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Viewing cable 05REYKJAVIK526, ICELAND: REINVIGORATING PUBLIC DIPLOMACY CULTURAL

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05REYKJAVIK526 2005-12-27 07:07 2011-01-13 05:05 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Reykjavik
VZCZCXRO6944
RR RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHROV RUEHSR
RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHRK #0526/01 3610700
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 270700Z DEC 05
FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2484
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 REYKJAVIK 000526 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: KPAO OEXC SCUL IC
SUBJECT:  ICELAND:  REINVIGORATING PUBLIC DIPLOMACY CULTURAL 
AND SPORTS PROGRAMS 
 
REF: STATE 222516 
 
1.  Cultural programming is a key element of Embassy 
Reykjavik's public outreach, which aims to foster a positive 
image of the U.S. among Icelandic citizens and, especially, 
elites.  Following is post's response to questions posed 
reftel: 
 
  A.   Which of your mission objectives benefits from cultural 
      programs or could be better supported by cultural programs, 
      including sports programs? 
 
Potentially all of our mission objectives could benefit from 
cultural programs insofar as such programs provide 
opportunities for positive interactions with host nationals 
while offering an implicit reminder of the diversity and 
quality of American endeavor.  Because Icelandic society is 
small (under 300,000 homogeneous people) and intimate (over 
half the population lives in the capital region, and the 
elites mostly attended the same three or four secondary 
schools followed by the University of Iceland), access is 
not ordinarily a problem for our diplomats.  Nor do cultural 
programs assist in building direct public support for U.S. 
policy objectives, which in Iceland have mainly to do with 
defense and trade.  They do, however, challenge and change 
negative public opinion or stereotypes that thwart U.S. 
interests.  For example, in November we provided substantial 
funding for the opening of an exhibit at Reykjavik City Hall 
entitled "Gandhi, King, Ikeda; Peace for Future 
Generations," enabling the organizers to hire an African- 
American actor to perform Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I 
Have a Dream" speech.  The exhibit, running for two weeks 
and viewed by thousands of Icelanders, promoted non-violent 
activism not only as virtuous but also as an effective tool 
to realize social change.  The performance challenged the 
contemporary stereotype of Americans as seeking to solve all 
problems militarily and as disrespectful of human and civil 
rights. 
 
  B.   What kind of specific cultural or sports programs or 
      initiatives are, or would be, most effective in supporting 
      those objectives? 
 
As a small post (only 12 direct-hire Americans) with a small 
public diplomacy staff (three people) and budget (about 
$40,000 annually for programs and grants), we do not have a 
lot of data on which to base conclusions about some types of 
programs working better than others.  We can say, however, 
that we do not find poster shows helpful as we have no place 
to display them, and exhibitions and performing art shows 
are normally too expensive to fund in their entirety out of 
our regular budget. Our ideal event is to bring a musician 
(shared with another post or posts, to save us money) to 
perform in the Ambassador's Residence, inviting a mixed 
audience of artists, politicians, bureaucrats, and 
businessmen for hors d'oeuvres, drinks, entertainment, and 
good cheer in the distinctively charming environment of the 
CMR.  Even sophisticated, worldly Icelanders act immensely 
flattered by an invitation to be the Chief of Mission's 
guests, and by all appearances they leave such events in a 
haze of warm feelings about transatlantic relations. 
 
In theory we like videos because for the price of popcorn 
and soft drinks we can then invite student groups and young 
political activists to our embassy basement for a screening 
and discussion, thus creating good will while we educate. 
In practice, unfortunately, the videos we receive can seem 
too simplistic or propagandistic for Icelandic audiences, 
and we simply shelve them for fear that they could alienate 
rather than engage proposed guests. 
 
