“Nation branding,” a relatively new tool in the soft power toolkit, has emerged as a complement to traditional public diplomacy. It’s a way for a country to boost its public image through advertising techniques in the hopes of creating more favorable conditions for foreign investment, tourism, trade, or even better diplomatic relations with other countries.
When searching the Internet for a concrete example of nation branding, I stumbled up this promotional video by the EU called “So Similar, So Different, So European.” The video goes through a series of images, leading the viewer to think it’s of a Western European country and then revealing it’s actually of a country in the Balkans. The goal is to show how each pair of countries is similar. The Balkan countries, which are frequently associated with wars and political instability, are being marketed as newer and more modern versions of themselves, no longer the threatening “Other” they once were.
It’s clear that the video is targeting Europeans who suffer from what could only be called “enlargement fatigue.” The EU has struggled to cultivate solidarity in the wake of the financial crisis that has called into question the viability of the union itself. Yet, even before the crisis, many EU citizens were against further expansion, seeing the admission of Romania and Bulgaria as untimely. Thus, the overall nation branding objective is to garner support for EU enlargement and this video is intended to get Europeans to get on board with the next round of candidate countries.
For any supranational structure, constructing a community around a shared identity is vital to its branding. So when the EU tries to do this, it has to elevate the similarities of its current and potential constituencies over the differences. However, there is something to be said about celebrating diversity. I take issue with the fact that the video basically “twins” two countries together and plays off of cultural stereotypes. For example, saying …
- Montenegro is just like Sweden (who is known for its fishing and coastline).
- The Serbs are just like the French (which is stereotyped by young girls wearing berets).
- Macedonia is just like the UK (who is world renowned for its colleges and universities).
- Croatia is just like Austria (who is famous for its classical music).
- Turkey is just like Germany (who is thought to be an urban, industrial powerhouse).
- Albania is just like Greece (who is known for its ancient temples).
I understand what this campaign is trying to do, but homogenizing the Balkans with Europe may not be the best tactic. For me, a lingering question to countries seeking EU accession is whether or not they are willing to sacrifice some of their sovereignty and cultural distinctiveness in order join the EU brand.