The Syriza-dominated government is a loner in the EU. However, not far away, there is Russia, a country that is ready to give an unconditional support to the fresh force in Athens. That makes this puzzle interesting: The new Greek government is a leftist and very secular one. The Russian Federation is a legal but not ideological successor of the late Soviet Union. So, what is the link missing here? Well, following lines could shade some light on the peculiarities of less visible, though ancient, links.
It was the African playwright, Wole Soyinka, who said that “what politics demonizes, culture humanizes”. In regions like the Middle East and South-Eastern Europe; which, with no doubt, have complicated sociopolitical particularities, politics are often overrun by cultural forces; and Religion always falls within the realm of culture. Since the dawn of human civilization, religion and politics are inextricably interwoven; with the religious leaders having often the last saying, due to the fact that they are holding an inter-temporal sociocultural power. Or, as prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic remarkably concludes on causalities in his ‘Quantum Buddhism’ manifesto: “reality must result from some elaborate interaction of consciousness with its environment”.
This is often so, especially in the Middle East, Euro-Mediterranean, South-Eastern Europe and of course in Greece – where religious politics were always playing a cardinal role in intra and inter-state affairs. A special case that deserves attention is the diplomatic role of the Greek Orthodox Church (GOC) as an interfaith mediator in the region through the course of history and in contemporary times.
Before getting to the merits, let me to clarify that when I refer to the GOC Christianity, I aim at the Greek Orthodoxy (GO) as a spiritual and cultural manifestation, which is channeled through Her various Institutions across Europe, the US, North Africa and the Middle East.
Among the most important and most influential of those institutions are the three Eastern Patriarchates (Jerusalem, Alexandria and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople) and the Monastic communities of Mount Athos, of St. Aikaterini in Sinai and of Jerusalem.
Those institutions have been highly influential throughout the centuries and shaped the face of today’s GO. They survived and upheld the Greek Orthodox traditions and values for centuries, in places seemingly alien or even hostile to religious pluralism. Despite all odds, and despite the ever shifting geo political circumstances, the GO managed to secure the respect and the acceptance of different faith traditions, and was therefore able to broker numerous political deals employing interfaith dialogue as a diplomatic tool.
The GOC was forced to develop and perfect interfaith dialogue as means of communication with Her friends and enemies. It was necessary for Her survival.
The skills and channels established through centuries remain useful until this day and can be used to shape and transform the political landscape in Middle East and Europe.
During my research, I came to the conclusion that the GO bares several characteristics of a successful international mediator. I identified five of those characteristics that I would like to share with you.
The first characteristic is legitimacy. Legitimacy is crucial for a mediator, because it helps him to be accepted as such by the conflicting parties. The GOC derives Her legitimacy from her familiarity with the respective cultures and from her knowledge of the political and social dynamics of the countries where she resides. Let me explain.
Every political negotiation is necessarily a cultural event, and as such it always bears the self-evident, commonsense perceptions that people have about their world and about themselves. Therefore a conflict situation or a negotiation is driven and defined by the by sociocultural identities; which, those who participate in the conflict or a negation, construct. The Understanding of how these identities are formed is essential for conducting a conflict transformation process.
The GOC has a broad understanding of the national and regional history and culture and more importantly of the negotiating language of the respective societies. This is only possible because the GO is in an underlying relationship with the different faith traditions and sociocultural identities, especially due to Her longstanding, respectful and discrete presence in the societies in which She is imbedded. Hence, She is considered as a legitimate intermediary, when she acts within the realm of interfaith diplomacy.
The element of legitimacy consequently, functions as the source of trust building, which is another essential feature of the GOC as an interfaith mediator. Without trust the GOC could never be accepted by the conflicting parties as mediator, and trust is not established over months, it needs centuries to grow and manifest. Trust is the key to the GOC diplomatic power.
Furthermore the GOC presents itself and is perceived as neutral and impartial; that is because the Orthodoxy’s survival largely depended and depends in the maintenance of a certain status quo; hence, the GCO has developed as a neutral observer and impartial interlocutor.
Another aspect of the diplomatic power of the GOC is Her ability to advance the political standing of others (a good example for that is the use of Athonite Monks in the last election campaign of V. Putin, who utilized them, in order to appeal to the religious and ethno-nationalistic sentiment of the voters.)
Furthermore the GO also possesses a wide network of contacts: mainly through the Diaspora and the respected Metropolises. That is why She can easily serve as a “back channel” for state officials, especially when the political relations are burdened with problems.
In order to understand the GOC’s role as an interfaith mediator, I believe it is necessary to see the history of the GOC’s engagement in interfaith diplomacy. There are many countries in which the GOC played an influencing mediating role. I would like to illustrate some of the most prominent examples.
