Public Diplomacy and Post-Truth Era

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On June 22, Rethinking Russia, a Moscow-based think tank, hosted a round table on “Public Diplomacy and Post-Truth Era: The Rain or Shine Channels of International Communication”. The meeting organized by the Research Committee on Public Diplomacy brought together scholars from Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU), MGIMO-University, RUDN University, Moscow State Linguistic University, Voronezh State University, the RAS Institute for Slavic Studies, the RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, the RAS Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences, the RAS Institute of Economics, the Centre for Strategic Research, the Public Diplomacy Fund named after Alexander M. Gorchakov etc.

Alexander Konkov, Rethinking Russia Director, underlined the importance of the issue for developing contemporary public diplomacy. From his perspective, we are witnessing more complex information flows in the post-truth age (the term was selected as 2016’s international word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries). In this context, academic circles have to grapple with the lack of accuracy and veracity of different statements. When it comes to public diplomacy mechanisms, post-truth challenges, therefore, attract particular interest.

The central report was delivered by Marina Lebedeva, Head of World Politics Department (MGIMO-University). Considering today’s world transformations and dynamics of public diplomacy, she elaborated on the nomenclature of public diplomacy and soft power, as well as their differences and peculiarities. As Lebedeva pointed out, Joseph Nye, a major advocate of the “soft power” conception, acknowledges that soft power and hard power are closely intertwined, with one transforming into another. The distinguishing feature of each type is the means employed to achieve some ends. While the ability to coerce, say, through military might can be attractive, its very existence rather than application can become a soft power tool.

Stressing the link between the long-term impact of soft power and education, Professor Lebedeva noted that the latter was still underestimated. Despite a vast number of domestic and foreign studies on soft power, its negative influence, especially on those who wield it, remains off the agenda.

The key report was followed by other presentations on individual relevant public diplomacy tools.

Roman Chukov, Chair of the Board in the Russian Center for Promotion of International Initatives and a researcher with the Institute of Economics at the Russian Academy of Sciences, focused on current parliamentary diplomacy, its potential in politics and institutional constraints. He presented the main hypotheses of his research into the matter. He dwelled on peculiar features and differences in parliamentary diplomacy when it comes to dealing with countries of parliamentary or presidential democracy. He also expressed hope that the BRICS format could be taken as a model of synergy between the “youth” and “parliamentary” dimensions in establishing and promoting the modern agenda.

Lubov’ Yaroshenko, expert in the Council for the Promotion of International Trade, dwelt on the evolution of the term “business diplomacy” after the anti-Russian sanctions were imposed. She also highlighted various examples of business diplomacy throughout 2014 to 2017. She went on to stress that the sanctions regime targeting Russia pushed the following issues to the forefront: whether business actors should proactively contribute to reaching a compromise over political issues and if they have the necessary leverage and resources.

The report of Oleg Shakirov, expert of the Centre for Strategic Research, focused on the more frequent application of digital technologies in world affairs. He emphasized the role attached to digital diplomacy by governmental institutions in different states and particularly by Foreign Ministries and diplomatic missions, as well as the constraints and risks, digital diplomacy can generate. He noted that the Russian Foreign Ministry had joined a club of digital diplomacy leaders even though it had not pioneered digital diplomacy. Russian diplomats successfully keep applying new communications methods to reach out to the audience via internet.

The discussion also touched upon the role of public diplomacy mechanisms in countering terrorism and settling violent conflicts. Many speakers stressed that the success of public diplomacy requires a clearer understanding of its aims and recipient, which, in its turn, shapes the content and allows picking the needed tools for fruitful interaction on the world stage.

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