Public Diplomacy and Global Communication 2014b

Author Archive

Putin’s weapon

Despite economic sanctions and an increasing isolation from the world due to its involvement in Ukraine, the Kremlin maintains strong control over Russia and the popular opinion. The opposition is shut down, sometimes subtly through various laws and investigations (Dougherty, 2015), or in a more obvious and bloody way, as with the assassination of well-known Putin critic Boris Nemtsov last February, within walking distance of the Red Square. The current situation is becoming more and more reminiscent of the Soviet era: state-controlled media, political assassinations, a personality cult around the leader, a very tense stand-off with the United States and an involvement in a sort of proxy war against Western influence and NATO.

Nonetheless, there are some differences that go along with our modern world and make this modern Russia different from the USSR. In the words of Svetlana Mironyuk, ex-editor of a liberal news agency, “in the Soviet Union, […] at least there were rules. Now in Russia, there are no rules. You never know where you step and what can happen and what, yesterday, was not a mistake or breaking the rules, it can be tomorrow” (Dougherty, 2015). Svetlana Mironyuk was fired in December 2013 and her agency was shut down outright, “then reorganized as part of a new agency headed by a Kremlin-friendly broadcaster known for his high-voltage on-air presence and frequent rants against the West”. This is just one instance of a direct order from the Kremlin preventing a fair coverage of the news. Undoubtedly, Russia has been presented in a negative light in the Western media since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000. However, this can never justify censorship and intimidation in the journalistic world. People in Russia should at least have access to different points of view within their own country.

This is what Putin himself told reporters at a news conference in 2013: “There should be patriotically minded people at the head of state information resources, people who uphold the interests of the Russian Federation. These are state resources. That is the way it is going to be” (Dougherty, 2015). This is about state media, but sadly Putin has also put privately owned broadcast media under his influence (Dougherty, 2015). Putin has different strategies at home than abroad. In Russia, he is shamelessly dominating the media with subtle, and not so subtle methods. The Russian government tends to flood the internet with pro-state messages. Recently “professional trolls” have revealed a lot about their work in Russia. They work 12 hour days, and get paid 40,000 rubles per month (£522) under very strict control from their bosses (Volchek and Sindelar, 2015). They form fake teams of two good guys and one “villain”. They go on various forums and the villain post negative things about the government while the other trolls defend and praise Putin. They do this all day long, writing thousands of comments to influence Russians’ opinions, for them to always see Putin in a positive light. This is a blatant example of how Putin manipulates the Internet and social media for his own benefit.

According to NATO’s top commander General Philip Breedlove, “Russia is waging “the most amazing information warfare blitzkrieg we have ever seen in the history of information warfare” (Pomerantsev, 2014). Indeed, Russia is boosting patriotism by fabricating stories, hiring Internet trolls to praise the Kremlin, and it also has an international presence. With the RT (Russia Today) news agency, Putin tries to counter what he sees as the prevailing Western media. He does have a point, the Western media has been dominating for years in news coverage. However, RT is so unashamedly biased and pro-Kremlin that it would be ridiculous to think of it as a credible alternative for news. Putin is playing a game, by enforcing conformity of news at home (the truth comes from the state), and criticizing that same conformity abroad, with what he sees as the mainstream media. By placing Russia as a victim of negative and unfair coverage, he actually uses old American Cold War strategies of manipulation of public opinion (Hooper, 2015). He is attempting to portray a U.S. spin on the news, when he is doing the same thing at home. “To the international audience, the Kremlin advertises pro-Russian coverage as an “alternative point of view” that any truly “free” press should acknowledge” (Hooper, 2015). At least Putin is lucky that no one can really shut down his media empire… It must be acknowledged that RT has found success in criticizing the American establishment, and that is in no way a bad thing. In fact it is necessary. However, it is hard to see RT as a valuable source of news when we know that it is operated by and takes orders from the Kremlin. It is an interesting example of modern state diplomacy and propaganda, but not an unbiased source of news.

