Courtesy of IWM, I recently moved into the ninth district of Vienna. Many notable Europeans have lived and worked in the ninth district. Austrian composer Franz Schubert was born here in1797, Jewish professor Sigmund Freud treated his patients in this neighbourhood until his exile in 1938, German musician Ludwig van Beethoven died here in 1827, and Slovenian writer Ivan Cankar temporarily resided here in 1899. And this is but a small sample from a long and illustrious list.
Like anyone who had just adopted a new residence, I had to get my geographical bearings. It is good to know the limits of one’s habitat. Alsergrund, as the district is known, is well served in this regard. It has clear and unambiguous borders, delineated by the Gurtel in the northwest, the Danube Canal in the east, and Maria-Theresienstrasse, Universitatenstrasse, and Alserstrasse marking the borders in the south.
There is a park across from my apartment beside the Lichtental parish church. The children and many of the supervising adults who gather in the park to enjoy the sunny weather of early September probably couldn’t care less about the borders of the district. German, Polish, Turkish, and Croatian idioms float through the balmy air, and I’d wager that many of these weekend strollers, idlers, and chatterers of immigrant background crossed far more significant borders before they even reached Vienna. Indeed, if Europeans are defined as people of a continent that can access more than just their own ethnic and linguistic stock of meaning, then it is precisely these immigrants who are Europeans par excellence.
I sit on a neat green bench, my rented bicycle at rest beside me. I sit and watch, one anonymous European observing his fellow Europeans. I watch. I daydream. I contemplate. Nothing has caused more grief and trouble in the history of Europe than borders and territory, than the land and its guardians. Alas, Europe in this regard is far worse off than urban districts such as Alsergrund with their sharply drawn and unquestioned frontiers.
In order to conceive of Europe’s imaginary totality, one must employ the tools of physical geography, and yet the absence of a strict natural border on the eastern flank of the continent has created the need for another standard, the kind provided by symbolic geography. Europe’s external boundaries have shifted over time with changing political circumstances and social-historical periods. As a rule, however, these shifting borders have always been predicated on the “other” that must remain outside. Over the course of its history, whoever spoke for Europe defined it as “civilised” and thus the antithesis of the “barbaric” regions and religions, tribes and peoples, kingdoms and nations outside the gate. At various times, Europe’s exterior border has run along the Oder and Neisse Rivers, the ridges of the Carpathians and the Ural mountain ranges, the coasts of the Black and Caspian Seas, the Iron Curtain, and, most recently, the Schengen lines.
Fear of the “other”
The smallest common denominator in communal integration is fear. In the collective mind of the peoples claiming membership in Europe, the West and the East have come to acquire polarized values. In the European rhetoric devised by medieval Christianity, Islamic culture was perceived as the “other”. After the secular Enlightenment, it was Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the attendant communist ideology that assumed this negative role. Today Islam has once again become the “other”, being viewed across much of Europe as an anti-Christian, anti-Western and anti-modern threat. Europe, in short, rambles on in the durable tradition of defining itself via negativa: that is, by pointing a finger at what it is not.
if Europeans are defined as people of a continent that can access more than just their own ethnic and linguistic stock of meaning, then it is precisely these immigrants who are Europeans par excellence
But does Europe know what it is in the positive sense? Do we Europeans know what it means to be a European? The feeble nature of contemporary European integration, embodied in the European Union, was not caused by the worst economic crisis engulfing the length continent since 1930s; it was revealed by it.
The primary weakness of the elites who speak for Europe today lies in their inability to offer a coherent collective narrative, the failure to provide an integrative template for the common imagination. In its absence, many offshoots of political populism flourish. Fear mongers in the political class and in the forums of civil society excel at finding effective metaphors for a mentality of besiegement: full boat, fortress Europe, barricaded society. These conservative turns of phrase have only one goal, to hide the pursuit of profit behind the call for purity, to plaster ethnic slogans over economic interests. Appeals to the exclusivist concern for one’s own community seek to cover up the effects of globalization on the distribution of wealth, which has in fact contributed to the tragic erosion of what is arguably the most important European tradition: the tradition of social democracy and the welfare state.
