.
O

ne spring evening, several years ago, a handful of journalists and I stood in the Acropolis Museum after hours, touring the Parthenon Marbles. Having lived in Athens, and having an affinity for the rich history of Greek culture, I mentioned to a fellow journalist the great loss of the missing marbles, and how I hoped that someday, the British government would return them to their rightful place.

A British journalist, overhearing my comment, tossed out haughtily, "They'll never be returned. The Greeks couldn't possibly care for them like we can."

It was an odd comment, made odder by the week we had all just spent, traveling throughout the country, exploring works of art that would later be on display in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. But delivered here, in the shrine to the Acropolis, where the works of art were indeed lovingly and masterfully cared for, it seemed particularly undue.

I recalled this moment at the Acropolis Museum recently as I read Simon Anholt's latest book, The Good Country Equation, based on his years as a consultant for nations around the world. Britain earns space on its pages, as does Ireland, the United States, Croatia, Greece, and other places I've called home. (I've spoken with Anholt previously, including for our profile of his Good Country Index, and received a complimentary copy of the book upon its release.)

Simon Anholt's The Good Country Equation.

The book's ambitious subtitle, "How We Can Repair the World in One Generation" might seem aimed at activists, but it is instead targeted to world leaders, and centers on a deceptively simple premise: A country's reputation matters.

How a country is viewed by its peers has dramatic ramifications on its economy, political standing, ability to trade, and whether or not people will visit. Those perceptions also play a role in whether other countries will rally to its defense when acts of war, occupation, looting, or terror, are committed against it. And in an impossibly intertwined global society, meeting the challenges of climate change, migration, pandemics, and more, will require all nations, acting in concert.

It's therefore not enough for a country's leaders to give great speeches or launch campaigns. How they behave, and by extension, how the country behaves, speaks far greater volumes, to its citizens, and to citizens of the world.

It's this dichotomy, the chasm between words and actions, that renders propaganda ineffective in shaping perspective about one's country abroad. Although not directly addressed in Anholt's book, the debate over colonial pillaging of artwork, and by extension, culture, is a prime example of one country's views of another, and its behavior on a global stage.

It's why the moral claims of British ownership of the Parthenon marbles might ring true to the visitors of the British Museum, but strike a different chord in Greece. In contrast, the second highest rated country on the Good Country Index, Netherlands (second only to Finland) recently voted to return up to 100,000 pieces of art looted by Dutch colonialists, as a means of returning the art, and making restitution for the historical injustices. A 2019 report commissioned by President Macron also recommended that art looted from sub-Saharan Africa be permanently returned.

These actions, and the goodwill they garner worldwide, will ultimately pay greater dividends than advertising campaigns. After all, museums that behave responsibly, that display art purchased or loaned willingly, are greater stewards on the global cultural stage. The act of returning wrongfully procured art is a display of integrity and respect that ultimately, will make these museums more competitive when it comes to attracting talent, funds, partners, and more.

The same holds true for countries writ large. Convincing governments to be better collaborators in building a better world, then, is key to meeting these global challenges head on. And it can be done without sacrificing a nation's own interests, Anholt argues. In many cases, becoming better global citizens will benefit their countries directly.

Take for instance, the case of Slovenia. As Anholt relates, the Balkan country was planning to spend millions on an advertising campaign that would promote tourism to the region. Anholt instead advised them to ignore a campaign that would be forgotten in moments, if noticed at all, and spend that money investing in Slovenia's neighbors. The resulting media coverage was more substantial than the campaign would have been, the message abroad was that Slovenia was indeed more financially stable than other Balkan nations, and its people generous and compassionate. In the years following, the small country became not only a desirable tourist destination, but gained an enviable reputation worldwide.

"And a little light bulb went off in my head," Anholt writes, "people like it when countries are kind to each other."
Piran, Slovenia. Photo by Mikita Karasiou via Unsplash.

Or consider Bhutan, which wanted to increase its tourism, but selectively, to only those who would treat the country's natural resources with respect and care, and spend handsomely for the privilege to do so. The tourism minister suggested running a highly-targeted advertising campaign for the uber-wealthy, but the cost of doing so would be astronomical.