What we tend to end up doing most often is in effect to 
stretch our budget by providing duty-free alcohol for 
receptions at exhibit openings and art festivals.  Because 
alcohol is highly taxed in Iceland, our gifts of wine for 
receptions strike Icelanders as far more generous than they 
actually are.  In return for these gifts we get thanked on 
invitations and publicity materials prepared by the event 
sponsors, and we get invitations for our staff to attend 
events along with high society.  Then we use the events to 
hobnob, make connections, and talk up U.S. policy.  An 
example is in August, when we provided the wine for a 
reception held in honor of Clint Eastwood, who was in 
Iceland to film part of his upcoming movie, "Flags of Our 
Fathers."  The reception, held at an art museum, brought 
together American movie stars and staff with pillars of 
Iceland's art world.  Our Charge d'Affaires was invited to 
make a short speech, which he used to highlight the breadth 
of U.S.-Icelandic bilateral cooperation. 
 
In the year ahead, post would like to do more sports - or, 
to be specific, health and fitness - programming.  One of 
 
REYKJAVIK 00000526  002 OF 002 
 
 
the most popular children's TV shows in the U.S. is 
"Lazytown," a combination live action/computer-generated 
imagery show that encourages young kids to adopt healthy 
exercise and nutrition habits.   The show is in fact the 
brainchild of an Icelandic auteur, produced in Reykjavik 
with a combined American/Icelandic cast.  We would like to 
bring American athletes - e.g., members of the President's 
Council on Physical Fitness - to Iceland for a symposium on 
children's fitness that would provide an opportunity to 
thank Iceland for its contribution to the health of 
America's kids.  Such a project would be helpful politically 
and strengthen cultural ties as well. 
 
  C.   What constraints does your mission face in effectively 
      utilizing cultural, arts, and sports programs? 
 
Iceland has a plethora of choirs, many of them excellent, so 
we have trouble getting our hosts excited about visiting 
singing groups.  More generally, the cultural (for example, 
Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other 
country in the world besides Israel) and technological 
sophistication of Iceland requires that cultural programming 
be of extremely high quality in order to make an impact. 
And due to the small market and nine annual months of winter 
it can be hard to attract cultural programs of note or 
sports programs that require warm weather.  Even when 
opportunities do arise, we need to be very picky, because 
even a relatively minor program like bringing an artist 
(say, through the Art in Embassies program) or musician to 
give a series of master classes can devour a staff member's 
time for days, stretching colleagues thin. 
 
Of course the main constraint is fiscal, so Department 
support for notable cultural programming targeted 
specifically at small posts would be appreciated.  Given the 
widespread concern about U.S. intentions regarding provision 
of Iceland's defense, as well as our genuine desire to 
strengthen the country's police, port and airport security, 
and Coast Guard, most of our small program and exchanges 
budget supports programming addressing specific security 
issues.  If we could afford additional cultural and sports 
programs, we could reach broader audiences on, frankly, more 
salubrious subjects. 
 
  D.   How have you been able to partner with the private 
      sector in your country to sponsor cultural/sports events, or 
      to overcome resource (staff and funding constraints)? 
 
Yes, we have.  For example, in 2002 we partnered with a bank 
(which donated U.S. $20,000) and the Reykjavik City Theater 
to bring New York's Merce Cunningham Dance Company for a 
series of what were critically-acclaimed, sold-out 
performances.  Also, for several years we have partnered 
with Time4 Media to organize the Iceland Open.  Starting 
around the Summer Solstice, the Iceland Open combines a 36- 
hole golf tournament (tee-off is at midnight) with 
sightseeing for about 300 golfers from around the world. 
This event brings significant revenue to the Icelandic 
economy as well as promotion of the country's tourism 
industry, thus creating goodwill in our Icelandic hosts. 
 
2.  Comment:  Cultural and sports programming is 
particularly important at present, ironically at a time when 
the U.S. is using transformational diplomacy assertively to 
advance our political and economic values.  We spend a lot 
of time trying to explain U.S. policies, for example, in the 
war on terror.  But with many audiences - especially an 
Icelandic audience that has no personal experience of 
terrorism or war -- these days, no amount of explaining is 
going to win support or even sympathy for these policies. 
Sometimes it seems like the best we can do is distract 
people from policies they find repugnant with marvelous 
cultural and sports programming that focuses them on 
America's ongoing spectacular contribution to world 
heritage.  End comment. 
 
KOSNETT