In short, European political elites have proved themselves unable to deal critically with transnational global corporations and complicit financial institutions, and have thus reached for tried-and-true methods of diverting public attention. They turn immigrants, foreigners, and refugees into scapegoats. An enlightened segment of the public still recognizes these methods as “fascism with a smile” and condemns them as unacceptable, but the key issue is that expressions of chauvinistic populism against the “other”, alas, cannot be simply reduced to a deviation from the norm. They are a constituent part of the long-term process that saw during the post-war European integration as focused primarily on economic freedom and an unfettered marketplace. In the 1980s, the economic fundamentalism ushered in the corporate homogenization of everyday life. Today, the political solidarity that was once virtually guaranteed by the welfare state and its social safety nets appears as much a part of ancient history as the Berlin Wall.
For true believers, the invisible hand of the market is trusted to be a remedy for all ills. This became absolute doctrine after the fall of the famed wall. Today, despite the economic devastation of the current crisis, citizens of the European Union for the most part accept the market as the normative condition of life. Although the 1995 introduction of the euro as a new currency was clearly ill conceived, most intelligent commentators insisting that political union should have accompanied economic union for the project to stand a chance of success, the currency stumbles on. The jury is out; our future—and more relevantly, that of our children—lies in the balance.
The crisis of the euro notwithstanding, we have had plenty of time to get used to daily transactions in the currency, usable and valued in the so-called Eurozone regardless of national borders. But while the borders of nations still exist, the borders of currencies magically disappeared. What failed to disappear, however, was a lingering doubt in Europe as a common house of peoples and nations, and yet this being Europe, doubt is self-reflexive and so was cleverly integrated into the design of the banknotes themselves.
Consider: the five euro note features an image of a vaguely ancient viaduct that could have been erected anywhere in the Roman Empire. The ten euro note features a Romanesque portal, while the two hundred euro note features an opaque glass door and an anonymous bridge. Unlike the national currencies it replaced, the euro is too timid to tell a story. Not a single human face appears on these banknotes. These banknotes are utterly incapable of inspiring meaningful identification and fail to deliver on the imperative de te fabula narratur. They are abstractions, perhaps suitably, like money itself.
The feeble nature of contemporary European integration, embodied in the European Union, was not caused by the worst economic crisis engulfing the length continent since 1930s; it was revealed by it
But, oh, how I miss the portraits of Erasmus, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Mickiewicz, Velasquez, Newton, Goethe, Andrić. In contrast, the columns and arches on these notes hint at ruined empires, or virtual empires, ones that never actually existed but have been transformed into eerie nostalgia for some sort of real connection and community. They echo something lost in the sands of an irrecoverable past, a place with no foundation, no recognizable landscape. Indeed there is nothing familiar that we Europeans can identify with in these banknotes. They’re useful, at least for the time being, but they’re symbolically empty.
Just spending euros, however, will not make us Europeans. To be a European means to attempt to answer this crucial question: can Europeanism become a viable common collective narrative? We shall see. A European narrative will have to be cross generational. It will have to maintain a common cultural amalgamation of distinct ethnic traditions, reinforced by shared memory and the promise of a common future. It will need to provide symbolic order wherein a centripetal force would be able to counteract, but not abolish, centrifugal forces of primary identification that each of us feels as a member of our nation.
Consolations of the absurd
What is a nation? It is understood as a distinct and self-examining ethnic group, and its Romantic desiderata. It is understood as a political form of collective power that represents a genuine European invention and a dubious contribution to the world’s vocabulary and practices. While the roots of the nation lie in the ancient Greek polis, its modern form was shaped in 19th century, when ethnic groups asserted their distinct identities. In part, these groups were propelled by the idea of bourgeois emancipation, which was developed to counter the aristocratic empires. After the collapse of multi-ethnic Habsburg and Ottoman empires, the nation-state acquired enormous prestige and was elevated into the unit of international political order.
But the nation-state was little more than a machine for ethnic homogenisation. Its dominant ideology was the ideology of a dominant ethnic group, better known as nationalism. It elevated the idea of national unity over all other collective loyalties, identifications, and allegiances. The nation-states that emerged after 1918 rose on the ruins of the “European civil war” and subjected the state administration, education, social, and cultural life to a specific ethnic norm. Nationalism took the culture of the dominant ethnic group to be the supreme public good. Biological membership in the dominant ethnic group thus became the implicit standard for what was to be political citizenship. Those that did not belong to the dominant ethnic group were faced with assimilation at best or extermination at worst.
