Lets Make it a Pleasant Surprise

Roussi Marinov

"Congonde est morte ! Ah, meilleur de mondes. o tes- vous? Mais de quelle maladie est-elle morte; ne serait-se point de m'avoir vu chasser du beau chteau de monsier son pre grand coups de pied? Non , dit Pangloss, elle a t ventrepar de soldat bulgares, aprsavoir t viole autant qu'on peut l'tre: ils ont cass la tte monseur le baron qui la voulait la dfendre; madame la baronne a t coupe en morceaux; mon pauvre pupille trait prcisment comme sa soeur; et quant au chteau, il n'est pas rest pierre, sur pierre..."

Whether we like this story about Bulgarian soldiers , and Bulgarians in general or not, it has been circulating in Europe as early as 1759 , when Volter wrote "Candid" one of the most remarkable philosophical novels . An image, we could say, is what it should be, and it cannot easily be changed.

It is difficult to built up an image of a nation and change attitudes towards a given country when we consider stereotypes, patterns of thought, a preliminary frame of mind pervading one's consciousness, cliches, superficial impressions and attitudes from books, literature or films. Not only radical change in the economy, in technology, in standards and the living standards is necessary for changes to set in, for hardly can we think of any image of a country, where the average annual income is approx 1000 USD. The increase of personal incomes can become the principal political and communication strategy ; these steps themselves are a change of the internal and external membership of various international communities. Yet the need for a continuous communication programs in time, remains.

Bulgarian politicians would be quite naive to believe that several publications about Bulgaria in the Western press or several interviews over CNN could change the image of the country as whole or attitudes to it. Generally political meetings and discussions do not affect attitudes towards us or if in any way it was influenced, this was due to other events, enhancing a political message .

Just as it is impossible for the Germans to clear their "Nazi" past in people's consciousness (in spite of campaigns for the de-socialization of persons carried out in Germany after the Second World War), so it is impossible for the Russians to erase their "Communist" and "Totalitarian" past, or the "Vietnam Syndrome" of the Americans. It is even more difficult for us to neutralize such negative attitudes among the Western European audience, after the attempt on the life of the Pope. Regardless of all administrative and legal decisions, statements of politicians, the "Bulgarian trace" will remain for long in the mind of the people together with the respective doubt. Fixed stereotypes and attitudes are largely determined both by literature and films.

Thus "Survival at Night", the contemporary Italian film of Director Cincia Torini offers a fine portrait of the contemporary drug-trafficker, with a Bulgarian as a prototype, not to mention successful films of the "Agent 007" type , where Bulgaria is referred to in negative terms . These films and "set images" accumulate and leave an imprint on the Bulgarian image around the world, while at the same time the country remains absolutely unknown and foreigners even find it hard to locate the country - wondering whether it is in Asia, Russia, Latin America, whether it is some province somewhere).

In one of its November issues of 1993 the Washington Post , in an extensive article dwelt on the mission of the Bulgarian Blue Helmets in Cambodia ( one of the few publications on Bulgaria, coming out in the Washington Post ), with derogatory words about them.. Neither at the time , nor later did any institution in Bulgaria react to this publication, in spite of the many positive references for the Cambodia mission.

The name of Bulgaria internationally is associated with quite a lot of negative attitudes. It is very difficult to change the inertia in attitudes to Bulgaria in western countries. It was Fred Hayet, the American journalist, who spoke of the average American not being quite clear about international events, contrary to people in other countries, and why he supposes the first associations of the ordinary people make with the Balkans are "conflict," "instability". It is hard to build up the image of our country in America, considering the indifference of the American reader and views towards foreign countries and nations.

Reports in Bulgaria in the Western press are chiefly on the economic difficulties, people being stabbed, and the aid given to Bulgaria. Readers usually think of Bulgaria in terms of primary needs - a country where "citizens" have to be fed, supplied with heating fuel, bread, and wheat etc. On the other hand, in no way is the Western reader and viewer superior to the Bulgarian people - on the contrary - Bulgarians in many ways were lagging behind in certain fields, Bulgarians tended to be conservative, and resisted change; Bulgarians were not open people, they lacked imagination.

This is why future communication programs should focus their attention to positive aspects - not only in their idiom and the use of euphemisms, rather in the fields where we are more advanced. We should show the real picture of life in Bulgaria.

The dialogue should not only be addressed towards an external audience, , but towards the Bulgarian public as well. The aim is to bring out the strong points of Bulgarians above others. It is essential to do away with a disbalance in behaviour and attitudes of the authorities. Bulgarian politicians are the most important audience to be influenced, and their behaviour affected. One of the first attempts for image making of countries , making use public relations techniques, was done in India after the Second World War. The campaign was run by Edward Bernice from October 1951 to May 1952, one of the most famous American image-makers. He notes in his memoirs that at the time India was seen by Americans through cliches like as "the country of holy cows", "the caste system of pariahs", "the country of snake charmers", "the country of child-marriages" and "the country of exotic sects". Political factors should also be taken into consideration, for instance Indian neutrality in the Korean conflict of 1952, which additional led to negative attitudes in the U.S. And India had became a scape-goat for the thousands of Americans because of the Korean Conflict.

The Indian Ambassador to the USA devoted efforts to organize the campaign and received the necessary funding from the Indian Parliament.

