On Cultural Diplomacy
Not a long time ago I was unexpectedly assigned to write a page or so discussing the concept of “Cultural Diplomacy” and its impacts on international relations of states. Bewildered was my frame of mind when, after jotting down a sentence or two, I find myself unable to organize my ideas in any meaningful way, make sense of what I was to pen down, and hope to persuade myself that I was indeed writing non-nonsensical, however meagerly. That the lecturer should waste his time and energy reading my sheer nonsensical tautologies, that I should waste my—valuable?—time and energy writing baloney, that I fail to convince myself about the meaningfulness of what I was jotting—was just as unacceptable and objectionable as it was repugnant. It might have been worth it, for the sake of mere esthetic, had my handwriting been anything exquisite. But it is not, and it has never been anything close to esthetic—(un)fortunately?
Yet, I confess that that may have been exactly what I did. Bluntly put, I wrote—if it is allowed to be called writing at all—sheer absurdity, if not entirely rubbish. Willingly? No. Knowingly? Yes. But what is the difference? The difference between the two is the difference between the meagerness of a desirable will and the power of an uncontrollable desire. In other words, my Kafkaesque mind intolerably failed my will for logic, the thirst for wittiness. Misery.
Notwithstanding the oft-postulated argument that ‘opportunity once lost cannot be regained’, I now aim to rectify, though belatedly, what I might have done improperly: to discuss the concept of “Cultural Diplomacy” (CD) and its role in international relations in general.
What is Cultural Diplomacy (CD)?
I think the question may be better approached in negative; that is, by identifying what cultural diplomacy is not, one would better caricature this oft-cited diplomatic concept.
To commence with, CD is not a hard-power diplomacy nor is it a military conquest. Colonialism—internal as well as external colonialism—by definition cannot pertain to CD. The former is an unconscionable policy of domination, subjugation, and servitude while the later appertains to a friendly interaction, mutual understandings, and sympathies. As such, CD may equally not be equated with imperialism, although the dividing line may be thin or even a blurred one, and the demarcation well-nigh impossible, for they both may be perceived as a form of unilateral domination, whereby the stronger country has an upper hand that could generate nationalistic feelings of resistance, opposition, and resentments. Yet CD, perceived as the "exchange of ideas, information, art, language and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding", needs not engender mistrust, much less unfounded resentment, acrimony or rancor.
More broadly, "Cultural Diplomacy may best be described as a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity, whether to strengthen relationships, enhance socio-cultural cooperation, promote national interests and beyond; Cultural diplomacy can be practiced by either the public sector, private sector or civil society." It is thus a diplomatic tool, an art of persuasion, as opposed to conquest and other forms of coercion; the ability of a country to ‘sell’ what it has as distinct: culture, norms, values, ideas… A few examples may suffice to clarify my point.
Granting scholarships to foreign students opens up not only the receiving country to diversity and multiculturalism, but it is a worthy investment for future influence; hence the usual requirement of either knowing or willing to learn the national language of the receiving state i.e. a foreign student studying in Turkey, under the government scholarship, will be required to learn Turkish, regardless of whether the medium of instruction is in Turkish or not (and, to some measures, irrespective of personal interest); in so doing, it is hoped to form ‘turkophiles’ of future leadership. It is also not surprising that various scholarships for studies are increasingly emphasizing on concepts such as “intercultural exchange”, “positive cultural reception”—or in diplomatic a more parlance “international or cross-cultural experience”—and the like. The blatant truth is that a person (in this case, a student) must be culturally receptive and open-minded to constitute a fertile ground, a yielding terrain for today’s cultural assimilation and potentially favorably amenable to future influence. Not less important, however, is their (scholarships providers) equal emphasis on prioritizing applicants from regions or countries with fewer representatives in the receiving state to widen, broaden its future influence.
In a nutshell, many countries have come to realize the importance of increasing their global influence—to boost their ability to get what they want or, at least, a lion share of what they want from other states—through education, youth exchange, and cultural promotions abroad—all of which are various form of cultural diplomacy in context. Needless, therefore, to say that it is also the way “cultural diplomacy” has been impacting the international relations of states in world affairs.
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