One would think that the situation would be different today. After all, there is no nation-state in post-imperial, post-WWII Europe, except perhaps Iceland, which does not contain at least one indigenous ethnic minority, not to mention the plethora of more recent immigrant communities. The European Union has become emphatically multinational and multi-ethnic. It is composed of various member nation-states that are, in turn, composed of various ethnic groups.
The absence of nationally specific figures on the banknotes of the euro hints at a consensus about the ancient, the imperial, and the Christian legacy, while the more recent past of Europe is neglected. National diversity is the twin sister of conflict, and conflicts regarding collective memories are particularly painful. It may have been arguably the best course to keep the design of euro banknotes vague and devoid of history, devoid of faces. But this very vagueness bears witness to a worrying truth: that the creation and maintenance of a common narrative that would integrate the paradoxes of European diversity confronts far greater obstacles than the development and facilitation of a mere common market.
The pursuit of a common European narrative may in the end turn out to be a Sisyphean task. But then I think of the wise acceptance of the absurd that Samuel Beckett penned – “I can’t go on, I must go on” – and I am comforted. It is the only good advice in hard times.
High expectations from the newly designated Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan
The new designated Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Mr. Nong Rong, an expert in trade and commerce, currently serving as a minister in a Guangxi provincial government. According to the website, The Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nongrong, a male, born in September 1967, Zhuang ethnicity, a native of Mashan County, Guangxi Province, joined the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) in January 1987, started work in July 1991, holding a MASTER degree in business administration, Senior management, and International business. He has been serving in the Government in various capacities including, foreign trade and economic cooperation, ASEAN-business, City Mayor, and Hong Kong, Macao & Taiwan regions. In December 2019, he assumed the post of Secretary of the Party Committee of the Ethnic Minority Language Working Committee of the Autonomous Region and Vice Minister (and concurrently minister) of the United Front Work Department of the Autonomous Region Party Committee. In January 2020, he assumed the post of Director of the Ethnic Minority Language Working Committee of the Autonomous Region. Deputy to the 13th National People’s Congress and member of the 11th Party Committee of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Mr. Nong Rong will replace Ambassador Yao Jing, who has been serving as a Chinese Ambassador in Pakistan and has served in Pakistan three times in the various capacity of the diplomatic mission. He has also served in India as Deputy Head of Mission and as Ambassador in Afghanistan. He understands the regional issues very well and has been a successful Ambassador in Pakistan. However, he has been called back two months in advance before completing his three-year tenure. He enjoys popularity in Pakistan. He will be joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing until the assigned next assignment.
China and Pakistan are traditional friends, strategic partners, and a nation of shared destiny. Pakistan is the largest supporter of Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI), launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013. Pakistan is a host of one of the Six-Planned Corridors, “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor” (CPEC). The CPEC is a flagship initiative and in the most advanced stage of its execution among all other Corridors. Pakistan is the largest beneficiary of BRI, in the form of CPEC.
The early harvest projects, or generally known as phase I, have been completed or going to be completed soon. Most of the projects were in Power Sector and Infrastructure development. Pakistan has almost over-came the shortage of electricity, and a vast network of Motorways and Highways has been established the width and length of Pakistan. The Railway network is being ug-graded soon.
CPEC is to enter into phase II, where the focus will be Agriculture, Industrialization, Services Sector, etc. It will enhance Economic activities and eradicate poverty. This phase will be crucial for Pakistan, as the country is passing through the worst economic crisis. Both governments have been in close consultations to make the second phase more fruitful.
The designated Ambassador is a political appointee and expert of Trade and Commerce; he might be the right choice for Pakistan to take-off CPEC phase II. Keeping his track-record of success and achievements in Guangxi province, it is believed he will contribute toward CPEC a lot. China and Pakistan both nations are committed to turning CPEC as a “role model” of BRI for the rest of the world to be followed. Designated Ambassador has the requisite and relevant expertise.