This a Cold War for the 21st century and with its growing control of information, so far Vladimir Putin may be winning it.


Crowley, C. “Tit-for-tat: Putin’s Maddening Propaganda Trick”. Time, 1 May 2014. Available at:

Dougherty, J. “How the Media Became One of Putin’s Most Powerful Weapons” The Atlantic, 21 April 2015. Available at:

Hooper, C. “Putin’s ‘Fair and Balanced’ Propaganda Coup” Newsweek, 3 April 2015. Available at:

Pomerantsev, P. “How Russia is Revolutionizing Information Warfare” Defense One, 9 September 2014. Available at:

Volcheck, D. and Sindelar, D. “One Professional Russian Troll Tells All”. Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. 23 April 2015. Available at:

Netanyahu’s misjudged call

Benjamin Netanyahu

In recent months Paris and Copenhagen have seen lethal attacks against Jews by young Islamist terrorists. These attacks have caused strong reactions in Europe and an interesting one in Jerusalem.

Following the events in Denmark, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly encouraged European Jews to emigrate to Israel, “the home of every Jew.” He proceeded by presenting his Cabinet with a $50 million plan to accommodate “mass immigration.” “Israel is waiting for you with open arms,” he concluded (Keinon, and Booth et al, 2015).

There could be different reasons behind this ambitious statement, with the election taking place next month in Israel coming to mind. But no matter what Netanyahu’s intentions are, this plan does not make sense and has been criticised by the actual target of the Prime Minister, the European Jews (Bendavid, 2015).

First of all, it is foolish to think that Jews would be safer in Israel than in Europe. There have been some striking but isolated incidents in Europe where Jews where the victims, but this pales in comparison to the 1,000 or so Israeli dead as recently as 2000-2004 (Burke, 2014). This is to say that moving from an objectively stable and peaceful region (Western Europe) to a conflict zone (Israel and surrounding areas) in no way guarantees more safety for the Jews that would migrate. Netanyahu might be trying to revive some new Zionist passion, in touch with his more conservative orthodox allies, who see the Jewish state as redemption for the innocent Jewish victims. He may also assume that it would be easier to annex occupied territories and build settlements if millions of European settlers suddenly move to Israel in mass…

For the Jews of Europe to desperately need to emigrate, their situation would have to be critical. It is not the case by any shot. According to a recent poll, almost 90 percent of people in France, 82 percent of Germans and 72 percent of Spaniards say they have a favorable opinion of Jews (Sahgal et al, 2015) Other polls in Britain show that attitudes toward Jews are about the same as attitudes toward Christians and more positive than those toward “Asians” (Scotto, 2015).

It is true that racist parties are on the rise in countries like Austria, Hungary and France, parties that usually target Muslims but also Jews. Overall attitudes toward the state of Israel are on the decline in recent years, but isn’t this due to Netanyahu’s settlement policies, and the frustration that ensued? The Jews of Europe are in no way persecuted. In Israel dozens of rockets from nearby territories are fired on a regular basis, this is common news that we hear and read all the time in the media. I am trying to think here from Netanyahu’s perspective, and it just doesn’t make sense.

Israeli soldiers

For example, 15 percent of the 1 million Russian Jews who came to Israel in the 1990s have left for Western countries (Bar’el, 2015). We are also witnessing waves of young Israelis moving to Berlin, the capital of Germany (Faiola et al, 2014). These numbers are superior to the number of French Jews who moved to Israel (Matlack, 2015), for example.

Another point that goes against Netanyahu’s concept of mass immigration is the assimilation for European Jews. To be part of the Jewish society in Israel one would have to speak Hebrew fluently, which is probably not the case for a majority of Jews in Europe. This is just one of the challenges for Jewish immigrants; it is not simple at all to suddenly move to another country that has a very specific culture. The dangers of Europe, the failure of its liberalism, the permanent existential threats to all Jews, these notions are part of the founding mythology of Israel as seen by Netanyahu’s party, Likud.

