Posts Tagged ‘Norway’

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Fridtjof Nansen and the Birth of Celebrity Diplomacy

August 7, 2013

One of the basic problems in the way that we make sense of the world is that we look at the present and the past through different lenses.  We see the present through the news or twitter so it appears to be rapidly changing and complex we see the past through the lens of limited reading and often through extreme theoretical simplifications that we picked up in higher education. If you studied international relations the Westphalian system or the ‘nation-state’ is normally taken for a description of the past rather than an idealization.  The problem is that we tend the juxtapose the simplification with our experience of the present and assume that the difference between past and present reflects real differences not a difference in our viewpoint.  As a result we overstate the degree of discontinuity.

I was really struck by this  during a recent visit to Norway when I visited the museum in Oslo that houses the Fram, this was the ship used by Fritdjof Nansen (1861-1930) and Roald Amundsen in their polar expeditions at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.  I was particularly intrigued by Nansen as an exemplar of celebrity diplomacy rather than being a product of Live Aid and the internet the polar explorer was outdoing Bono a century earlier.

Fridtjof_Nansen_LOC_03377u

As a skiing champion and a pioneer of scientific study of the Artic Nansen was able to attract the support he needed to mount his own polar expeditions.  In turn his crossing of Greenland in 1888 and his attempt to reach the North Pole in 1893-96 made him an international celebrity – a status that was cemented by best-selling books and international promotional tours.  Nansen was also a staunch advocate of Norwegian independence from Sweden and his standing in scientific as well as popular culture networks helped to build the identity and reputation of Norway.  Thus with the approach of independence in 1905 Nansen was pressed into service to persuade Prince Charles of Denmark to accept the Norwegian throne and then he was dispatched as ambassador to London where he oversaw the conclusion of a treaty to guarantee Norwegian independence.  During the First World War he was called back into diplomatic service to secure food supplies for Norway in the face of the British blockade.  An advocate of the League of Nations he was a pioneering figure in humanitarian aid for refugees.

The point is that the literature on ‘super-empowered individuals’ or celebrity diplomacy  treats this as a new development whereas Nansen was able to use build his own celebrity using the social and media networks of the late 19th century in a way that was useful to the Norwegian proto-state.

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Did Globalization Kill Cultural Diplomacy?

February 25, 2013

I’m working my way through some of the French literature on public diplomacy/cultural relations and I recently came across this rather striking statement by Dominique Trimbur:

Le movement present de mondialisation signe sans doute la fin d’un âge de le diplomatie culturelle. Les relations culturelles sont désormais plus médiatisées par la marché que par les États (Trimbur 2002: 17)

Or to put it another way in a globalized world national cultural projection no longer has the same role to play. If we can download every genre of global music or performance from Youtube what is the role of the state?

I think Trimbur is right to make the connection between globalization and the development of external communication programmes but I think that the relationship between market and state is more complicated.

Firstly,  the history of public diplomacy in all its varieties is intimately tied to the history of globalization. . The mid 19th communications revolution of the steamship, railway, telegraph and mass circulation newspaper made it feasible for states to engage with foreign publics. The same developments also drove a wave of popular nationalism. Thus nation-states were able to project themselves to foreign publics just as nationalism gave them something to talk about.

Secondly, much public diplomacy has been about the facilitation of globalization – particularly if we think of globalization as simply meaning increasing international connectedness. Language teaching facilitates further connection (‘if you speak French you buy French’), educational links build connections, getting your country’s books into a market helps to build interest and relations. Historically, there is evidence that for some countries at some points in time cultural relations interventions forged the connections necessary for commercial networks to take up the connections – for instance in the case of the State Department’s support for jazz and popular music (Von Eschen, 2004: 249). In his study of Norwegian cultural policy Per Mangset makes the point that for some artists participation in commercially sponsored foreign activities was preferable to operating through state sponsored networks which could undermine credibility and career (Mangset 1997). This growth of commercial networks supports Trimbur’s point.

But to make things more complicated the relationship between state and culture has evolved. I think that it is true to say that in many countries the development of an external cultural policy preceded a comprehensive domestic cultural policy; for instance the French Ministry of Culture only came into being in 1959. The growth in scope of domestically oriented cultural policy affects the way that culture fits into the international policy picture. In particular states have tended to promote cultural and creative industries and their internationalization as a good in their own right. International connections become a means of evaluating the quality of cultural activities so the connection becomes an aim in its own right. For instance in the university sector internationalization shows up in the way that league tables are compiled. International research links, students, staff become valuable in their own right.

The irony is that this creates a kind of double market failure. The international market for culture provides certain types of goods that can be commercially supported. On the other hand while international collaboration has been a part of the new comprehensive cultural policies it has been undertaken to support the development of the cultural sector rather than in the service of foreign policies. Even when Mangset undertook his study in the mid 1990s he could point to the development of three parallel sets of international networks in the cultural field; a commercial one, one run through the foreign ministry and its agencies and a third rooted in domestic policy priorities.

There are still plenty of places where markets or domestic cultural policy is not going to build connections and that remains the sphere where cultural diplomacy and its intermediate agencies retain their roles.

Von Eschen, P.M. (2006) Satchmo blows up the world jazz ambassadors play the Cold War. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Mangset, P. (1997) ‘Cultural divisions in international cultural co‐operation’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 4: 85–106.

Trimbur, D. (2002) ‘Introduction’, pp. 15–23 in A. Dubosclard et al. (eds) Entre Rayonnement et Réciprocité: Contributions à l’Histoire de la Diplomatie Culturelle, Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne.

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Black Metal and the Norwegian Brand

June 11, 2011

Via William Gibson’s twitter feed to Wired Magazine to Views and News From Norway we learn that Norwegian diplomats are going to be trained in ‘true Norwegian black metal’ a particularly virulent misanthropic, anti-christian genre of heavy metal that has been associated with church burnings and murder because they keep getting asked about it. ..

Aspiring foreign policy professionals themselves are reportedly keen on the move. Silje Bryne, who will work in the Norwegian mission in Paris next year, told Dagens Næringsliv that she feels she “will have a very big use for this” in the future. “I see the value in not just talking about Ibsen and fjords when one talks about Norway, but also about the export product that is black metal.” Bryne added that having “such a strong brand that means that we stand out among the Nordic countries is worth its weight in gold, it’s black gold.”

Possibly related: Norway went up nine places in the Country Brands Index last year

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Selling Missile Defence in Norway: The Limits of Diplomacy

May 5, 2011

I’m in a bit of rush this morning so here’s another cable from the Aftenposten files.

This is a cable from the Oslo Embassy from March 2007.  At this point the Bush Administration is trying to get NATO members to buy into its plans for ballistic missile defence in Europe over Russian objections.  The cable details the efforts of the embassy to build support for the US position and why they aren’t going to achieve anything.

There are couple of things here that go to recurring themes in this blog.  Firstly, the limits on the impact of public diplomacy provided by the politics of other countries.   The key political actors in Norway have their own reasons for not engaging with the issues not least the fact that opposition to missile defence is written into the coalition agreement that created the government.  Secondly, the blurring of the distinction between diplomacy and public diplomacy – the embassy has reached out to senior government officials, parliamentarians, civil servants, think tanks and journalists and written op ed pieces.  This is just what has to be done in dealing with democratic countries.

An additional theme running through the message is the way that the efforts to promote missile defence have created an opportunity for Russia to try and undermine alliance through its own diplomatic efforts which in turn creates the requirement for the US embassy to do more to counter this.