Although, previously, several Chinese Ambassadors were career diplomats and have been served in the diplomatic assignments in several countries before their appointment as Ambassador to Pakistan. The Appointment of Mr. Nong Rong is out of routine and expected to perform extraordinarily. However, he is not the only political or non-career diplomat appointee. General Geng Biao was also a political appointee as the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan in the 1950s, and he also performed extraordinarily. He was known as the Chief Architect of China-Pakistan relations.
Based on Mr. Nong Rong’s profile and success stories & achievements, high expectations are circulating even before his arrival.
Doubt candy: How to sell inconsistency
“Ah, it is easy to deceive me! I long to be deceived myself!” — thus famously ends one of Alexander Pushkin’s poems entitled “Confession”. A lot is being said today about the negative consequences of forced positivity as well as the effect that the excessive advertising has on our psychological well-being. Gender studies specialists point to the disruptive influence of unrealistic expectations of both women and men perpetuated by the media and society at large. For some reason though, foreign policy research, along with the scholarly work on public diplomacy — a field more readily associated with public outreach — rarely find themselves integrating findings from psychology; social, group subdiscipline of the latter all the less so.
Truth be told, the explanation seems to be obvious. Foreign policy making remains an exclusive, if not elitist, and not necessarily very transparent domain. On top of that, we still primarily associate it with the classic European tradition of diplomacy, wherein the grandmasters such as Metternich, Talleyrand, Richelieu and Bismarck almost single-handedly formulate and execute the chess game moves allegedly beneficial to their respective states. This hardly comes as a surprise: one of if not inherent then certainly currently observed features of democracies is the abundance of apolitical, uninformed or ill-informed citizens whose political activity or lack thereof directly impact the nature of the government. Given the high stakes involved in what is known as the high politics, providing for a separate set of procedures appears justifiable on both rational and irrational grounds: after all, the very essence of the social contract lies with the state ensuring security of its subjects.
Let us now take a closer look at the concept of consistency. We rightfully expect the politician of our choice to deliver on the promises made during the campaign. Or else, we like his or her personality to the point where our emotional predisposition makes us likely to consider this person’s failures as non-critical for re-election. One can think of a number of cognitive biases helpful in explaining this deviation from presumed (now we know: bounded) rationality; to name just two, subjective validation and halo effect are at play. But then, whenever this figure crosses the threshold of our approval, and this often comes in the form of not fulfilling some of the points we prioritized when casting our votes or even ruining our pre-existing image of oneself completely, he or she may well give up on a career of a politician.
Whether this pattern brings us closer to living in a more prosperous country might not be the question that is normally asked; however, neither is denying globalization of humanity’s challenges an option to consider. What is more, an act of taking a person off the political scene and refusing him or her the professional and otherwise future because of a stain on the reputation is frequently driven by the accusers’ own fears or self-interest. It is yet to be explicitly stated, with all the grassroots talk of mental health, what Monica Lewinsky and many others like her really did suffer for. Antonio Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony can be further generalized to account for the desire to preserve a given state of affairs by attaching moral evaluations to one’s behavior; without being trained in psychology, it is still easy to acknowledge that guilt tripping is a powerful manipulative technique. Another supporting line of thought was developed by Carol Gilligan, an American psychologist who criticized Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development as biased against women. She found that only white men and boys participated in his experiments and also that Kohlberg clearly saw the consideration of individual rights and rules as more important compared to the consideration of care in human relationships. Further research revealed that in competitive contexts, despite men being prone to reason from a justice rather than ethic-of-care perspective, they demonstrate lower moral standards than do women. This observation might be of an utmost significance to those engaged in social and political theorizing; what is left out of the picture is more telling than what serves to confirm a theory. Theories have the property of affecting us deeply since our mind is programmed to adopt shortcuts to navigate in a demanding environment; all the worse is the impact of those of them that gain broad recognition in spite of, or owing to the biases they are built on.
To add fuel to the fire, premature disappointment with a public figure is hardly a smart measure in the pursuit of one’s political aspirations. The person in question might be a real fighter and a quick learner, yet in no social interaction, and especially not within the complex interrelated governmental systems can one act in complete independence. Before blaming the culture of instant gratification for this tendency in people’s behavior — although undoubtedly invigorated by the former — let us refer to the collection of cognitive biases once again. Here we find the fundamental attribution error, categorized as one of the common distortions emanating from the need to act fast. Humans are inclined to assume that what people do reflects who they are; except when judging ourselves, we assign a greater importance to the external factors.