In recent modern history the GOC played an essential role during the Cold War. To begin with, She was promoted by the Western states as a cultural and spiritual counterweight to the Soviet Union and the Russian Orthodoxy. Indicative of the GO’s influential position, is the fact that after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Orthodox post-Soviet states chose to submit to the spiritual leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople; not the Patriarchate of Moscow. It was important, for those states and for their western interlocutors, that they cut the cord from the ROC and the Soviet politics.
The GOC was an actor of diplomacy that could achieve both pulling those nations towards Europe, and keeping the ROC from moves that could further regional tensions. That was in particular the case, because the GOC had close ties and positive history of cooperation with the Churches of Western Christianity (let s not forget that the GOC was founding member of the World Church Council and passionate advocate of the Ecumenical Movement); while, Mount Athos, on the other hand, had good communication channels with the Russian Religious and political leadership.
These same properties of GO interfaith diplomacy have the potential of playing a positive role towards the stabilization of the current overwrought diplomatic relations between Russia, Ukraine, EU and US.
Another example of GO interfaith diplomacy is Egypt. The monastic community of St. Aikaterini in Sinai, along with the Patriarchate of Alexandria, has been playing for centuries the role of mediator in intra-state conflicts between the Muslim and Coptic communities. That is because GO is considered as legitimate and trusted facilitator, due to the fact that the Egyptian people recognize the GO as part of their history and culture. For example, during periods of peace, the Greek community in Egypt was fasting along with the Muslims during Ramadan. At the same time, Mount Sinai is protected in times of turmoil by local nomads. The mediating legitimacy of the GOC remains strong in Egypt; even after the recent revolution and the continuous changes of regimes.
One of the biggest bearers of the GO interfaith diplomacy potential in the Middle East is the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Patriarchate has upheld the Greek Orthodox character for over 1700 years. It is one of the most accepted mediators in the Jew-Arab conflicts, not only because it bears moral legitimacy and neutrality; But because it is one of the biggest owners of land across Jerusalem. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians prefer the Patriarchate to own the land, than to fight over it between each other, allowing it to be an equalizing power in the region.
Besides any material leverage, it is of crucial importance to illustrate further reasons why the GO is considered as a legitimate, credible and impartial interfaith mediator in the Middle East in general. First, the GO has a positive place in the collective unconscious of the people in the Middle East, regardless of faith; because the GOC never participated in Crusades and because the Greek state was never a colonial power.
Furthermore, the Arab-Muslim world views the GO as part of their glorious Golden Age; She participated in and witnessed the development of the Arabic culture, especially through the preservation and advancement of the ancient Greek philosophy and science. As a matter of fact, the majority of the Church reconstruction works across Middle East and North Africa are largely funded by Arab Royal Families. And interestingly enough, in the beginning of the Greek financial crisis, the first move of the GOC was to travel in Qatar and negotiate Arab investments to the ravaged Greek economy. This shows how deep the understanding and mutual respect between the two cultures and faith traditions is and how good of a political network the GOC has in the Muslim world.
The Jewish people on the other hand have always been in a positive and productive cultural dialogue with the Greek civilization throughout centuries. Moreover, even when the global public opinion towards Israel was not favorable, the Greek state’s diplomatic approach towards the Jewish state never changed; thus, creating a sense of trust between Israel and the GO.
Last but not least, I would like to make a special reference to the case of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and its role in the relations between Turkey, Europe and Greece. One would expect the Patriarchate to act as a major facilitator of communications between the Turks and the Greeks, for the purposes of constructive conflict management and reconciliation of the peoples; however, historically the Patriarchate has demonstrated neutrality and a position of passive observation!
Nonetheless, thanks to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the great diplomatic cooperation that had developed with the Turkish government throughout centuries, Turkey permitted the reopening of several GO monasteries in her territory. This facilitates the proliferation of GO pilgrims that besides the boosting of local Turkish economies, also contributes to the interaction with the local populations and enables the building cultural bridges and hopefully an even greater understanding of the two nations.
Moreover, the Ecumenical Patriarchate acts consistently as Diplomatic organ of the Turkish Foreign Policy. For instance, it is the main religious mediator in Brussels promoting the European future of Turkey; also, having in mind as well, the advancement of its own legal status within the EU. In conclusio it is legitimate to say that the Ec. Patriarchate promotes a positive view of Turkey and the Islam in Europe.