Anholt suggested instead that the nation charge a high daily tourism tariff that would dissuade most travelers from visiting, and instead appeal to those who appreciated the exclusivity of their experience. Those who complain about the tax are inadvertently helping to promote Bhutan tourism to exactly the clientele the nation is trying to attract. Rather than spending funds, the country is now raising them, and using them to help aid their environmental and sustainability initiatives.

Paro Taktsang, Bhutan. Photo by Sam Power via Unsplash.
Spanning from Botswana to Kazakhstan to Russia, and tackling insurance, free and fair elections, the rise of nationalism, and trade policy, the Good Country Equation is as much a travelogue of Anholt's adventures around the world as it is a blueprint for building a more prosperous, peaceful world. Parts of it, like Anholt's travel sickness, are almost painfully relatable, while others, like the dearth of female leaders throughout his meetings, less so.

But at its core, the book offers pragmatic suggestions, cloaked in a central premise, countries that makes themselves useful earn a place in the world; that it's better to be relevant than to be famous, and that a country's reputation influences everything it tries to sell, make, or accomplish on the global stage. Acts of grace and largesse often pay greater dividends than slick social media campaigns or glossy advertisements, and a country's reputation, hard-earned, can be easily lost with a few missteps, with dire consequences.

But, if as Anholt states, the world indeed can be repaired in one generation, what better way to start than with the seemingly simple gestures, the ones of respect and equality, of reparations and remorse? If not for solely altruistic reasons, then because, as nations slowly regain their footing in the post-pandemic world, the competition for talent, resources, trade agreements, tourism, and more, will be fiercer than ever. And, as the UK navigates a contentious Brexit, such a gesture could provide tremendous goodwill between it and its EU neighbors, remove this ongoing battle from the global discourse, free up all involved to tackle other issues, and signal equanimity at a time when it's needed most.

After all, people like it when countries are kind to each other.

About
Molly McCluskey
:
Molly McCluskey is an international investigative journalist and Editor-in-Chief of Diplomatic Courier. Follow her on Twitter @MollyEMcCluskey.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

Repairing the World in One Generation

The Parthenon, Athens, Greece. Photo by Cristina Gottardi via Unsplash.

December 2, 2020

A review of Simon Anholt's The Good Country Equation.

O

ne spring evening, several years ago, a handful of journalists and I stood in the Acropolis Museum after hours, touring the Parthenon Marbles. Having lived in Athens, and having an affinity for the rich history of Greek culture, I mentioned to a fellow journalist the great loss of the missing marbles, and how I hoped that someday, the British government would return them to their rightful place.

A British journalist, overhearing my comment, tossed out haughtily, "They'll never be returned. The Greeks couldn't possibly care for them like we can."

It was an odd comment, made odder by the week we had all just spent, traveling throughout the country, exploring works of art that would later be on display in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. But delivered here, in the shrine to the Acropolis, where the works of art were indeed lovingly and masterfully cared for, it seemed particularly undue.

I recalled this moment at the Acropolis Museum recently as I read Simon Anholt's latest book, The Good Country Equation, based on his years as a consultant for nations around the world. Britain earns space on its pages, as does Ireland, the United States, Croatia, Greece, and other places I've called home. (I've spoken with Anholt previously, including for our profile of his Good Country Index, and received a complimentary copy of the book upon its release.)

Simon Anholt's The Good Country Equation.

The book's ambitious subtitle, "How We Can Repair the World in One Generation" might seem aimed at activists, but it is instead targeted to world leaders, and centers on a deceptively simple premise: A country's reputation matters.

How a country is viewed by its peers has dramatic ramifications on its economy, political standing, ability to trade, and whether or not people will visit. Those perceptions also play a role in whether other countries will rally to its defense when acts of war, occupation, looting, or terror, are committed against it. And in an impossibly intertwined global society, meeting the challenges of climate change, migration, pandemics, and more, will require all nations, acting in concert.

It's therefore not enough for a country's leaders to give great speeches or launch campaigns. How they behave, and by extension, how the country behaves, speaks far greater volumes, to its citizens, and to citizens of the world.

It's this dichotomy, the chasm between words and actions, that renders propaganda ineffective in shaping perspective about one's country abroad. Although not directly addressed in Anholt's book, the debate over colonial pillaging of artwork, and by extension, culture, is a prime example of one country's views of another, and its behavior on a global stage.