Every peculiarity of the thinking process had at some point its adaptive value, otherwise it would not have developed. The modern civilization, while taking enormous pride in the achievements of the rational mind, is no better prepared for a drastic revision of its founding principles, however outdated they might be, than any of its precursors. At the heart of liberalism lies the conviction that human beings are selfish by nature whereas proponents of anarchism assert that people are born equal; they bear neither merit nor guilt for their innate differences and are capable of interacting harmoniously without setting up a hierarchy. As the British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman observes, people today are fearful of public gatherings and joint decision-making; anarchic society, on the contrary, demands that the individual be active, open to dialogue and uninterested in handing over to the state or any superior group of people responsibility for managing one’s own life. What stands behind our willingness to be dependent on a state, is it not conformity or status quo bias? Have we not, in fact, had enough revolutions, or is it merely an ordinary ruling class rhetoric?
It is time to explore in greater detail just what exactly the above-mentioned rational and irrational justifications for singling out the foreign policy making are. The curtailed opportunities for popular control of and say in developing strategies and decisions applied in this public policy area is something often taken for granted or seen as historically inevitable. As Eric Alterman shows, the democratic deficit in the way the foreign policy of the US, a traditionally strong democracy, is being made is no recent phenomenon. He comes up with a proposal to set up a novel institution allowing for a more inclusive discussion, thereby tackling the root cause of the problematic situation — a tradition of institutional and, in particular, presidential secrecy in foreign affairs. This political reality precludes the enlightenment of the people, necessary for a healthy functioning of republic. Neither are the conditions for it created nor the incentives of the elites to proceed in that direction are formed.
The idea that a handful of specially trained people would do a better job of deciding on highly complicated issues than a larger group of non-specialists holds in most contexts. The content of the training and the organizational setup, however, are of crucial importance. Social institutions within which the reflective forms of information processing are encouraged effectively attenuate common biases. All too often, closed systems operating on rarely questioned principles — this is what many states’ foreign policy communities resemble — amplify cognitive biases by relying on shared misconceptions. When the price of making commitments is low; when there is no audience to judge one’s choices; when there is a high degree of certainty regarding one’s professional future, no motivation to think more flexibly and rigorously exists. Accountability pressures have to be introduced artificially. Additionally, experimental work indicates that the choice process taking place in the open and transparent settings is characterized by a reduced number of breakdowns in consistency on the part of decision-makers. Here is another reason to transform the conventional mechanisms of shaping the foreign policy — if only consistency is what we are striving for.
Coming back to the question of personal consistency in political leaders, let us now address the following question: since ensuring security is referred to as the most important function of the state and the competence unique to it, can a popular preference for the strong, confident and principled leaders be connected with the public understanding of security? A situation in which the people of the country vote for an authoritarian personality after having been through a period of tumultuous transition or war is well-known and can easily be described in psychological terms. Yet the right choice to make is frequently counterintuitive. In fact, if by consistency we mean sticking to the same set of values and beliefs all along as well as maintaining little to no gap between words and actions, then by putting it first, we basically deny a politician opportunity for personal growth. People would rather have it predictable than look out for someone who is capable of reassessing his or her past behavior, draw conclusions and change; someone whose approach is nuanced and adjustable. Both the US-led and the USSR-led camps during the Cold War rallied behind an unambiguous ideology and both, just as observed in the aforementioned studies on male morality in competitive contexts, committed horrible things while positioning themselves as firmly committed to the common good — only to preserve a holistic facade and come out a winner. The American approach towards proliferators of the weapons of mass destruction has the quality of placing every hostile to it authoritarian regime in the same box regardless of the motivations behind the pursuit of weapons — at the same time, treating proliferators friendly to the US much more leniently — and the following adoption of harsh measures with little attempt at negotiating. Possibly out of the experience of a highly consistent but criminal political regime, today’s Germany pays greater attention to specific circumstances of the proliferator and acts on the basis of the nature of the threat, if any, and the degree of urgency of prevention. On the other hand, its commercial interests prevailed on a number of controversial occasions in the past and it might be argued that the same is happening these days, too. These examples demonstrate just how typical is the connection between the exhibited and desired consistency and the quest for power. A psychological explanation for the proposed cases requires a reference to the need for closure, an urge to put an end to uncertainty, to find a clear answer to a disquieting question. In the words of Vladimir Bibikhin, a prominent Soviet-Russian philologist and philosopher, “..Unfortunately, nothing in humanity is as widespread, takes away as much energy and kills the mind as mercilessly as mending consciousness for fear of rupture. Supposedly in life there must be a “harmony” of consciousness. No, there should not, for this is death.”