As illustrated throughout all the references of interreligious activities of the GO, it appears that there is huge potential of the GO in international diplomatic affairs. Unfortunately the Greek state is not being consistent regarding the strategic approach towards the GO outside its borders. That is because there were always more urgent political issues to devote her political attention. It is, however, shortsighted, as the GO, through her interfaith and interstate diplomatic network, can give Greece a strategic advantage in international diplomacy. It would be wise for the present and the upcoming governments to finally develop a consistent- long term policy regarding the GO, that it is not conceptualized only for the next years but at least the next decades to come.
*This text is based on a speech given at the conference organized by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF), on the occasion of the World Interfaith Harmony Week, 06 February 2015, UN Vienna, Austria.
Pakistan and India: Changing Minds, Winning Peace
With the emergence of world as a global village, relations between two nations getting more popularity as compared to relations among respective governments. Governments always attempt to communicate with foreign public to export their ideas, its institutions and culture, as well as national goals and current policies. Public diplomacy can be defined as the efforts of one nation to influence public or elites of the next nation for using foreign policy to achieve its targets and cherished goals. Pakistan and India as two rival nuclear powers in south Asia have fought many battles because of their conflicting regional interests and still both states are on the edge of a new war. This leaves public diplomacy as the only option to normalize the situation.
Many efforts have been made in nineties during the democratic government in Pakistan which can offer a wide canvas for interaction such as South Asian Dialogue, Pakistan Peace Coalition and Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy. More recently two media groups one from each country has started a media campaign Aman ki Asha to promote sector-wise cooperation and engagement on both sides and provide a human touch to serious matters of war and conflict.
This campaign has organised several events bringing people of two countries to a common forum including women empowerment, poverty alleviation and basic human rights. Every year many Sikh’s Visit Pakistan to pray their Holy Places and Pakistani people always welcome them and show hospitality. Many civil society organizations and NGO’s are working to promote peace and harmony between Pakistan and India which include South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA),Pakistan Green Circle Organization (GCO),ISSP etc. Both countries also paying much attention in education sector as well.
In present time, the tension is decreased because of human rights, civil society , artists , scholars role which brought two countries closer to each other and is also providing new ways for a peaceful and democratic relations. Both countries also relaxed their citizens for visas making it more comfortable. Not only this, both countries are also paying attention for releasing prisoners from jail.
We found our many artist like Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is working for Indian industry. Rahat Fateh considered as a success symbol for films in India. So media can bring the people of two nations closer to each other and create harmony between both nations.
Every year, Aaghaz-e-Dosti launches an Indo-Pak Peace Calendar which includes paintings from students of both countries. This calendar exists of shared dreams of peace and friendship. It is a reflection of shared dreams and hopes from both sides for a better tomorrow. In addition to these efforts, there has been a rise in trade between both countries. This multi-layered diplomacy has ensured that during the time of tension, links between both sides were not totally broken
Lastly cricket diplomacy has played and still can play a pivotal role in bringing both nations together beyond anyone’s imagination.
Public diplomacy in its real sense can bring these two rival countries closer to each other as it enables a country to reach out to a large audience in the other country, whether through social media or books or events for a greater good. It can lead us towards social and economic development in which both the countries lag behind from the rest of the world.
UK Public Diplomacy: Soft Power games in South Asia
Public diplomacy refers to the ability of a country to attract foreign states through image building rather than using old coercive and stiff methods to forcefully get the things done in one’s own way. One may say that public diplomacy is a public face of traditional diplomacy. In this diplomacy neither a relationship that a state has with other state can be neglected nor the role of public in the government’s policies. States use various ways to stand tall on international forum thus no state ever wants to do anything against their international reputation. This reputation is achieved through huge efforts and then requires consistency to maintain it. Britain with no denying fact is among those states who have been prominent in international society since centuries. It already has a better and strong image in the eyes of world as for as its public diplomacy is concerned. All it needs to do is to maintain this very image by sticking to its various soft power approaches.
In today’s global politics Britain seems much interested on enhancing its soft power image throughout the world. As we know that Public diplomacy of a state is highly linked with state’s foreign policy as well. The steps adopted by Britain in achieving its foreign policy goals through soft power include exchange programs for students and scholars, visitors programs, cultural events and exchanges, language training, radio and television broadcasting etc. Generally, Britain has been carrying out these practices all around the globe for quite sometimes however in South Asia, she has done a lot in recent years. In Bangladesh in 2013, for example, the English in Action project (funded by the UK’s Department for International Development) promoted the learning of English ‘as a route into work and out of poverty’. In Pakistan, British Council has been working in the areas of Arts, Education, English and Youth Engagement in all four provinces as well as in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. For instance Abaseen Foundation is a UK’s 3-year project with UK Aid directly focused on improving maternal health and reducing child mortality through developing health service delivery for a poor and marginalized community in North West Pakistan. Moreover, UK-India Education & Research Initiative i.e. UKIERI is a multi-stakeholder partnership program funded by both Indian and the UK Governments to support educational programs, develop professional capacities and facilitate policy dialogues on areas of mutual interest. Whereas Sri Lanka has the largest British Council Library membership.
