, they provide specialized knowledge of countries, regions, and issues, and they bring a wealth of experience in bilateral and multilateral negotiations. They speak to the press. They meet people from all walks of life and hear their views. They advocate for cooperation, collaboration, and votes for our positions at the United Nations and other international organizations. They report local reactions, analyze old and new agreements, set up meetings.  They fund initiatives and get people moving. The one word that captures all this activity is “implement.”

Army General John W. Nicholson, Resolute Support commander, speaks to nurses, medical staff and hospital managers at the Kabul Women’s Hospital in Afghanistan on May 18, 2017. Nicholson emphasized the importance of women in peace building and in strengthening the future of Afghanistan. Nicholson toured the hospital with Afghan Defense Minister Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai, Sidqa Abudllah Adeeb-Rabia Balkhi, hospital director and Ambassador Hugo Llorens, the special chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo.
Strong diplomacy needs more than money, and it cannot be turned on and off like a spigot. In Afghanistan during the civilian surge, sizable sums were provided to the civilian agencies of the U.S. government, all represented on the Country Team at the Embassy in Kabul. The amounts overwhelmed the Embassy’s capacity. Not all the money was spent well. The jury is still out on whether the money achieved its goal – to strengthen Afghanistan and its government so that nation cannot again become a sanctuary and training ground for terrorism.
It’s not only, then, that we need “more” diplomacy. We need strong diplomacy. This means that the institutions of American diplomacy – the Foreign Service in particular – need an upgrade, even reform, in a time of grave challenges.
The need for strong diplomacy, however, faces some adverse trends.
Trend: Even a partial list of foreign policy migraines is long:  Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran, the islands between China and Japan, the South China Sea, North Korea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Gaza, South Sudan, Mali. We can safely predict this list will lengthen. We need more diplomats with first-hand understanding of these places. We need them overseas, at the United Nations and other international organizations, and in Washington.
Trend: The changes set in motion by the Arab Spring will have different outcomes in different countries, many adverse to our interests. The great intra-Muslim debate over the future direction of their faith has only begun. Al-Qaeda, its franchises, and other extremist groups now can move fighters and weapons between unstable areas. We need more diplomats who have worked amid these changes, know them at first hand, met those who are part of the trends, and speak to them in their own languages.
Trend: A diplomat for three decades, I know that American diplomacy is strong when our economy is robust. For several years, however, anemic economic growth and the debt and budget crises have diminished America’s standing overseas.
Trend: I also know that the reality of American military power helps American diplomacy achieve more. We can see from the budget reductions for the armed forces, however, that domestic spending is now squeezing defense. As entitlement spending continues to rise, it will also crowd out spending on foreign relations – just when the nation needs more diplomacy.
As America’s diplomatic agenda becomes more crowded, part of the State Department’s organizational culture becomes relevant. It’s in the Foreign Service DNA to never tell the Secretary or the President “we can’t.” The never-complain character of the Foreign Service, however, now masks some substantial institutional deficits.
Dozens of studies have described them. Officers go overseas without adequate language training, and the system that regularly sends 50-year old officers to learn new languages needs review. There is no “float” to allow FSOs the same kind of sequenced professional education as officers in the armed forces.

Arabic language and culture instructor conducts class for three students in the Foreign Service Institute’s Arabic. Photo courtesy of the US Department of State.
Any FSO will tell you that “we do policy planning, but we don’t do operational planning.” The lackluster performance of the State Department in its “whole of government” role in Iraq and Afghanistan can largely be attributed to this planning deficit.
Staffing embassies in Baghdad and Kabul with more than a thousand Americans was too large an undertaking for the small corps of Foreign Service generalists, who number only about nine thousand in all. The State Department has only been able to absorb the extra work after 9/11 by using retirees and contractors. When supplemental funds contract, that extra help won’t be available.
In the few moments when Foreign Service officers have time to reflect on the state of their profession, they express anxiety over whether there’s enough training, why only the United States divides its Foreign Service into “cones,” why no one cares to examine the professional successes and failures during more than a decade of war, how to remedy the lack of a “constituency” for the Foreign Service, or why new officers must wait so many years before receiving an assignment in their specialty.
While the President, the Secretary, and the administration cope with the many challenges and threats in the world, then, they must embrace one more task. To have strong diplomacy tomorrow, reform of the Foreign Service must begin today.

President Donald Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and other Republican legislative leaders, listen to a briefing by Secretary of Defense James Mattis in the Laurel conference room at Camp David on January 6, 2018. Official White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian.
It has been so stretched that it has had no time or energy to reform itself. Few of the recommendations of outside panels have ever been implemented. FSOs continue to hope for additional funds. Given the new and coming budget realities, they are waiting for Godot.
No cavalry troop with a stagecoach of gold is headed our way. That means that the leadership of the State Department must do what any corporation, university, foundation, or state government must do when budgets are short – stop doing things that are less vital in order to free up funds for new, higher priorities. Among those priorities, the Department must invest some time and money in itself, now, to have a more capable Foreign Service, later.
Reform cannot be given to outside panels, and the Deputy Secretaries, the Under Secretary for Management, and the Director General of the Foreign Service can only launch it with support from the top. Or to use Plutarch’s more earthy saying: Nothing fattens the horse so much as the king’s eye.
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, Members of Congress, put your eyes on reform of the Foreign Service.