Jump to content

Soft Power and Ballet


Terpsichore
 Share

Recommended Posts

The concept of "soft power" was formulated by Joseph Nye, sometime Dean of the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University. In "Soft Power, The Means to Success in World Politics"  2004 Public Affairs, New York Nye defined "soft power" as the ability to achieve a foreign policy objective by attraction and co-option in contrast to hard power such as the use of military force or financial inducement. In other words the ability of a government in one state to influence the governments of others by such factors as culture, education and values. One example of soft power is that a person in State B who has received at least part of his education in  State A is likely to incline almost instinctively towards State A in any controversy between that State and almost any other.

 

According to Monocle this country is rather good at exerting soft power being ranked second in the 2013 Soft Power Survey and first in 2012 but I have to say that I am also rather dubious. Given that Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world by the number of native speakers I find it hard to believe that there is no Hispanic country in Monocle's top 10.

 

Although they never called it by that name "soft power" was a concept well understood by the leaders of the former Soviet Union and their allies. The invested heavily in the arts and sport and did so for a reason.  They calculated that at least a section of the public would regard a country that could top the medal table of the Olympics and host the Kirov and the Bolshoi would be regarded by at least a section of world public opinion as not all bad and overlook its totalitarianism and the abysmal living standards of its people. 

 

Of course the Soviets were not the only country to do that.  It can be argued that we did the sane through public subsidies of Covent Garden.   Was that a good or a bad thing?   You tell me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The picture that a totalitarian government wishes to project is fractured rather dramatically when it's dancers, athletes, etc., take  action to escape - i.e. - Nureyev, Makarova, Baryshnikov, several Cuban dancers and athletes, Li Cunxin (Chinese dancer), etc.

 

People often vote with their feet and that is far more telling than a ballot box which indicates a 100% vote in favor of the gov't.

 

Cultural exchanges are a good thing - but a despot is still a despot.  In the end they are only curtailed by power.

 

I wish it weren't so.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The picture that a totalitarian government wishes to project is fractured rather dramatically when it's dancers, athletes, etc., take  action to escape - i.e. - Nureyev, Makarova, Baryshnikov, several Cuban dancers and athletes, Li Cunxin (Chinese dancer), etc.

 

People often vote with their feet and that is far more telling than a ballot box which indicates a 100% vote in favor of the gov't.

 

..........................................

 

Very true. As I understand it that is part of Nye's thesis.

 

The attraction of greater personal freedom in artistic expression for ballet dancers among others (not to mention the greater financial rewards and luxuries to spend them on in Western Europe and North America) were an example of soft power. It is significant that there were no reverse defection of Western artists to the former Soviet Union on any significant scale. It is true that thete are Western artists like Parish and Hallberg in Russia now but only because Russia (despite Putin's best efforts to turn the clock back) is radically different from what it was during the cold war.

 

Nye appears to argue that soft power was virtually the only power that can be exercised effectively because both the coercive and inducing types of hard power are self-destructive and I think he is right.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

This reminds me of the comment in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (of course I can't find my copy to get the exact quote - I swear this house has a black hole that books fall into for months on end) that the best way to enslave a society is to make the people love being slaves. I think soft power is a good example of that. If you try to keep people under control with violence and threats, especially the people of a country you've invaded, you'll just cause resentment and uprisings. But if you do it by giving people something pleasant to distract them - which includes subtle undermining of their heritage by providing cultural and educational opportunities - you'll probably be a lot more successful.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Soviet-Western confrontation was fairly unique in that it was based on the knowledge that there could be instanteous mutual destruction.  This represented a distinctly different scenario that has been the rule in human history - especially the "instantaneous" aspect of it.

 

The collapse of the Soviet Union came about economically rather than war - but it wasn't the econimics of the goods and services of the  civilian sector but the economics of the military sector that overwhelmed their ability to compete.  That is not soft diplomacy - that is the ability to project hard power.  

 

Historically - a bully bent on dominance only respects raw power: From Pharoah to the present day.  They not only imprison their own people but are not content with the status quo and seek to extend that dominance.

 

Today, we face a different threat.  This threat is not an overt  invading army - it is based on a belief system that is individualized to the point that those who "believe" are willing to sacrifice their own lives in the process of extinguishing the lives of others.  There is no army to fight and fighting/defending against such a belief system is something for which we have no effective defense.  The only defense we do have is to curtail the concepts we treasure most in our civilization: civil rights, freedom, an open society.

 

Those who are willing to kill themselves in order to kill others won't be swayed by exchanging ballet companies or sports events.  In fact they don't include dance or sports as part of their belief system nor do they wish to exchange views or  university study.

Edited by Anjuli_Bai
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with Melody. That is how the pax romana survived until the 5th century in Western Europe and even longer in the East.  Even now we have a very rosy image of Roman rule which is not entirely justified.

 

Until the annexation of Crimea I would have agreed with Anjuli_Bai that religious fanaticism was our main existential threat but I now fear a resurgent Russia at least as much. While I see some justice in the reunification of a predominately Russian speaking province with its neighbour the way in which it was done was outrageous. It is the first attempt to redraw the map of Europe by force since the second world war and is dangerously de-stabilizing.  I see no difference between the seizure of Crimea and the Argentine attack on the Falklands or the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

 

I partly agree with Anjuli_Bai that the ability of the USA to outspend on armaments was one reason for the collapse of Communism but soft power also contributed to it in that images of life in the West led to popular movements such as Solidarity.

 

Soft power can sometimes be effective. Mandela always credited the sporting boycott of South Africa with contributing towards the undermining of apartheid.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The thing about soft power is that it's soft, so it's not so easy to recognise its effects, especially if you're on the receiving end of them.