In similar manners Nation branding is another technique used by the Great Britain to cash their better reputation. This not only provides an opportunity for states to interact on international platform but also mitigates cultural barriers among their citizens. Brands such as Burberry London, Dove and Sunsilk are acting as sensor that opens diplomatic door for Britain in various states. Actress and Model Humaima Malick is the brand ambassador for Sunsilk in Pakistan, whereas Sunsilk’s brand ambassador for India is currently Alia Bhut. The overall nation branding of Britain is famous owing to six factors i.e. Tourism, Culture, People, Immigration-Investment, Exports and Governance. According to one of the British Council’s report the UK ranked 3rd out of 50 nations for Tourism and 5th for Culture.
Furthermore, British government entities related to public diplomacy are well active in South Asia, for instance British Council and FCO (Foreign and common wealth office). BBC on the other hand is also playing its key role to inculcate right image of United Kingdom in the region.BBC Urdu not only provides its Pakistani viewers with right information of Pakistan in Britain but also shares unbiased analysis on Pakistan’s current domestic as well regional issues. Similarly BBC Hindi has also been so vociferous for the rights of Indian immigrants in United Kingdom and finally gained trust in public masses. Hence these public diplomacy techniques served as binding force between the UK and the region.
To cut the long story short, Britain seems much focused to safeguard its national interests. Its foreign policy is proving as stepping stone for its national interest whereas public diplomacy is acting as lubricant to it. By doing so it is successfully promoting its culture, tradition, products etc. in the world generally and in South Asia specifically. Since decolonization from subcontinent, The United Kingdom has always tried diplomatic ways to build friendly relationship with south Asian countries. Public diplomacy though is considered new in the racks of overall diplomacy yet UK has successfully used it to promote its culture and to keep influence in this region.
Italian Culture: An asset for country’s public diplomacy
Public Diplomacy is important for long term relationship and to create a positive image of a country. Italy, a European country with a long Mediterranean coastline, has left an effective mark on Western culture. Its capital, Rome, is home to the Vatican and also point of interest for ancient remains. Over the span of 3,000 years, Italian history has been set apart by series of temporary unification and long detachment, of intercommunal friction and failed empires. At peace for more than half a century now, Italy’s inhabitants enjoy a high standard of living and a highly developed culture.
One example of Italian Public diplomacy is the exhibition of “Italian Style dressing body and daylife”, which was organized in Doha (Qatar) by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, which opened on 12th November, 2007. That day, the Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano, inaugurated an event about Leonardo, composed by the Ministry of External Commerce. Napolitano presented the Emir’s wife, Moza bint Nasser al Missned, with a Bulgari handbag (a popular Italian brand) as National brands are helpful for attracting people’s attention towards a country and showing its quality.
The Year of Italian Culture in the United States was a phenomenal act of Public diplomacy. The fellow Italians in the United States, among them 26 million Italian Americans – companies, and institutions that worked hardly day and night to promote the “Italian brand” and even the press, which gave many positive articles to the initiative that felt the strong urge to rediscover the charm of Italy’s past, to uncover the best of its present, and to feature the examples of how it is progressing towards the future. This has done to open new doors for the citizens of both countries. It’s about over 200 events in more than 200 U.S. cities. The main objective of this campaign is to bring the best of the most important country (Italy) which they have to depict through its culture, traditions and the elegance of its ‘Made in Italy’. “Italy inspires U.S.” is the slogan that has been chosen to best enfold the meaning of the Year of Italian Culture in the U.S. what they want to express is that Italy is not just a country, it is a lifestyle.
On December 12, 2012, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Italians inaugurated the exhibition of the popular David Apollo by Michelangelo. On this date, a huge number of visitors, observers and enthusiasts were all ready enjoy their ‘piece of Italy’ i.e. paintings, sculptures, present and past achievements, music and theater. Above all, the Year brought new partnerships between public and private world of two nations: among them, a cooperation agreement between NASA and the Italian Space Agency and in addition various new agreements between museums and cultural institutions, companies, local agencies and universities were made.
The Italian government should organize some more events and undertake nation promoting projects including its territorial and regional brands, with a basic aim of giving guidelines for Italy’s external cultural relations, through the promotion of their single regions and also national language and culture.
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