Strategic Streams 2023

In 2019, the Forum for Strategic Studies (FORST) has launched a large annual conference project called Strategic Streams with the intention of discussing the most important strategic event that affects Europe, the Balkans and the world in a given year, with the intention of gathering distinguished experts, diplomats, decision makers, professors, scientists and high-ranking strategists from the country, the region and the world, who would exchange their opinions, insights and ideas at the Strategic Streams conference, once (or more) times a year, about future strategic trends in the 21st century. So far, the conference has been held in 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023.

This year’s Strategic Streams conference, organized by the Forum for Strategic Studies (FORST) and the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Serbia, was held on May 26 at the Moskva Hotel in Belgrade, and, as in previous years, gathered a large number of interested participants from the world of diplomacy, politics, media, international relations and economy. As a traditionally established forum where experts from the aforementioned fields discuss the most significant geopolitical event in the observed year, the fifth conference in a row was held under the title Strategic Streams 2023: Public Diplomacy as a bridge and a tool for enhancing mutual trust among the countries, being not focused this year on some individual strategic event as in previous years, but to one of the most important phenomena of diplomatic practice in general – to public diplomacy as a specific form of diplomatic activities of different countries. Therefore, this year’s conference was held in partnership with the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Belgrade, the Embassy of a country known for its successful public diplomacy, with the aim of presenting Korean experiences in public diplomacy to the local professional public and to consider which of them could be useful for the Republic of Serbia and our diplomacy.

The conference participants were first addressed by the President of the Forum for Strategic Studies, Dr. Neven Cvetićanin, who briefly explained the history of FORST and expressed the hope that the conferences organized by this think-tank could soon grow into the Strategic Streams Conference Series as a recognizable brand, gathering every year in the Balkans leading strategists from Europe and the world. Dr. Cveticanin shared with the audience the vision and goals of the Forum for Strategic Studies in building a professional and credible think tank at whose events distinguished people from world and regional diplomacy would gather and discuss relevant strategic topics.

After that, His Excellency, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Serbia Lee Jaewoong greeted and addressed the audience, expressing his satisfaction that the Embassy of the Republic of Korea is organizing a joint conference with the Forum for Strategic Studies on Public Diplomacy, continuing the long-standing practice of cooperation with think tanks from Serbia, choosing the Forum for Strategic Studies as a partner this year. Ambassador Jaewoong Lee then spoke about the friendly relations between the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Serbia, which share common interests in promoting mutual political, economic and cultural cooperation. He then spoke about Korean public practices in public diplomacy in promoting universal values such as peace and cooperation among different countries and in general among different international entities, which is especially important in the time of geopolitical tensions and confrontations in which we live. At the end of his address, His Excellency Ambassador Jaewoong Lee expressed his conviction that this year’s Strategic Streams 2023 conference, jointly organized with the Forum for Strategic Studies, is an important event where an important topic – public diplomacy – will be discussed, which is especially important in our turbulent geopolitical time in order to promote public diplomacy as a bridge and a tool for enhancing mutual trust among the countries.

Then the guest of the conference from the Republic of Korea, distinguished professor Byungjong Lee from the University of Seoul and a long-time analyst for some of the world’s major media houses – Bloomberg, Newsweek and the Associated Press – addressed the audience. At the beginning of his presentation, he gave a simple definition of public diplomacy as a means by which foreigners love a country, which presents itself as best as possible through public diplomacy. Then Professor Lee asked the question whether public diplomacy is still important in our time of geopolitical tensions when it seems that the only thing that matters is the so-called “hard” power of a country, answering that question in the affirmative. Then he presented the concept of the so-called “soft power” developed by the famous Harvard professor Joseph Nye and explained how this concept can mutate into the so-called “smart power”, which combines the elements of “soft” and “hard” power in an optimal ratio. Then the professor presented the concept of the so-called smart public diplomacy, underlining the difference between traditional diplomacy (which was in presenting the country on the government-government line) and public diplomacy (when public diplomacy is between different countries and on the government-public and public-public lines), underlining the difference between public diplomacy in the 20th and 21st centuries. Then Professor Lee made a distinction between public diplomacy and propaganda, which consists in the fact that the former is two-way and the latter one-way in communication, whereby public diplomacy in the 21st century is specific because traditional media such as radio, TV and newspapers moved to social networks that open up new opportunities for public diplomacy, different from some mundane propaganda. Public diplomacy is actually a very sophisticated branding of states, whereby every state can be understood as a brand and every state competes to brand itself as well as possible, that is, to present itself as well as possible. This raises several questions: Who are we? Why are we potentially good? How are we potentially different from everyone else and what good do we have to offer the world? It is actually task of public diplomacy where the Republic of Korea itself is known for branding itself through the economy and its famous brands such as Samsung, KIA and Hyundai. However, the economy is not the only sector of Korean branding, there is also culture and the production of world-famous brands such as K-Pop and others, where all of this is the result of significant financial investments in public diplomacy, for example – the budget for public diplomacy in Korea was 6-7 billion dollars in 2013, and 21 billion in 2019. With all that, Korea has the so-called public diplomats in the form of world-famous personalities originating from this country who participate in the project of public diplomacy, and there is also the diaspora as an important segment of public diplomacy.

