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Church Diplomacy: Greece, Russia and Beyond

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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.

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High expectations from the newly designated Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan

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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.

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Doubt candy: How to sell inconsistency

Madina Plieva

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“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.

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Exceptional Diplomacy: Counter-hegemony and Resistance in International Relations

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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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