The words of Jeppe Juhl, a spokesman for the Jewish community in Denmark, summarize some of my points: “We’re very grateful for Netanyahu’s concern but having said that, we are Danish – we’re Danish Jews but we’re Danish – and it won’t be terror that makes us go to Israel” (AFP, 2015).

In my opinion Benjamin Netanyahu’s call to the Jews of Europe is misjudged and even offensive in some respects. It exaggerates the situation in Europe, victimizes the Jews, and makes him appear like some sort of saviour and a representative for all the Jews. Netanyahu is maybe trying to offset the number of Israelis leaving the country by calling for immigration, but as the reactions of the public and Jewish leaders have shown, this is not the right way to do it.

Memorial in Copenhagen, February 2015


Bar’el, Z. European Jews moving to Israel are trading anti-semitism for racism, 2015. Available at:

Bendavid, M. European Jews Rebuff Netanyahu’s Call to Migrate to Israel, 2015. Available at:

Booth, W. and Eglash, R. After Paris attacks, Israel vows to welcome European Jews seeking to immigrate, 2015. Available at:

Burke, M. Fierce clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians at Al-Aqsa mosque, 2014. Available at:

Faiola, A and Eglash, R. Waves of young Israelis find a home in the former Nazi capital, 2014. Available at:

Keinon, H. Netanyahu to European Jews: Terror attacks in Europe will continue, Israel is your home, 2015. Available at:

Matlack, C. Why Israel Wants Europe’s Jews, 2015. Available at:

Sahgal, N and Webster, B. French have positive views of both Jews, Muslims, 2015. Available at:

Scotto, T. UK still values Jewish communities, study shows, 2015. Available at:

AFP on, Danish PM: Our Jewish community belongs here, 2015. Available at:,7340,L-4627308,00.html

Qatar and the reign of money

Doha, capital of Qatar

Qatar is a small, very small country. Yet we hear about it very often, usually in relation to a new acquisition by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) or the already-controversial 2022 FIFA World Cup. We are observing a new phenomenon: a tiny country literally buying its way into the world stage, on an economical level. We are talking about perhaps the richest country in the world in GDP per capita (Greenfield, 2012).

Qatar is an absolute monarchy located on the Arabian Peninsula. It has a population of 1.8 million, of which less than 15% are Qataris. The rest are non-Arab expatriates who come to Qatar to work in huge numbers, and often live in appalling conditions. This is in sharp contrast with the extraordinary wealth of the Qataris and their lavish lifestyle. The expatriates come to work voluntarily but are too often subjected to forced labor. Their passports are confiscated, their pay can be withheld, they may be beaten or sexually assaulted. This sounds very much like slavery, and sadly this is a reality in Qatar.

Despite these human rights abuses, this nation has become relevant internationally, through the QIA, which since around 2008 has been investing relentlessly in Europe (notably in France and in the UK). But before we get to this let’s rewind and see how it all started.

Qatar has been ruled by the same family since the early 1900s, when it became a British protectorate. For nearly half a century, Qatar relied on pearling (until 1920) and fishing and was notoriously poor. World War II slowed down the exploitation of oil in 1939 in Dukhan Field, but the 1950s were the time when Qatar really took off. The discovery of offshore oil fields and a partnership with Shell to exploit them let to a great increase in production and exportation of oil, which made the ruling family rich and allowed the country to modernize. This is when the first hospitals, schools and telephone networks were built. Qatar gained its independence in 1971 and that same year, the world’s largest natural gas field was discovered off the coast of Qatar. As of today, Qatar has the largest natural gas reserves in the world after Russia and Iran. In the 1990s it ramped up its production and started exporting liquid natural gas, partnering with big oil companies, and also built a huge command facility for the US military, which provided security. Ever since, the economy of Qatar has grown, and the country is now the world’s richest per capita.

