If ideas, news and stories (especially positive ones) from a country are not published on the front pages of newspapers or reported on TV on a regular basis, it feels the country shrinks on the map of the world.
A country’s place and influence in the world can not be judged solely by its economic achievements, military, territory and natural wealth, although all of these are very important.
Truly influential countries generate news, stories, ideas and theories that are interesting to the rest of the world. They attract global interest and attention like magnets, which gives them an opportunity to influence, willfully or not, the global mood, to mold global public opinion to suit their interests, and to set intellectual trends. If ideas, news and stories (especially positive ones) from a country are not published on the front pages of newspapers or reported on TV on a regular basis, it feels the country shrinks on the map of the world. Public interest in a country falls along with its international sway and prestige.
Remaining at the forefront of news and intellectual trends is a must for a country’s soft power and a major goal of its intellectual elite. Many years ago I proposed measuring a country’s international sway by the number of foreign journalists accredited in the capital city. Moscow, which used to rival Washington in this category, later lagged behind even Beijing and Brussels. But the situation began changing recently.
Russia is regaining its position as a leading global newsmaker and generator of ideas, due to its prominent stance on key international issues and as the host of important international events such as APEC Leaders’ Week in 2012, G20 summit in 2013, the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, G8 summit in 2014, and the FIFA World Cup in 2018. Taken together with a large number of international conferences, roundtables and forums, such as the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, which Russia hosts, this amounts to effective soft power.
Influential countries must not overlook opportunities to strengthen their position, for example by providing a venue for discussing pressing political issues. The demand for such discussions is higher than ever. The global political class is in a deep intellectual crisis and this is affecting political practices, which now clearly rely on impromptu decisions and have become dangerously haphazard.
Russia has a venue for such discussions, the Valdai Club, which held its first conference ten years ago. The evolution of the Valdai Club, which Russia initially used as a means to explain itself to the world, gradually developed into an unprecedented global research, analysis and discussion body, which is evidence of the growing demand for discussing political issues. The club has become one of the most effective intellectual venues in the world. Over 600 politicians and experts from 47 countries have shared their views there.
The upcoming tenth conference of the Valdai Club this September is likely to be its largest and most representative. It is expected to be attended by over 200 leading experts, thinkers and political, public and religious figures from many countries, including Gerhard Schroeder, Wolfgang Schuessel, Aleksander Kwasniewski, Mesut Yilmaz and Amr Moussa. It goes without saying that Vladimir Putin will also attend the club’s conference. He has not missed a single conference, using it as an opportunity to explain his views of the situation in Russia and the world, to talk about acute political issues and to give very direct answers to questions, some of which have caused quite a stir in the world.
The upcoming discussions of Russia’s path and whether there is elite consensus in the country on its ideal form and ways to achieve it are extremely important not only for Russia. Problems of national identity have become a global issue, and the search for new ways to resolve them stands high on the agenda of China, which is undergoing a profound change, as well as of the EU and Europe as a whole, where the crisis of multiculturalism has put in question the survival of a European identity.
It is also an important issue in the Arab world, which has suffered quite a few shocks over the past few years, as well as the United States, which is undergoing a crisis in its world vision and is searching, so far unsuccessfully, for a national identity that would allow it to maintain global leadership.
This is why the upcoming Valdai Club meeting is so important.
There are now many more venues to discuss economic issues, which is logical. Serious political discussions are much more difficult to organize because it is very difficult to find a common language on political issues, to overcome stereotypes about the mindsets of different nations, to think strategically rather than tactically, and to discuss political differences professionally and unemotionally.
It is unfortunate the Yaroslavl Global Policy Forum is no longer active. Even still, Russia has maintained its global leadership in this field, and this has had a big positive impact on its reputation, which is worth quite a bit.
This article was originally published in Russian in Rossiyskaya Gazeta No. 6118 of July 3, 2013