top of page

The impacts of this new digital era in activity abroad go beyond reflections about our “soft power”

Interview with Mr Krešo Glavač, Head of the Public Relations Department of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs to the Republic of Croatia

Mr Glavač, let me start actually with a very simple direct question: What is the best thing about being a representative of Croatian diplomacy? And how are you in these strange times?

Thank you for your kind question how I feel in 2020. Definitely, these are strange times we are living in. 2020 will definitely be a year to remember...even though we might rather forget it. Still, I think that each person is responsible for her or his own actions, and we should judge based on our interactions with one another...nothing else.

According to your first question, I have to highlight that is a great honor and privilege to represent my country overseas. As a diplomat, I represented Croatian people, the Croatian President and government in several countries: Turkey, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia etc. This involves, among other things, helping Croatian companies invest and trade, ensuring the embassy provides an excellent consular service to Croatian tourists and residents, celebrating Croatian culture, sports, education.

International affairs is a fascinating area to work in. You get to work with people from all over the world, coming across different mind-sets and ideas - and your colleagues tend to be very interesting people, too. Plus, it's always varied.

What brought you to the MFA of the Republic of Croatia? Was that a choice?

As a graduated Turkologist who is specializing in the languages, history and cultures of Turkic peoples, including, for example Turkish, Kazakh, Uzbek, Azeri, Kyrgyz, Uyghur, Tuvan, Altai, Shor, Karakalpak and all other Turkic peoples, my first job was managing Croatia’s relationship with Turkey at the Croatian Consulate General in Istanbul.

Then I was posted to Sarajevo as a press attaché, where I was in charge of explaining Croatia's policies, on everything from trade, art, media, Bosnian and international NGOs, science to cultural and religious pluralism, to Bosnian wider society journalists and the university community, etc. After two years there, I came back to Zagreb in 2013 to work in the capacity of the Director for the Coordination of Foreign and European Policy of the Government, in charge of harmonization and supervision of the work of the Office during the period when Croatia joined the EU as the 28th member state (1 July 2013).

I served as the Head of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms Vesna Pusic for two years.

Finally in 2016, I was posted as an Ambassador of Croatia to Malaysia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and the Sultanate of Brunei: representing the interests of Croatia in ASEAN Region, one of the largest economic partners of the European Union, pursuing the official Croatian policies in all areas. As you see, we move between jobs quite frequently, so you might be working on arms control, then switch to economic relations with Vietnam.

Is there a particular memory of days of your service as an ambassador to Malaysia?

Presenting my Letters of Credence to His Majesty the King, 14th Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdul Halim Shah of Malaysia, in an audience at the Royal Palace in Kuala Lumpur was significant for a number of reasons. First, of course, as a confirmation of my formal diplomatic accreditation as the Croatian Ambassador to Malaysia.

I was delighted to witness it myself when our carriage arrived at the palace gates just as the ceremony was taking place. I particularly enjoyed the music played by the Guards band.

I am delighted to have made formal my diplomatic status as Croatian Ambassador to Malaysia with this most traditional of Malaysian experiences, steeped in history, decorum and style. After presenting my letters to The King, it was with enormous pleasure and pride that I listened whilst he spoke of how important the links between our two countries are.

Last year I received one of the biggest accolades in my 44. The Malaysian Technology EXPO Special Award was named after me and from the bottom of my heart I would like to take this opportunity and express my gratitude to the Malaysian Government and MTE for such a great honor. Finally, I was very happy that a Croatian company Infobip was given this special Kreso Glavac award.

You have graduated with a degree in Turkology and Anthropology. How does that knowledge improve your work in diplomacy?

As I mentioned before, degree in Turkology and Anthropology science helped me a lot in many aspects in life as well as in diplomacy. Knowledge of Turkish, Arabic and Farsi was my big advantage in joining the diplomacy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Language plays a huge role in diplomacy, social identity, group membership, and establishing cultural beliefs and ideologies.

Different languages can build your brain in different ways. So if getting along really depends on being able to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes, being able to speak their language helps us to understand more deeply how others see the world.

If we are talking about anthropology, anthropology today is more commonly thought of as the study of human cultures and societies, and language is of course a cultural and social phenomenon. You can't have religion without language, Durkheim makes ritual the origin of both language and religion, which implies many other features of human culture (excluding e.g. song, dance, and visual art, which I believe had a much earlier origin and are even preconditions for ritual). Thus language is a fundamental part of the study of culture.

Finally, language education is critical for the workforce of the future and being bilingual can broaden career options.

As Goethe said, “Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”

This year you have been award for the best digital ambassador in Southeastern Europe. Tell us please a bit more about it. What have you brought new in the Croatian digital diplomacy agenda?

Shortly after taking office as the Croatian ambassador to Malaysia, I proposed I should open a Twitter account as part of the modernization process of the Croatian diplomatic communication strategy, one of whose main elements was to increase our presence in the social media. Despite initially feeling lost as I began to use a tool that until then was unknown to me.

I very soon understood Twitter's enormous worth because of the capacity it has to reach a new public directly, and also because it allows two-way communication.

From the start I conceived my Twitter account as a working instrument.

In most cases my posts are related to foreign policy, but among them I sometimes also include cultural, sporting and promotional themes related to Croatia. This is an element I consider crucial, as a large proportion of my followers are foreigners.