This is where the QIA comes in. The number of properties it now owns is astonishing. In the UK: Harrods, the Olympic Village in London, a quarter of Sainsbury’s, nearly 10% of Barclays Bank and the London Stock Exchange, the Shard, some of the most expensive real estate in the capital, the US embassy building and even 20% of Camden market (Henley, 2014 and Hobson, 2013).

In France: many famous luxury hotels in Paris and the French Riviera, casinos, prime real estate, shares in the biggest French groups for fashion and energy (Vivendi, Veolia, Total, LVMH…), the Paris Saint-Germain football club, and a large network of sports channels called BeIN Sports, which cover everything. Qatar also co-owns Miramax Films, having bought it from Disney (Rabreau, 2013).

The Carlton Hotel in Cannes

Qatar will also host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with allegations of bribes and corruption, and the outlandish idea to host an international sporting event in a hot desert, in futuristic stadiums that have not been built yet (Harris, 2014). This example pretty much sums up the strategy employed by Qatar to leave its mark. Enough money gets you everything you want. Qatar knows how followed the World Cup is, and even though the country is certainly not known for football, it will host the event, dazzle us all with amazing new facilities and show how welcoming the country is.

All these acquisitions may not seem relevant, but having such important shares in financial groups abroad is something to take into account, as well as the great image shown through the luxury properties which will attract tourists and bring tons of money to Qatar.

For the positive aspects we can look at Al-Jazeera, a very important broadcaster in the Arab world and an example of soft power. I do appreciate the coverage they provide, but I am not sure I agree with a state-owned news agency in theory. Then there are the museums, which will show major pieces of art and it is certainly good to have a big cultural institution in a quite young nation.

The country says it’s been improving the living conditions, building universities, technological innovations, and offers a stable commercial haven in the Gulf, thanks to American protection. But what I see is a country that is using natural resources and slaves to enrich to ridiculous proportions, and somehow managing to be friends with everyone. Because of course, how could so much money be ignored in a capitalistic world?

Stadium design for the World Cup

I do not see anything to admire in the strategy of Qatar. The benefits of their investments go back to the ruling family and a number of rich citizens. Qatar is a shocking example of inequality fueled by money. They talk about ecological considerations, but by most calculations, Qataris are the largest per capita emitters of carbon dioxide in the world, by far, with 55.4 tonnes per person (Todorova, 2011), ten times the global average (8.5 in the UK).

Qatar is not only involved in financial matters. It was a member of the NATO coalition that operated in Libya, and it hosts the largest US military base in the whole Middle East. It also officially hosts a Taliban office in its capital (Khan, 2013). Qatar seems to be playing a dangerous game.

How far will this small nation go before it runs out of resources (if it ever does)? And how much of an influence can it really have? These questions cannot be answered yet but at the moment Qatar really succeeds in getting a lot of attention, and promoting itself with money (a specific form of “nation branding”).It would be interesting to know what the goals of the ruling family really are on the long term…

Immigrant workers in Qatar


Greenfield, B. The World’s Richest Countries, 2012. Available at: (accessed 2015)

Harris, T. Qatar slams latest World Cup corruption claims, 2014. Available at: (accessed 2015)

Henley, J. How much of London is owned by Qatar’s royal family? 2014. Available at: (accessed 2015)

Hobson, S. How much of London Qatar REALLY owns, 2013. Available at: (accessed 2015)

Khan, T. Doha diplomacy: Qatari official mediating between Taliban, US, 2013 Available at: (accessed 2015)

Rabreau, M. Immobilier, médias, sport: ce que détient le Qatar en France, 2013 Available at: (accessed 2015)

Todorova, V. Region’s carbon emissions doubled in past 30 years, 2011. Available at: (accessed 2015)



Grenada and the American impunity

In October 1983, the United States illegally invaded the small Caribbean island nation of Grenada. This event is a classic instance of a self-justified American military intervention in a sovereign state.