Before moving on to the issue of application of marketing tools in public diplomacy, let me add another stroke to the psychological portrait of a person who chooses to outsource his or her security. Prospect theory, which was developed by Kanehman and Tversky in 1979, challenges the expected utility theory by positing, on the basis of empirical information, that people assess their gain and loss perspectives in an asymmetric manner. Not surprisingly, this approach is extensively applied to political decision-making, predominantly in matters relating to security. The statesmen trained to view the international arena as a realist-type environment of self-help and resenting certain historical occurrences are tempted to disregard the subjective well- being of the citizens they supposedly serve and work towards tilting the geopolitical balance. Their perception of a probability of success or failure in this endeavor has a decisive influence on whether an attempt to do so, and by what particular methods, will be undertaken. And so, because chances are — and as we learn from history, they are high — that the decision-makers under- or overestimate those probabilities, the nation is at great risk of suffering economic and otherwise hardship. Even if the venture turns out to be successful, availability bias — the tendency to overestimate the probability of events that come to mind easily — along with a long list of other cognitive distortions inevitably are here to plague every new cohort of politicians. Conversely, the population does not fancy any alternative institutional setup and regards conflicts as normalcy: people are either unaware of a larger socio-political context or live with implicit ideas of an established state of affairs, not recognizing that many of their private struggles result from a mode of societal functioning they take for granted. Yet beyond it there may lay a reality in which a discontinuation of outsourcing security brings about a more peaceful and prosperous world. Until then, we are destined to instinctively choose the leaders whose apparent resolve to prevail at all cost feels comforting and makes us believe that the entity meant to protect us will not disintegrate.
It may be objected that the role of the liberal norms in contemporary international community is such that hardly any state wholeheartedly believes and has a possibility to exercise Realpolitik. This statement does not stand up to criticism; to see that, it suffices to review the latest doctrines and policy proposals in the fields of security and defense issued by various states. The language being used and the total absence of references to any recent psychological discoveries that have the potential to alter our threat perceptions are indicative. The promise of nuclear disarmament enjoys little enthusiasm of possessor states. This traditional political actor has indeed lost much of its mandate in the last decades, but a number of states nevertheless pretend to be operating in an environment where the primary demands of their citizens are concentrated not around their own material and spiritual well-being but around an imaginary success of an imaginary community.
Political choice is optional, economic choices are inescapable. Marketing experts never tire to emphasize the importance of consistency in branding. A brand, just like a country, is both imagined and experienced. Companies seek to promote a clear picture of themselves, to become associated with certain values, to gain trust of potential customers. Money is a key resource people dispose of and exchange for what brings comfort and satisfaction. We choose from a great variety of options and quite naturally, every firm does its best to appeal to us and be preferred over others.
In doing so, it essentially cultivates its recognizable identity with a view to grab its share of customer attention and finance. Is market economy, especially when regulated loosely, not an example of a kind of self-help space similar to that pictured by the realist school of thought in international relations? Simon Anholt might regret having coined a term “nation brand”, but what happened to it is a timely reminder of how politics is about economic competition more than anything else.
