When culture is not enough

by Neil Thomas
January 15th, 2013

Quite a lot is written (mainly in magazines like Monocle) about Soft Power – the influence that a country can exert through the means of “attraction and persuasion” rather than “coercion or payment”. Embassies, cultural missions, tourism, film, literature, sport, art and music ‘exports’ are all part of the Soft Power activity that can give a country an edge in influencing others.

Unfortunately, political and economic factors can completely scupper a country’s Soft Power standing, however attractive its cultural inheritance.

A quick review of 2012 going into 2013 might help to explain what I mean:

France
First Sarkozy and then Hollande – both are viewed as ridiculous figures at home and abroad, effectively undermining the political basis of Soft Power. Add in Dominique Strauss-Kahn and you reach laughing-stock status, quite a handicap if you are trying your hand at international relations. This image collapse can also be seen, for example, in the wonderful world of French Cinema with icons like Renoir, Truffaut and Chabrol being completely overshadowed by the current idiocy of Gerard Depardieu.

Italy
You can see how the political farces of the past few years have changed the image of Italy: it is now easier to think of Berlusconi than it is of Botticelli, to get the image of Bunga Bunga rather than of a building by Brunelleschi.

Greece
When you think about Greece do you still picture the ‘cradle of democracy’ and ‘birthplace of philosophy’ or do you immediately think of it as a country that can only throw its economics out of its pram and be the butt of double-dip recession jokes (as in you can’t get hummus or taramasalata)?

Spain
Do you get the image of Gaudi and genius or of gaudy and jerry-built scams?

Britain
Surprisingly, despite the best efforts of our politicians, culturally, at least, we haven’t been undermined and 2012 was a good year for our international cultural and Soft Power image. Unfortunately, we are still viewed as lacking the economic and political muscle to back that up.

But, is there any country in the world anymore that combines culture/lifestyle, politics and economics to make it the envy of the world?

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