Grenada gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1974, and was ruled for five years by the eccentric Eric Gairy. In 1979, the New Jewel Movement led by a young attorney named Maurice Bishop seized power in a rather bloodless coup. The years that followed were quite prosperous for Grenada. It achieved a 9% growth rate while other Caribbean countries suffered from worldwide recession, unemployment dropped to 14%, an industrialized agricultural base was developed which led to a significant reduction in food imports. The literary rate grew to 98% and free healthcare was established, as well an emphasis on secondary education and scholarships (Zunes, 2003).

It was a small revolution led by English-speaking people who were open to foreign investment, including the Americans. Grenada had close relations to Cuba, and supported the actions of the Soviet Union to a certain extent, but also had good relations with Western European nations, Canada, and Mexico among others.

This was in short an example of high development under a socialist model, which bothered the United States in the context of the Cold War. The more successful a small country like Grenada was, the more anxious the Americans would grow. In 1979 the Carter administration had welcomed Eric Gairy, and had in the following years often ignored Bishop, even when he came to Washington on an official visit. In 1981 the US army staged a mock invasion of Grenada in Puerto Rico, proof that they had been preparing for a change to show their strength (Zunes, 2003).

In 1983 a hardcore Marxist section of the government led a military coup, arrested and eventually executed Bishop amid mass protests. The Americans immediately blamed the Cubans, even though Fidel Castro strongly condemned the coup and even declared an official day of mourning for the late Prime Minister.

Reagan quickly launched the invasion of Grenada, and the whole operation was over in a matter of days as there was almost no resistance on the island. He tried to convince the American people (and succeeded initially) by saying that American students in Grenada were in danger at the time of the coup, which was false. He also said that the airport being built there would serve as a Soviet military base, which was also false, as it was built for commercial use and to make Grenada more accessible. It is true that the workforce was mostly Cuban, but Grenada had actually asked for US assistance earlier, unsuccessfully. Furthermore a British contractor was involved, along with Finns and Canadians (Kinzer, 2013).

Margaret Thatcher did not know about the invasion until after it started, and was furious to hear Reagan was invading a Commonwealth nation, saying “This action will be seen as intervention by a western country in the internal affairs of a small independent nation, however unattractive its regime.” Reagan added in his autobiography: “She was very adamant and continued to insist that we cancel our landings on Grenada. I couldn’t tell her that it had already begun.”

Recently a recording of a phone conversation between the two leaders was released, in which an embarrassed Reagan apologises to Thatcher: (link to the recording)

The real reason for the invasion was that Reagan needed an easy victory, anywhere and of any kind, following the nightmare in Vietnam, and the Beirut barracks bombing two days before where 241 Americans lost their lives. This also means that the patriotic sentiment at the time of the intervention was very high in the United States, and it boosted Reagan’s approval rate. It was also a way to reinforce the American sphere of influence in Central America in the Cold War context. A total of 8,612 medals were awarded to US participants, most of them desk officers (Kinzer, 2013).

The world reaction was extremely negative. Both the UN General Assembly and the Security Council voted to condemn the invasion of Grenada by a wide margin, but the Security Council’s decision was vetoed by…the United States. All of America’s major allies criticised them, but Reagan attributed these reactions to anti-American sentiment (Kinzer, 2013).

The quality of life deteriorated for the people of Grenada following the invasion, as the Americans took over. A large number of doctors left, billboards promoting justice and development were replaced by adverts for American products. The invasion made other Latin American nations think twice about their policies, including Suriname who immediately expelled the Cuban diplomats from their capital.

It is shocking to see how easily the United States could, and arguably can, invade a sovereign state that had never threatened them.


Kinzer, S., Al Jazeera, 25 October 2013, ‘30 years on: The legacy of Reagan’s invasion of Grenada’, available at: (accessed 14/11/14)

Zunes, S., October 2003, ‘The US Invasion of Grenada’, available at:, (accessed 14/11/14)

BBC, 10 November 2014, ‘Reagan’s apology to Thatcher over Grenada revealed’, available at: (accessed 14/11/14)

Channel 4, 10 November 2014, ‘How the US invasion of Grenada was reported in 1983’, available at: (accessed 14/11/14)

The spark of a Sub-Saharan spring ?