Not participating in the social networks means trailing behind on the information front. We must not lose sight of the fact that an increasing number of people, particularly young people, no longer make use of newspapers or the traditional media to follow current events, but rather use the Social

Networks as a means not only to receive occasional information but to access content of all kinds through them.

Over time, I have noticed that there are issues that receive general approval, but there are others that trigger heated reactions in the form of answers on the social networks.

This happens particularly whenever I send a tweet on Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day - the holiday when Croatians commemorate the liberation of the city of Knin in 1995 and receive dozens of responses, some in favor and others against, or on the football game between Croatia and Argentina, in which the positions are also extremely polarized. My perception is that the social networks allow you to present foreign policy to citizens in a responsive and simple way, and allow me to discover their opinion of it.

Yes, I am very grateful for the special recognition and award for the best digital ambassador in Southeastern Europe.

Those who follow you on the Facebook see that lovely relation with your daughter is undeniable. How do you spend time together and what hobbies or interests you two have?

Yes, it’s true we are very connected. Love the time I spend with my daughter Una. They are growing so fast…It isn’t about endless hours of time—it’s about how you choose to spend that time that truly matters. Meaningful connections are about quality of time, not quantity of time. Music, travelling and movies are a kind of leitmotif of our relationship. We are going together to drum classes, nature, enjoy lot of talks…

How does digitization of diplomacy affect work in The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Croatia?

Since I came back from Malaysia to theSecretariat of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU 2020 and MFEA office at the invitation of the Head of the Prime Minister's Office, Mr Zvonimir Frka-Petešić, I have acted with the conviction that Croatan public diplomacy had to be strengthened.

The set of perceptions that identify us to both ourselves and to others have a force - which is a source of power - that we are learning to recognize, to manage and even to quantify.

But the impacts of this new digital era in activity abroad go beyond reflections about our “soft power”. They are also related to our capacity to adapt quickly to the future, to modernize our methods and mentalities, to make ourselves more flexible so that we can continue to be relevant drivers of foreign activity that is increasingly democratized, sensitive to events and transversal in nature.

I would like to recommend the research paper about AI and Foreign Policies written by Ben Scott, Stefan Heumann and Philippe Lorenz published by Think Tank Stiftung Neue Verantwortung at the intersection of technology and society. This paper seeks to provide a foundation for planning a foreign policy strategy that responds effectively to the emerging power of AI in international affairs. Only international negotiations and management of global responses can address the new challenges: where everything is in the present, where borders are blurred thanks to the immediacy and interconnection between individuals, there is no doubt that diplomacy also has to be rethought.

We are only at the beginning of this reflection and in barely one year digital diplomacy has already created a role for itself.

My opinion is, in general, digitalization and artificial intelligence (AI) is moving from the realm of science fiction to real-world adoption among private and public sector organizations globally. As cyber diplomacy and AI becomes increasingly embedded in society, it will not only change the diplomacies and international policies, businesses that adopt it but also have significant economic, social and civic effects on citizens and consumers. In short, national and regional political initiatives and economies will become more intelligent in the ways they produce and distribute, activities, political agendas, goods and services.

If you were given the power what would you change in the diplomatic world today?

Let’s say that I am looking modern diplomacy through power of small steps, through People to People Diplomatic approach. And “Small” have the power, you have the power, every person in the world has a power. If you want you can take Malala’s story. When she was about the same age as my daughter Una, just 11 years old, Malala began blogging for the BBC about living under Taliban’s threats to deny her an education. Just nine months after being shot by the Taliban she gave a speech at the UN. So, small steps, your steps can lead you to changes. Ok, let’s go back to your question. Definitely, I am fan of People-to-People diplomacy. I would like to quote Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States ¨I have long believed, as have many before me, that peaceful relations between nations require understanding and mutual respect between individuals. If only people will get together, then so eventually will nations.” I would like to bring together some of the brightest voices in education, humanitarian activities, the arts, and popular culture.

Big power is an illusion same like becoming rich overnight.

Mr. Glavač, what have uniquely shaped your approach as diplomat?

It’s a deep question (smile). Education is extremely important and education is extremely important and the one who guides you through it. Family, society and life experience are crucial to shape your identity and approaches. Experiential diversity is based on life experiences that shape our emotional universe.

For me, one of the most important event was Croatian war of Independence. The time when Croatia gained its independence at the onset of the 1990s was marked by exceptionally complex and turbulent events.

Affinity bonds us to people with whom we share some of our likes and dislikes, building emotional communities. Understanding multiple types of diversity is particularly relevant in difficult times. I think that individuals construct identities consciously. Diversity is a journey and, like any journey, requires careful navigation. (smile)

What social networks do you recommend in term of digital diplomacy?

Among the political media the Social Media seems to be the most widely used in contemporary political process. The three main elements of political communication are: ideology, propaganda and persuasion. For me Twitter is my favorite social media platform. Twitter has become increasingly popular with academics as well as students, policymakers, politicians and the general public. Moreover, Twitter has become a popular element in political campaigns around the world.

The posts and interactions of political elites, journalists, and the general public constitute a political communication space. This communication space is deeply interconnected with spaces built not only by media coverage and campaign communication but also following dynamics specific to the technology of the platform and cultural usage practices of its users. To understand these dynamics we first have to understand the usage patterns of politically vocal Twitter users.

bottom of page