RUSSIAN PUBLIC DIPLOMACY WANTS TO HIT THE JACKPOT! WILL SUCCEED?
If for athletes and sports audiences worldwide the Winter Olympics Sochi 2014 means competition, goals, ambitions and pride, for us, those interested in public diplomacy, this event represents one of the most demanding efforts and challenge for a country and a nation which invest funds and a huge package of public diplomacy from where they expect, or so it would be normal to expect measurable benefits. So, Sochi 2014 is one of the greatest gestures in public diplomacy of Russian Federation with the aim to design for outside the desired image.
In figures, Sochi Winter Olympics means 367 km of new roads, 77 bridges, 201 km of new railway, wages for 60,000 workers, 98 gold medals without other (silver and bronze), and an total cost apparently amounted to over 50 billion dollars. What is that? Basically, it means a value greater than the sum of investments which were made for all other editions of the Winter Olympics.
At all these efforts, we need to note the discontent accumulated in dozens of communities of Russians which living in the Caucasus – a region where people speak over 40 languages and dialects. They had promises regarding the expansion of the gas network and the sewerage, works that have not been achieved and that, of course, after the Olympics will never be achieved by the Government.
A giant bill for Sochi Olympics 2014, a bill that the Kremlin pays without any contraction!
I cannot avoid a short description how Estonia , not many years ago, has mobilized it’s citizens in an online voting which had made possible the entry of their capital (as name and description) in the capitals list of Monopoly Game – an action of public diplomacy which has had almost zero cost , but whose effectiveness cannot be questioned. Also, I cannot avoid the solution to Ireland in management, construction and projection of the idea of “the most poetry country ” and cannot avoid a brief reference to the positive net balance of Olympics in London which have recorded an absolute positive result (see campaign GREAT ) . Regarding GREAT, sure British specialists had only to recall some elements and to refresh their perception about how GREAT is the UK, so in this fine gun battles matter the dowry of perception. Equally true is that talking about GREAT – Britain’s credibility component in external space made possible the settlement of “cream top” (brand) over a stable and …. an existing content .
For Sochi 2014 case, the things are a little different – on the one hand the initial investment is astronomical and the reaching of the threshold profitability is not really a simple matter to predict. On the other hand, Sochi organizers cannot hope that they will record in the winter the number of foreign visitors recorded by London, last two years, in the middle of summer, with a “special” border regime and the general level of attractiveness quite different than in UK. The scandals regarding the gay rights and other issues connected with the principle of “freedom” in general, throw outside the Russian Federation an unflattering perception at the chapter of credibility, which ultimately means that any attempt to build a brand over a “unclear” fund, is perceived as an unexplained gesture, at list.
From purely theoretical perspective, Sochi does not seem to be quite correctly sized to produce any profit , nor to produce any better public perception outside, despite, I must to admit that personally I was extremely pleased with the inaugural show ( unlike those from London which I didn’t understand so well). Now, maybe my perception is guilty and the product of the balance of their credibility – I never imagined that they could make this kind of job, at that level.
How Russian money are or will be, is not our job to worry about, but coming back in the realm of foreign public perception, I’m very hard to determine if the input of 50 billion dollars can move one of the six components that make the perception of the country brand. I say that because in a World affected by the economic crisis, to pump so much money in sport does not seem to attract compliments for the ” government” , the ” tourism ” seems to remain “as specific” as any destination within the borders of “Mother Russia”, about the foreign investment and increasing relocation of people in Russia is ridiculous to talk today and the “national” inclination for the intolerance about homosexuals rights, cannot produce an improvement in the perception at the level of Russian population. The only one who remains at odds is the Russian culture and cultural heritage – items extremely well placed in light, at least in the opening show.
Television audiences and real sports fan will enjoy the competition itself and the show elements will undoubtedly cause such instant emotional perceptions. What matters in such actions is the length of perception – that type of perception from which the country which makes an effort of this scale, will get the benefits in the months and years ahead… or not.
The future will confirm or refute these theoretical assumptions about the effectiveness of the public diplomacy effort of Russia and the world so far.
Author: Dan Dima