For the seventh time since gaining its independence from France in 1960, the West African country of Burkina Faso has recently seen a military officer take over as head of state. A popular uprising has forced long-term leader Blaise Compaoré from office. Compaoré was forced to resign and flee the country to nearby Ivory Coast after trying to extend his 27-year rule through a change in the country’s constitution. The protest was surprisingly short-lived, but very intense, with tens of thousands of people in the streets for two days, clashing with the authorities (BBC, 2014).

Mass protest in the capital

This recent case of Burkina Faso is a sadly common example of what has been going on in Africa for decades. Blaise Compaoré had been in power since a coup d’état in 1987, when he overthrew Thomas Sankara, a Marxist revolutionary and still an African icon to this day. Compaoré was first elected president in 1991, and again in 1998. A new constitution in 2000 limited presidents to two terms in office, and limited terms to five years. He was elected twice again, until being ousted a few weeks ago after attempting to extend his rule after November 2015. This was simply too much to bear for the population, who were very “efficient” and inspired in their demonstrations. They showed their strength by setting the parliament on fire, and the authorities did not manage to stop the uprising. Some common citizens became symbols of the revolution, such as Lassina Sawadogo, a 40-year-old tax inspector who was captured by a photographer standing up to soldiers in the capital of Ouagadougou. The picture went viral, as did the one of engineering student Romuald Ouedraogo, who drew a target on his white t-shirt with a message in French that translated as “SHOOT. My country or my death” (BBC, 2014).

Lassina Sawadogo

Romuald Ouedraogo

This shows how strongly people feel about the changes that are occurring, and it brings to mind the Arab Spring, when similar uprisings took place. We can wonder if more African countries will follow. Compaoré was one of many sub-Saharan African leaders who have stayed in power for decades, and at least four leaders in other countries are trying to obtain similar constitutional change, including in Benin, the Congo Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (The Telegraph, 2014).

At the moment the man in charge of Burkina Faso is Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida, deputy commander of the elite presidential guard. This means the country is seeing a soldier replaced by another soldier, clearly not the change they desire. Many feel it is the same system, only with a different leader. The African Union has officially given Burkina Faso two weeks since 9 November, to make the transition to a civilian government, with twenty-five ministers and an assembly made of ninety deputies. Isaac Zida seems to agree to this and says he will focus on security issues until the transition comes into effect. Meanwhile, France and the United States are also putting pressure on the temporary government, and everything must be done in time (Bensimon, 2014).

Although at least six people lost their lives, we can hope to see similar uprisings in sub-Saharan Africa within the next months or years. Nothing indicates this will happen, but presidents staying in power for so long are synonymous of a recurring issue in Africa, and the people of Burkina Faso showed it is possible to change this, hopefully for the better.


Arife, M. and Carter, C., CNN, 31 October 2014, ‘Burkina Faso President resigns; military now in charge’, Available at: (accessed 12/11/14)

Bensimon, C., Le Monde, 5 November 2014, ‘Au Burkina Faso, l’ascension éclair du lieutenant-colonel Isaac Zida’, available at: (accessed 12/11/14)

Bensimon C., Le Monde, 10 November 2014, ‘Burkina Faso : le lieutenant-colonel Zida passera le pouvoir d’ici à quinze jours’, available at: (accessed 12/11/14)

Flynn, D., Reuters UK, 1 November 2014, ‘Burkina Faso opposition parties, African Union reject army takeover’, Available at: (accessed 12/11/14)

BBC, 12 November 2014, ‘The ‘heroes’ of Burkina Faso’s revolution’, available at: (accessed 12/11/14)

The Telegraph, 1 November 2014, ‘Military rivals vie for power in leaderless Burkina Faso’ Available at: (accessed 12/11/14)

Le Monde, 3 November 2014, ‘Six questions pour comprendre la crise au Burkina Faso’, available at: (accessed 12/11/14)

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