Those of you who saw my post on “Public Diplomacy in Budapest” know that I see public diplomacy as the art of communicating a country's policies, values and culture to other peoples. It is an attempt to explain why we have decided on certain measures, and beyond that, to explain who we are.
My recent trip to Riga, Latvia gives a further glimpse of what public diplomacy is all about!
First things first -- what is our biggest public diplomacy challenge in Latvia? I wanted to hear the views of the Deputy Chief of Mission (the person who is second to the Ambassador) from the Latvian Embassy, Ms. Agnese Kalnina. Latvia has an active and engaged embassy that you can read more about here. After listening to her thoughts and ideas, the Public Diplomacy Desk Officer for that region, Andrea Strano, and Desk Officer Carol Bielman Werner worked with the Public Affairs Staff in Riga to put the final touches on the trip.
The morning started with a meeting at the U.S. Embassy with Ambassador Larson, who not only served as an Iowa Senator but also served in Iraq, flying combat as well as spearheading humanitarian missions.
A short walk from the embassy through the beautiful Bastejkalns Park guided by Public Affairs Officer William Bellis brought me to the Public Affairs building (in some countries the Public Affairs staff is not in the same embassy building to facilitate easier access for events and meetings). Riga has an excellent Public Affairs team including the Assistant Public Affairs Officer Ryan Roberts, Program Assistant (and photographer!) Andris Purvlicis and Cultural Affairs Assistant Ingrida Bodniece. We had a good discussion about the latest Public Diplomacy strategies from Washington, DC, including visual communications and digital outreach.
A key focus of our public diplomacy for the Baltics is on youth. A round-table meeting with young media professionals to discuss America’s image among young Latvians was therefore an excellent opportunity to learn what is on the minds of the next generation and to answer their questions. Our gathering included a Russian-speaking journalist, a TV news reporter, a radio reporter, a young newspaper writer who covers U.S. politics, an intern from the embassy as well as rock star Aigars Runcis. Runcis is well-known throughout Latvia for his rap-style music sung uniquely in a Latvian dialect! You can see one of the videos from “Borowa MC,” as he is known, or download his new CD “Plastilina Pasaule” for free. Musicians in Latvia find sponsors rather than charge for their music.
One of our biggest challenges is getting more young Americans to come to the Baltics and vice versa. The “Erasmus Programme,” set up by the European Union, has created academic mobility in higher education for students and teachers within the EU. This makes it cheaper and easier for students in Europe to have their study abroad experience elsewhere in Europe instead of the United States. To tackle this problem, we met with Study, Work and Travel Agencies’ representatives as well as the consul from the embassy to discuss what the impediments are for students interested in coming to the U.S. One issue is the view that it is hard to get a student visa when actually it isn’t. Myth-busting needed! The other is that there is often a lack of host families in the U.S. If you are interested in being a host family, and thereby making one of the most positive impacts on the view of America and Americans that there is, click here.
More from Latvia soon!
Editor's Note: Read Ms. Graffy's next entry from Latvia.