It's why the moral claims of British ownership of the Parthenon marbles might ring true to the visitors of the British Museum, but strike a different chord in Greece. In contrast, the second highest rated country on the Good Country Index, Netherlands (second only to Finland) recently voted to return up to 100,000 pieces of art looted by Dutch colonialists, as a means of returning the art, and making restitution for the historical injustices. A 2019 report commissioned by President Macron also recommended that art looted from sub-Saharan Africa be permanently returned.

These actions, and the goodwill they garner worldwide, will ultimately pay greater dividends than advertising campaigns. After all, museums that behave responsibly, that display art purchased or loaned willingly, are greater stewards on the global cultural stage. The act of returning wrongfully procured art is a display of integrity and respect that ultimately, will make these museums more competitive when it comes to attracting talent, funds, partners, and more.

The same holds true for countries writ large. Convincing governments to be better collaborators in building a better world, then, is key to meeting these global challenges head on. And it can be done without sacrificing a nation's own interests, Anholt argues. In many cases, becoming better global citizens will benefit their countries directly.

Take for instance, the case of Slovenia. As Anholt relates, the Balkan country was planning to spend millions on an advertising campaign that would promote tourism to the region. Anholt instead advised them to ignore a campaign that would be forgotten in moments, if noticed at all, and spend that money investing in Slovenia's neighbors. The resulting media coverage was more substantial than the campaign would have been, the message abroad was that Slovenia was indeed more financially stable than other Balkan nations, and its people generous and compassionate. In the years following, the small country became not only a desirable tourist destination, but gained an enviable reputation worldwide.

"And a little light bulb went off in my head," Anholt writes, "people like it when countries are kind to each other."
Piran, Slovenia. Photo by Mikita Karasiou via Unsplash.

Or consider Bhutan, which wanted to increase its tourism, but selectively, to only those who would treat the country's natural resources with respect and care, and spend handsomely for the privilege to do so. The tourism minister suggested running a highly-targeted advertising campaign for the uber-wealthy, but the cost of doing so would be astronomical.

Anholt suggested instead that the nation charge a high daily tourism tariff that would dissuade most travelers from visiting, and instead appeal to those who appreciated the exclusivity of their experience. Those who complain about the tax are inadvertently helping to promote Bhutan tourism to exactly the clientele the nation is trying to attract. Rather than spending funds, the country is now raising them, and using them to help aid their environmental and sustainability initiatives.

Paro Taktsang, Bhutan. Photo by Sam Power via Unsplash.
Spanning from Botswana to Kazakhstan to Russia, and tackling insurance, free and fair elections, the rise of nationalism, and trade policy, the Good Country Equation is as much a travelogue of Anholt's adventures around the world as it is a blueprint for building a more prosperous, peaceful world. Parts of it, like Anholt's travel sickness, are almost painfully relatable, while others, like the dearth of female leaders throughout his meetings, less so.

But at its core, the book offers pragmatic suggestions, cloaked in a central premise, countries that makes themselves useful earn a place in the world; that it's better to be relevant than to be famous, and that a country's reputation influences everything it tries to sell, make, or accomplish on the global stage. Acts of grace and largesse often pay greater dividends than slick social media campaigns or glossy advertisements, and a country's reputation, hard-earned, can be easily lost with a few missteps, with dire consequences.

But, if as Anholt states, the world indeed can be repaired in one generation, what better way to start than with the seemingly simple gestures, the ones of respect and equality, of reparations and remorse? If not for solely altruistic reasons, then because, as nations slowly regain their footing in the post-pandemic world, the competition for talent, resources, trade agreements, tourism, and more, will be fiercer than ever. And, as the UK navigates a contentious Brexit, such a gesture could provide tremendous goodwill between it and its EU neighbors, remove this ongoing battle from the global discourse, free up all involved to tackle other issues, and signal equanimity at a time when it's needed most.

After all, people like it when countries are kind to each other.

About
Molly McCluskey
:
Molly McCluskey is an international investigative journalist and Editor-in-Chief of Diplomatic Courier. Follow her on Twitter @MollyEMcCluskey.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.