Archive for December 14th, 2011


Politics, “digital diplomacy” and Ukraine

December 14, 2011

It is sometimes difficult to see what policies actually are and even when you know what they actually are, how they are actually actioned when it comes to sovereign nations tackling these issues with other sovereign nations.

To take human rights as an example, it is also difficult on occasions to take sovereign nations seriously when they claim human rights are a priority.  We can look at the USA calling on Russia to act respectfully to demonstrators last Saturday, the Moscow demonstration of approximately 50,000 resulting in not one single arrest or a single smashed window, whilst that same day numerous “Occupy” protesters where beaten and arrested in various parts of the USA.

Do as we say and not as we do?  Duplicity?  Hypocrisy?  It is very hard to argue otherwise.  A peaceful protest is a peaceful protest and the right to assembly and free speech et al, is exactly that.  You may argue that whilst these rights are sacrosanct, other statutory laws such as obstructing the highway, litter, health and safety and a myriad of other laws cannot and should not trump basic human rights.  The public relations own goal at St Paul’s in London when trying to use health and safety to break up the “occupy” camp there may be a case in point.

That said, those laws were created for good reason and at the time of writing were blind to the numerous ways they could and would be employed in the future.  It is a question of their use or misuse to trump the basic human rights relating to protest.  It is a reasonable arguement that a protest march should stick to an authorised route to allow those not protesting to get on with their daily lives and avoid unnecessary disruption.  It is also a way to minimise the impact of a march or protest upon those who it aims to influence should the authorised route keep protesters at arms length or much further from those they want to influence.

All rather difficult to create a carte blanch, one size fits all solution, meaning each is assessed on its merits but in doing so needs the authorisation of the State which is all too often the target of the protest.

Anyway, my congratulations go to firstly the protesters in Moscow who managed an incident free event on Saturday but also to the Mayor of Moscow for providing a suitable venue for such a large protest in a fairly fitting location.  One can only hope that the similar event planned for 24th December will be as equally well behaved by all parties concerned.

Russia’s problem is that the parties who came second and third, the Communists and the Liberals would be equally as guilty of rigging an election given the chance as United Russia are alleged to have done.  Like Ukraine, Russian politics is cornered by the recycled parts of the old Soviet machinery under every party banner (with the possible exception of Yatseniuk in Ukraine due to his age).

No likely winner in any election in either nation is ever going to deliver what many would recognise as democracy, namely a completely free press, rule of law or any other pillar of a democratic society utterly free from their control.

Change will not come from the top-down as long as the likes of Putin, Zhirinovsky, Tymoshenko, or Yanukovych are still active political figures in positions to govern.  They are all autocrats who would install the power vertical.

So where are the NGOs?  Well as I have said of NGOs in the past, foreign NGOs in Ukraine do not engage with the Ukrainian public.  They sit aloof and simply lobby/advocate whatever government sits in office to achieve their paymaster’s desired outcomes with the occasional press release.  They are not organic, grass roots Ukrainian entities and for the most part are simply ignored by society and government alike.

Grass route Ukrainian NGOs face problems as well.  Disregarding finance, they too are ignored, occasionally oppressed and even ostracised by fellow NGOs.  Why?  Because to be successful, these NGOs need to remain on good terms with the government of the day to have even the slightest impact on policy.  Their principles and soul are sold in part or almost in entirety to make tiny steps towards their original intent.  Some in effect end up being an extension of the State and State policy.

The same can be said for the academics who now spend more time advocating a policy when bought by the government, or challenging a policy if bought by the opposition.  The days of academia working independently and arriving at new and far-sighted policy seem to have been lost.

In short, academia has ceded the advisory ground to politically sponsored think-tanks who justify rather than create and debate policy within an independent environment.

This now leaves only the bottom-up movement.  You and me.  The hoy polly.  The great unwashed.  Whether you are T Party, Occupy, everyday Tunisian, Egyptian, Syrian, Russian and quite probably Ukrainian, if there is a smell to the next parliamentary elections in October 2012, we are the bottom-up game changers.

“The State” and its organs have traditionally worked by employing three forms of power over both their own citizens and when projected further abroad.  There is hard power, namely military power.  There is economic power which sits somewhere between hard power and soft power depending upon how it is employed, and there is soft power, the art of diplomacy and skill of negotiation to coerce and persuade that the position and action of the State is correct and justified.

However, soft power is no longer the exclusive realm of the State.  Facebook, VKontakte, twitter et al have taken away the exclusiveness of soft power from the State and delivered it to the public at large.  2011 has been a year which has seen these cyber tools used to coordinate massive demonstrations in many nations, resulting in extremely unexpected results.  Some results are now in, others, the jury is still out, but undeniably, the soft power and results of  protest has been enabled by “digital diplomacy” amongst the masses, completely cutting out the established advocacy/lobbying of NGOs, the raising of human rights during international leaders conferences and in many cases overwhelming the tools of the State to oppress opinion.

It is too simple to state that event “x” in nation “y” was related to tyrant/dictator “z” or that it is limited to region “a”.  The only common identifier I can find globally, is the perceived and real misuse of power.  No more and no less.  The core issue in all these events has been the misuse of power.

Do Russians want rid of United Russia and Putin because they want the second placed Communists back in power, or the third places Liberal Democrats, both of which would be equally as bad as United Russia and Putin?  It is highly unlikely to be honest.

Does the “Occupy” movement want to bring down the entire global banking system or do they want to see the insider dealing, gifts of shares to politicians prior to IPOs likely to treble their value etc stopped regardless of whoever is in government?

Did the Egyptian protests cease simply because the old dictator was toppled or did they continue when power was again about to be misused?

If there is anything too smelly about the next elections in Ukraine, will we see a repeat of what is happening in Russia, not because the opposition are any better, but because of yet another misuse of power?

Where is the digital diplomacy from governments interacting directly with their public?  I do not mean a one-way podcast for that is no more interactive than a televised propaganda piece.

I am a complete nobody and yet there are numerous somebody’s who comment on this blog either directly, or email or via twitter.  To drop a few names, they have included, William Haugue, UK Foreign Secretary, the ever-wise Charles Crawford, HM Ambassador to Ukraine, HM Deputy Head of Mission to Ukraine, The German Marshall Fund, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Freedom House, Dominic Fean, numerous official EU entities, Dr Sean Hanley, Global Voice, Azerbaijan News and Moldova News.  The list goes on and on.

Yet when it comes to Ukraine, there is no “digital diplomacy” between the “nobodies” (like me) and the “somebodies” (similar to those listed above).  There is a complete disconnect, with the “somebodies” hiding behind television and media statements that are in effect “adult to child” one way conversations.  Those one-way conversations are often very poorly orated or scripted as well!

So, instead of the steady stream of bland statements from Mr Tigipko on twitter, the never ending “his fault” rhetoric of Ms Tymoshenko on Facebook,  the absolute silence of Yatseniuk’s twitter not to mention Odessa City Hall, how about some engagement with your public that is a two-way without the MSM acting as a barrier?  Other very busy and very important people manage it and it does their message no harm.  In fact it probably enhances it.

If Ukrainian politicians want to defuse a possible up and coming bottom-up problem then they need to become far more adept at digital diplomacy and engagement.  Cardboard Soviet-esque statements will not stand up to public scrutiny any more than the blame game between rival factions will for much longer.

That said, with an ideology-less political elite across the main political spectrum, what would these feckless wonders have to say?

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