The central problem is the same as outlined above: people’s interests, not necessarily expressed in economic terms but necessarily contradicting, are nowhere to be represented. As Naomi Klein brilliantly put it, “..Unlike strong brands, which are predictable and disciplined, democracy is messy and fractious, if not outright rebellious.” In other words, the task of self-presentation for a country is complicated by the fact that there is no such thing as an absolute consistency whereas dynamic objects evade clear-cut definitions. Governors are supposed to appreciate and act on the feedback from those affected by the measures they enact. When a country seeks to improve its image and feels pressed to present itself in a consistent manner, it is tempted to clamp down on some of the dissenting manifestations of itself, both domestic and external. However, this goal itself is questionable. Among Robert Jervis’ hypotheses on misperception there are some underlining human tendency to assume that others act in a more coordinated fashion than is the case. The foreign ministry is responsible for conveying the state’s official position, but it is only natural that the state institutions are incapable of keeping tabs on the moves of every agent associated with it. What makes this impossible should not be called the state’s weakness, for this term is misleading. Expanding state control will not only gain us a diminished discrepancy between what it claims to oversee and what it actually does, but will also come with all of the adverse effects of centralization. Instead, reinventing a state’s role would avert the need to correspond to an unlikely standard.
Psychological research does more than chronicle human cognitive imperfections. In actuality, it also uncovers the features of behavior that give hope for the positive change. It was shown that people dislike being instructed by infallible and overly smart leaders. Not only do you have to be an effective communicator — and this correlates with emotional intelligence stronger than it does with IQ — but you also have to, in order to gain public sympathy, be able to admit your shortcomings and thus give people a sense of being in the same boat rather than clearly standing out. An approach both human-oriented and strategic, said to be more congenial to women, wins over hearts and drives the business forward. If men are socialized to suppress their emotions to be able to concentrate on what is called the facts of life and fix the problems, we can now claim that this practice probably entails more negative repercussions than benefits. A caring, empathetic governing style is usually not welcome in the top political circles and especially not in those of the nation states aiming to project a coherent, uniform image. It is not the change per se that is a problem, but rather an adversarial mindset we are taught in our families and societies, often ageing and inherently conservative.
Man-made orders cannot but be flawed, if only because so are our ways of thinking. Order is created and maintained to ensure predictability and one’s freedom to be fulfilling one’s vision using captured resources over at least some period of time, always at the expense of somebody else’s freedom to do so. Hence, the question of whether inconsistency as a characteristic of an image projected outwards can induce desire to take possession of or grow closer to the given object, can be curiously rephrased. What kind of people and under what circumstances would find the lack of security, predictability and material wealth to be a positive, not a negative? This question makes me think of revolutionaries who are committed to an idea and brings to mind the unfortunate events of the Russian 20th century. Together with that, it reminds me of how high of a price in violence, stifled voices and, ultimately, underreported and unresolved problems is being paid in the name of the status quo. Knowing that social reality impacts immensely on the way we perceive and interpret things, one may well arrive at a thought that we have to learn to transition smoothly. Only then will a deep-entrenched association between the change and humiliation gradually retreat into the past, along with all the cognitive biases borne of fear of defeat and exclusion. And if today, triggering the erosion of this link still requires some risk, those who embark on this path regardless may draw some courage and inspiration from a proven fact — and prove it yet again — that people fall for honesty.
Exceptional Diplomacy: Counter-hegemony and Resistance in International Relations
Formally established in the summer of 2013, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) outlines its governing principles by stating that it is “a global non-profit organization that supports representatives of international football teams from nations, de-facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports-isolated territories.” Distinguishing itself from and operating outside of and beyond the oversight of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), CONIFA instead provides an ostensibly neutral and apolitical platform from which marginalized, oppressed, or endangered communities can interact with one another on the global stage while competing in what is arguably the world’s most popular sport. Unfortunately, this year’s CONIFA World Football Cup, originally scheduled to take place in Skopje, North Macedonia, was cancelled because of concerns related to the spread of the corona virus.
While at first glance it might be easy to diminish, if not outright dismiss, the relevance or significance of CONIFA and its project, upon further and deeper consideration what becomes clearer is how it and similar organizations and alliances can serve to challenge existing geopolitical and commercial hierarchies. By creating and participating in alternative and parallel spaces, these groups help to establish novel forms of counter-hegemonic power and resistance that can provide for unique, creative, and exceptional forms of diplomacy, trade, and cultural exchange.