 

Religious zealots are usually pretty direct in their approach - convert or die, do things this way or die - so soft power isn't a factor there, because it isn't being used. Not that religious leaders aren't capable of using soft power to their advantage, but fundamentalists usually don't. However, that sort of overt oppression tends to cause the sort of backlash I mentioned in my last post. I don't think it's a coincidence that the Interregnum in Britain in the 1650s was followed by a socially lax and pleasure-oriented few years, where Charles II's popularity rested quite a lot on his encouragement of the arts (visual arts, drama, dancing) that had been forbidden under Cromwell's regime. People were happy to be allowed to have fun, and that gave the King some support that he might not otherwise have had.

 

I agree with Professor Nye (very interesting article, btw!) that all the soft power in the world isn't going to help if it starkly contradicts the way a government conducts its business -  in this day and age of instantaneous information, people aren't going to be taken in by a nation that uses figure skaters and ballet dancers as ambassadors of its goodwill if it's committing atrocities at home and abroad at the same time. But soft power can still be useful in getting under people's skin and promoting the culture of a country that's being more subtle in its use of hard power. It's a pretty handy way of promoting a nation's self-image, especially to people who are inclined to be receptive anyway. I'm still amused by American friends who are surprised that Britain isn't totally covered by landscapes straight out of Midsomer Murders and Downton Abbey, and I still remember how surprised I was by the poverty in many parts of the USA when I first saw it, because American movies and TV tended to focus a lot on the absurdly wealthy (Dallas, anyone?) and the suburban American Dream.

 

I think Terpsichore is quite right in saying that the appeal of  American culture, especially to young people, had its effect during the breakup of the Soviet Union. I also believe that the weaker effect of western culture in the Middle East and South Asia at the moment is partly to do with the fact that the western countries aren't practising what they preach regarding democracy, self-determination, etc, and the attraction of the culture can't overcome that. I know there are other effects, but I think this is one of them.

Edited by Melody
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I doubt if the Russians have any territorial interests beyond Eastern Ukraine.  Partly it is a settling of scores with the west, as the setting up of Kosovo as an independent state struck straight at the heart of the Russian people who consider Russia and Serbia to be indivisible.

 

The EU will make a lot of noise but will be aware that Putin's hand on the gas tap equals a very cold winter. 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

MAB, you make two very good points. 

 

I have to say that I am not a Russia basher. In fact I am something of a Russophile.   I also have some sympathy with what we used to call Pan-Slavism in the 19th and early 20th century. But I have two concerns. The first is that the map of Europe has been redrawn - arguably by force and certainly without international agreement and that sets a terrible precedent. It may well be that Russia has no territorial ambitions beyond the Eastern Ukraine but even that is too much as Ukraine is a sovereign state protected as we are by international law.  Moreover, there are many on both the right and left of Russian politics who want to recover the territories of the Tsars or the Soviets and the time may come when some of those people get into power.

 

Secondly. you are right about the over-dependence of much of Europe on Russia for energy. Something has to be done about that.

 

Melody, I agree with your whole of your second contribution, particularly the last paragraph.

 

There is at the moment discussion elsewhere in the Forum about whether the Royal Ballet should go to Russia. There is not yet a discussion in terms about whether the Mariinsky should be welcomed here but that may come.  I have not contributed directly to the discussion. Instead, I started this discussion to inform those who wish to be informed of the soft power issues.

 

As a ballet fan should be heartbroken to be deprived of the chance of seeing some of the best dancers of the world but then freezing the assets and refusing visas to a few friends of Putin is insufficient response to what is after all an outrage and what other options do we have?  

 

I am also a cricket and rugby fan and 40 years ago I was heartbroken at the suspension of sporting relations with South Africa who at that time were supreme in both those sports. But Mandela has said that the sporting boycott helped to undermine apartheid so perhaps it was the right thing to do.

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not sure about these cultural boycotts. Yes, they do have their effects, but sometimes it's just an easy option for the politicians - to be seen to be doing something while not really doing any of the hard stuff that actually might make a difference. In the meantime, the people who suffer are the artists/athletes and their public. I remember how devastated some of the Olympic athletes were back in the 1980s during the tit-for-tat boycotts of the Moscow and Los Angeles Olympics, because an eight-year wait for the next Olympics can mean the difference between winning a medal and being an also-ran (or even not qualifying for the event). Boycotts work a lot better against societies that are anxious about their international self-image - I don't think Putin's Russia is in that category at the moment.

 

As you and MAB said (and as I saw on the BBC website this morning), President Putin has a huge hold over the EU because he has control of a lot of the energy the EU uses. He doesn't seem to be using the directly coercive argument of "do as I say or the gas stops flowing," it's a lot more like "oh dear, I'm afraid I'm being left with no choice," but the effect will be the same. So, as you also said, something will have to be done unless the EU is content to dance to his tune. And that something is going to have to be the harder choice of pursuing energy independence, with probably some short-term pain for Europe, than things like cultural boycotts which at this stage will just hurt the people concerned and have no effect on the politicians. This may be one of those cases where soft power is too soft.

Edited by Melody
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not sure about these cultural boycotts. ..................

 

I am not sure about them either. That's why I have not contributed to the debate directly but have raised one of the issues that is often overlooked.

 

We can't let Crimea go though. That is exactly what happened at Munich. We are living in very dangerous times.  One way or another we are in for a lot more pain than the disappointment of missing a ballet.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ukrainian ballerinas perform anti-Putin Swan Lake in front of tanks

by gramilano

In Odessa four brave cygnets danced to Tchaikovsky's music in front of military tanks. The Ukrainian ballerinas were outside Odessa's military history museum, and, reports The Moscow Times, "was a nod to a Soviet-era tradition" when "state-run television traditionally aired classical music during periods of great change in the Soviet Union." Oleksiy Honcharenko, who presents the event on the YouTube […]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...