There are a lot of uncertainties and concerns, regardless where people live in COVID-19 time. The virus is still not fully known by doctors and researchers, its spread is faster than news. Social media’s users post stories on a variety of aspects of life shaped by the virus, whether a group dance of nurses in a hospital in Tehran, or inaccurate results of Chinese testing kits in Karachi, or a closed door of a pharmacy in New York during the working hours of day.
The reliability of these posts of social media is under question. Social media spread misinformation and conspiracy theories that can be harmful and make the control of COVID-19 harder than it is. Nevertheless, people, internationally, receive COVID-19 news from social media quicker than from mainstream media or government’s officials. Many governments are not happy with this function of social media. During this crisis governments that care about control of the virus should seriously consider their cultural image worldwide as well. That is why they need cultural diplomacy more than ever.
The global public are not concerned about cultural diplomacy, but they will judge pandemic’s policies and the government’s transparency approach in the future. Culture must be seen as an instrument to highlight what has been done and what is needed in regard to the pandemic, on all local, national and regional levels. Having control over the virus at the domestic level will create a reliable cultural image for each country, internationally.
Currently implementing cultural activities is not easy
Now is a time when cultural diplomacy actors need to promote cultural dialogue, mutual understanding and trust in order to avoid negative consequences of the virus. Now is the time to encourage positive habits shaping the human life regardless of ethnicity, religion and culture.
Cultural diplomacy is a type (or sub-category) of public diplomacy and includes “exchange of ideas, information, art, language and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding” as Milton Cummings put it.
Challenges and opportunities of cultural diplomacy have been diversifying during the COVID19 crisis. Some countries face leadership problems to control the pandemic, like the USA. Some countries use the situation to picture themselves as a worldwide savior through health diplomacy. China sends aid abroad but makes sure to do it in front of cameras and journalists. Some of these state’s strategies may lead to a negative cultural image for a country. That is another reason why cultural diplomacy should be taken seriously by governments today.
svg%3EFurthermore, COVID-19 has been a special time to engage diplomats as well as academics, researchers, doctors, nurses, lobbyists, NGOs, and immigrants. Digitalization has been around for a while; nonetheless, the pandemic forced many communities to adopt new ways of co-working, collaborating, negotiating, exchanging ideas, listening to each other and constructing mutual understanding. The potentials of these non-governmental instruments must be considered more efficiently in cultural diplomacy.
COVID-19, once again, reassured people of the world that they have more in common than they think. People’s health dynamics, emotions and their concerns about the future are mostly the same. The paths to control the virus are also likely to converge. National security is now world security. People of the world will either all win or all lose. Actors of cultural diplomacy must use genuine dialogue during the pandemic with foreign publics to reach security and happiness for the world. Power in the new time does not only necessarily mean military influence, but also showing worldwide solidarity. If a country has been constructing this type of power, then it is successful in attracting, inspiring and leading. Consequently, this country can lead a strong cultural policy, or, as Joseph Nye argues, can exercise soft power.
What can governments do practically regarding cultural diplomacy? John Lenczowski categorizes cultural activities which are more regular in cultural diplomacy to 13 instruments: the art, exhibition, exchange, educational programs, literature, language teaching, broadcasting, gifts, listening and according respect, promotion of ideas (like rule of law), promotion of social policy (like campaigns against HIV), History, religious diplomacy (like interfaith dialogue).
Currently implementing cultural activities is not easy. In many countries unique measures are in place, such as limiting travel and public meetings or events. But cultural diplomacy actors, for instance, can support promotion of social policy by implementing a campaign against COVID19 on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. The actors can get assistance from celebrities to reach more audiences for the campaign and inform more people about the issue. Celebrities represent a particular reading of a nation’s diverse culture. Their engagement in a health initiative can reach two goals: 1) increasing awareness about symptoms of COVID-19 and ways of protection and 2) creating a positive cultural image for the country in the long term, globally.
To sum up, governments need cultural diplomacy, especially during the pandemic crisis because through that they can shape understanding of foreign nations about their own COVID-19 policy and consequently about their own nation. Cultural diplomacy by itself is not enough. It must be joined with a good health and foreign policy. Using intercultural dialogue as a tool will be useful. It can 1) extend a platform to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the virus, 2) strengthen soft power of a nation, 3) promote a culture of empathy in the world, and 4) reemphasize the importance of sustainable development. No country in the Covid19 crisis and after can develop itself without other countries developing themselves positively.
This article was originally published at: https://dailytimes.com.pk/631473/why-governments-need-cultural-diplomacy-in-covid-19-crisis/
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.