Digital diplomacy has made distance irrelevant / Ditmir Bushati

Ditmir Bushati, Foreign Minister of Albania

Apparently, pigeons have been so effective throughout history in delivering messages of war and peace that in certain periods and regions small scale postal services were established using their devoted abilities. For obvious reasons, letters had to be short and transportable. Consequently, pigeons became couriers of concise and important historic and personal messages. In this regard, Twitter, practically and symbolically, may be the “blue bird” modern personification of the courier pigeon that posts important targeted short messages

Nevertheless, the metaphorical comparison stops there, as Twitter and other social media platforms are far from being secretive when it comes to message delivery and audience, and far from being slow when it comes to distance. The very aim of posting on social media is to quickly reach a wide audience, and in so doing, the so called “socials” have come to represent a major communication tool for public and political messages.

Diplomacy has historically been associated with private talks behind closed doors, encrypted notes and secret treaties. Almost a fiction-like profession and practice accompanied by a constant aura of mystery. While a total image update seems unlikely for the time being, diplomacy has nevertheless evolved into a more publicly deliberated practice.

At the end of the 20th century, globalization revolutionized the traditional form and mindset of diplomacy, leading to the rise of the so-called Digital Diplomacy, a new tool and practice which cracks classical boundaries and makes diplomacy a tangible matter of public interest, where citizens are relevant actors, locally and globally.

We are now virtually facing a diverse audience of citizens which expects us to be interactive, effective, and straightforward while engaging in real time communication. Never before were our messages so quickly spread and citizens’ reactions so quickly gathered.
While recognizing and making full use of such new potential, the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has promoted a series of innovative and interactive platforms that aim to directly impact and involve our citizens residing in Albania and abroad.

One successful example of this new approach is our“Colours of Albania” campaign, an annual photo contest launched on social media that aims at promoting and displaying Albania’s true colors, resources and values, throughout the digital world. By attracting thousands of people and nearly 18.000 photos over the past two years, this campaign has taught us a lot on how to diversify communication mechanisms and directly interact with the younger generation.
Being the Minister of Foreign Affairs of a country with a vivid and wide Diaspora is both a privilege and a responsibility. In fulfilling our mission towards our citizens living abroad and towards people of Albanian origins who want to maintain a connection to Albania, the Albanian government, and especially our Ministry, has engaged in a constant and open dialogue with the Albanian Diaspora.

The Albanian digital diplomacy has steadily progressed in efficiently providing services to citizens, by reducing service delivery time and making distance irrelevant. The recently launched digital projects, namely the online application “E-Consulate” and the “Online Consular Services” platform, have achieved in a short timespan a direct and positive impact on our Diaspora.

Our “Online Consular Services” platform is truly groundbreaking. It allows tens of thousands of our citizens to apply and receive dozens of consular services online, saving our tax-payers money and precious time. Meanwhile, we have developed “E-Consulate”, a user-friendly smartphone application, which serves as a practical guide for all our citizens, home and abroad, that wish to travel outside their country of residence. This digital tool provides travel and security alerts as well as important information about culture, practices and legal procedures in 181 countries.

Last but not least, in line with the commitments of the Diaspora Summit − which last November gathered in Tirana Albanians from all over the world − our team is working on establishing a new website and related social media, entirely dedicated to the Albanian Diaspora. These digital mechanisms intend to provide a wide range of information as well as establish a sustainable and enduring interactive communication with our Diaspora, in order to start making their voice heard, and translate every concern into concrete action.