A recent case that reveals the complex and complicated dynamics of modern statecraft is the successful outmaneuvering of the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) by the Taiwanese foreign ministry in its successful establishment of a representative office in Somaliland. Insofar as both Taiwan and Somaliland are considered un- or under-recognized states by the wider international community, their decision to establish representative offices is noteworthy. In a brief prepared for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Thomas J. Shattuck, Research Associate in the Asia Program and Managing Editor at FPRI, discusses the productive and disruptive potential of the economic and political alliance forged between Taiwan and Somaliland by arguing that “Taiwan can offer mutual respect—something that it fights for around the globe every day, something that is in short supply for Somaliland internationally, and something that Beijing cannot provide. Mutual respect between two unrecognized countries will foster stronger bonds than any economic package ever could. (emphasis added)”
By resisting and denying the overtures of the PRC in favor of pursuing a relationship with Taiwan, Somaliland has in effect successfully subverted China’s so-called aggressive “wolf-warrior diplomacy” and was able to reject the economic enticements associated with the Belt and Road Initiative which for many nations around the globe has ended in the accumulation of unsustainable levels of debt and dependency. For its part, Taiwan has shown that it has a continued and sustained interest in establishing its autonomy, if not explicit sovereignty and independence, in the face of relentless pressures placed on the island by the PRC.
In response to Taiwan’s recent success in Somaliland, Paul Antonopoulos asks the following question: “If Taiwan is creating a network of unrecognized and partially unrecognized states, especially as it already recognizes Kosovo, could Taipei in the near future approach the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (recognized as a part of Morocco), the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (recognized as a part of the Republic of Cyprus), South Ossetia and Abkhazia (recognized as a part of Georgia), the Republic of Artsakh (recognized as a part of Azerbaijan) and Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (recognized a part of Moldova)?” While the risks and challenges for Taiwan associated with conducting such an agenda are manifold, Antonopoulos’s speculation as to the potential efficacy of the pursuit of this type of policy is indeed suggestive as it gestures toward the idea of the establishment of a kind of counter-hegemonic power referenced above.
Above and beyond achieving the much sought after and deeply important status of international legitimacy or the demand for recognition of territorial, cultural, or linguistic rights afforded by existing conventions and protocols, other regional and political blocs advocate for policies relevant to mere survival. Recognizing the threats of global warming and the potential catastrophic effects of the melting of the polar ice caps, the Alliance of Small Island States pushes for more aggressive measures regarding ecological justice and other pressing environmental issues.The mission of the alliance is as follows: “AOSIS is a coalition of 44 small island and low-lying coastal developing states, including five observers. As a voice for the vulnerable, its mandate is more than amplifying marginalised voices as it also advocates for these countries’ interests. In terms of size, AOSIS closely resembles the countries it represents on the global stage, but often punches far above its weight, negotiating historic global commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, among other achievements.” Thus, in contemporary international relations, defined as they are typically by the demands and dictates of large states (both in terms of area and population), it is of crucial importance for alliances such as AOSIS to have a seat at the proverbial table in order to have their very necessary and urgent concerns addressed.
Of course, no discussion of marginalized people or vulnerable and at-risk populations is complete without mentioning the continuing struggle of the Palestinians for justice and international legitimacy. Obviously, a complete and total history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is impossible in the space of a brief essay; suffice it to say, however, that recent developments, including the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem and the Israel – United Arab Emirates peace agreement, can be read as actions that serve as barriers to what is hoped for in Gaza and the West Bank will be the eventual successful establishment of a universally recognized independent Palestinian state. And while the latest ceasefire understandings between Hamas and Israel are constructive, especially regarding the maintenance of peace and security as well as concerns over the spread of the corona virus, they are not necessarily indicative of a lasting and durable framework for the cessation of hostilities in the region.
Ultimately, in order to adequately and forcefully confront the neoliberal status quo now governing the international political order, new, perhaps even idiosyncratic, strategies are required. Among these are certainly the ability of a wide variety of actors, including unrecognized states, NGOs, and various blocs and alliances, to offer alternatives to and different perspectives on traditional modes of conflict resolution, resource allocation, and territorial disputes. And finally, in full recognition of the transcendence of sport, let us hope that very soon there will be a rescheduled CONIFA World Cup to lift our spirits after a supremely demanding 2020.
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