Then Professor Dejan Jović, professor of the Faculty of Political Sciences from Zagreb and the Faculty of Political Sciences from Belgrade, an expert in international relations, addressed the audience. Professor Jovic welcomed Professor Lee’s presentation, concluding that Korea has had significant successes in public diplomacy, which are clearly the product of a strategic way of thinking. Professor Jović concluded that Korea managed to successfully brand itself, becoming from a country that in the 50s of the 20th century was known for war and even for the risk of a world war breaking out on its territory, to today known as a country of successful business brands such as Samsung and Hyundai, as well as by specific popular culture. He then cited examples of how Croatia branded itself with regard to the various needs of its foreign policy, presenting itself as a medium or small country as needed. Then Professor Jović spoke about the fact that public diplomacy, unlike the traditional one, which is based on the concept of interest, is based on the concept of identity and image, which is especially interesting in the 21st century when everyone can produce certain good or bad images about a certain country, which means that the matter is not only in the hands of professionals, but also of amateurs, since social networks have led us to a kind of amateurocracy. Professor Jović also made a distinction between public diplomacy and propaganda, stressing that especially people from academic fields should not be simple propagandists of their own countries, because they are then at risk of professional disqualification.

Then Dr. Goran Svilanović, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, addressed the audience, who thanked for the opportunity to be one of the speakers at the conference, recalling first of all the public diplomacy of socialist Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito, who organized cultural events, film festivals, in order to thereby sending a positive image to the world about the country. He then spoke about the efforts of public diplomacy during his time as Minister of Foreign Affairs, in order to present the country to the world in the most positive light possible. He also cited positive current examples of organizations that contribute to the country’s public diplomacy, such as NALED, which has become a regionally known brand and contributes to the country’s positive image in the region. He cited the positive example of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, which also creates a positive image of the country, as well as the EXIT festival, which also contributes to the positive image of the country. Finally, he mentioned the example of the Kopaonik Business Forum, which has also become a recognizable regional brand, promoting a positive image of the country.

Then Dr. Neven Cvetićanin, president of the Forum for Strategic Studies, addressed the audience again, emphasizing that FORST is a Serbian think-tank with a vision and mission of serving our country, i.e. serving its foreign policy, giving it credible analyzes and proposals. He pointed out that Serbia, compared to Korea, is not as technologically advanced a country and that it does not have world-famous technology brands like Samsung or Hyundai, but that its most famous “brands” are successful athletes like Novak Djokovic or Nikola Jokic, who are known worldwide. This means that Serbia’s best resource for its public diplomacy is Human Resources (HR) and that it is necessary to increase investment in them through investments in those activities, such as sports, where it is absolutely certain that we can produce top people, i.e. champions who then they simply become the best ambassadors of the country. The key question is how and how much the state and society invest in successful people, not only in sports, but also in science and other activities in which we can create world-renowned successful people. Dr. Cvetićanin reminded, for example, fellowship holders from nineteenth-century Serbia, when the state and society invested in talented individuals who were sent to study at the world’s most prestigious universities – in Austria, France, Russia, England, Germany and other influential countries – in order to return to Serbia and occupied an important place in it. He pointed out that Serbia today, as then, has the problem of being at a geopolitical crossroads, where it is not easy to maintain peace and stability and social balance, on which Serbia spends a lot of internal energy, and does not have much left for external public diplomacy. Dr. Cvetićanin also highlighted the diaspora as an important resource of Serbia’s public diplomacy, stressing that the diaspora must not be understood only as an “ATM”, but as the most useful human resource and network that can help the country’s public diplomacy.

After that, the guest from Korea, professor Byungjong Lee, addressed the attendees again, giving as the keynote speaker of the conference final observations on the previously presented theses and questions of the other speakers.  He pointed out that public diplomacy is always formed around the answer to the question – who are we – and that in this sense the Korean people have a problem because they are divided into South and North Korea, which creates a problem in identity and its presentation to the world, since those countries are socially and politically different, although it is the same nation with the same historical tradition. He pointed out that the biggest obstacle to the public diplomacy of any country is the prejudices and stereotypes that exist about that country in the international community, which is an example when a country does not brand itself, but when it is “branded” by others – negatively. Professor Lee pointed out that, as far as human resources are concerned, as a resource of public diplomacy, the state should not exaggerate in the “production” of people, but should let the free market spontaneously use human talents, which can then also be a resource of public diplomacy. For example – there is Korean K-Pop and the task of public diplomacy is to turn K-Pop fans into fans of Korea itself as a country of origin. Professor Lee agreed that the diaspora is an important public diplomacy resource of any country and shared with the audience the experiences of how Korea uses its own diaspora as an important public diplomacy resource.

After the speeches of all the speakers of the conference, there followed a fruitful discussion on the theme of the conference with questions from the audience, which included representatives of the diplomatic corps, world and European international organizations, as well as representatives of the media. Tobias Flessenkemper, representative of the Council of Europe office in Serbia, His Excellency the Ambassador of Mexico to Serbia Carlos Felix Corona and others present in the audience took part in the discussion.

After the conference participants answered the questions posed by the audience, at the very end of the conference, Dr. Neven Cvetićanin, President of the Forum for Strategic Studies, thanked all conference participants, all people present in the audience, as well as presented media, for another successfully held annual conference Strategic Streams of FORST.