Under a pseudonym a list of questions was sent to the Prime Minister of India. Effectively what he was asked were questions like "How did Neruh's see USA" , "How did India see Russia" . What is the role of India for the support of democracy in Asia". "How does India look on American investments?" . He wanted once again to outline Indian policy towards the USA. Based on this information the author wrote a long article , emphasizing the common points for the two countries. It was published by the major Indian newspapers . Several days later the article came out in the New York Times. The American public and the US Government saw the publication as an indication of a new political course of the Indian Government towards closer ties between the two countries.

He organized a meeting of the Indian Ambassador with American journalists , working with India, turned to influential leaders , public figures, politicians, teachers, the business community, the financial community, outstanding artists, musicians and writers. He carefully drafted letters to each group , considering its specific interests. By January 1952 , 35,000 letters were sent!

A tour was organized for the Indian Ambassador around the USA In February 1952 Nehru delivered a speech on Indian American relations and his personal opposition to communism in Asia. Some of the elements in the speech, which were well received, were suggested by Bernice. In March 1952 India had the chance to present herself before the American public in a 30 minute TV program.

The outcome conclusion of this campaign was evident : a concrete effect was sought, above all making use of the massmedia; the effect on the public would be short, not balanced; a number of barriers, stemming from linguistic, cultural, religious, political and communicational incompatibility would emerge; negative attitudes would inevitably be are too strong to allow quick change. The Government of South Africa organized a similar campaign in the 70ties. This was at the time when the South African Government was accused in following a policy of apartheid and denial of basic human rights. The most important audience selected here were the USA and Western Europe. For the year 1978 alone about 160-180 confidential information projects were prepared and realized. Between 1965 and 1975 the South African Information Department spent 2,5 million rands alone for a campaign influencing public opinion around the world.

The campaign included sponsorship of scientific conferences; worked for the winning over of Congressmen from the USA Congress, accompanied with financial inducement; attempts were made to buy influential American newspapers; American businessmen were invited to compete in golf tournaments in South Africa, one of the leading countries in golf in the world); shares were bought of film companies and distributors of videofilms. In 1976 a special fund financed Ford's election campaign.

Information agencies, which supplied photographic material and spread news for the massmedia in Western Europe were supported financially. Tourism was used as an indirect instrument to cultivate a favourable image. Non government organizational structures were used as an additional channel for the dissemination of information; free subscriptions were given for important South African journals and newspapers to selected readers in Europe and USA.

In spite of these favourable image efforts and the explanation of the Government's position on human rights, the effect achieved was not stable; a number of mistakes were made, massmedia rights were insufficiently recognized , through the introduction of some restrictions for the press.

Let us dwell on reality in Bulgaria. A Council for International Information Strategy has been established under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the aim of conducting a campaign for the improvement of the international image of Bulgaria. The idea of organizing a campaign abroad and the selection of a an agency came from the Prime Minister, after a meeting of the member states of the European Union. On that occasion it became apparent that "our image abroad is lagging behind and the world frequently does not know of events n Bulgaria or hears the details with a delay". Today the new image of Bulgaria will be presented with the support of several thousand ecu from the PHARE program. A film is being prepared on Bulgaria , to be shown at international forums; Bulgarian lobbies will be sought to work in favour of Bulgaria; a page will be prepared in the Internet. All envisaged projects are in the sphere of advertising and international activities.

The Ministry of Trade and Tourism is also planning a similar program, parallel to the other one. The idea is to provide more information abroad and " Government institutions open to the public". Openness on the other hand does not yet indicate the existence of communication, dialogue and understanding. One could even say, that these new ideas are largely non-communitative, and clear addressed to a small closed circle. Nevertheless this does not mean they are non-productive and do not lead to change for the better.

The essential element in our communication activities should not be the image of the country in itself (one could consider a change of the name of the country, if it has a excessively negatively sounding one , or if the English name has new negative implications and associations. There is good ground to think about the minimal difference between "bulgar", "burglar", "vulgar") and the emotions they evoke - if they are strong emotions, the audience will accept the image according to its merit. An image is a pure creation of the spirit. Whenever one is faced with something new. New experiences always give raise to pleasant expectations and joy. Hence the communication programs concentrate on non-standard things, the unusual or something the unique ; things that elevate the spirit and provoke emotions. Our world is by far too monotonous, so we strive to escape from it.

Dao, the ancient philosopher says " He who boasts about himself, will not gain fame". We have to get others to talk about us , all the time to be surprised by our success, which had previously been unknown . One of Larochefoucault's maxims runs that a great name does not bring great fame , but humiliates him, who cannot support it. Hence it is easier to build up some kind of image for an institution or state, however it is more difficult to maintain it. There is nothing more difficult than building up of a great name.

Aldous Huxley words to the effect that there is only one little corner in the world which you could be sure to improve and that is your own person should be borne in mind. Changing oneself is much easier, than trying to change others. Therefore when we speak of image making programs addressed to the international community , they are rather directed inward to one's own public. An audience, which has to become aware of how unique we are , and how we are seen abroad, what others know and do not known about us, what should we do to improve and what we are best at is essential. And internal change , sooner or later is noticed. An image is made through reality and successes. Success, measured in terms of a 25,000 BP per capita annual income. This is the message , the ideal, all the rest are words and well learnt cliches. Anatol France has the following advice: In order to achieve great deeds, not only should be plan and act, but also believe. On the other hand positive expectations can result in enthusiasm , a pledge for success.

When something is bad, the media, in particular the media with international significance and other factors always hear about it, our failures are always reported without us bothering. As for the good news - the news of change and success - we are those, who should make extra efforts to find the facts and realize how much we've done. Every one of us should take the steps leading to a better image around the world.