Vladimir Makei, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus
The second decade of the 21st century saw the emergence of a new diplomatic era that soon became known as the era of digital diplomacy. It is irrefutable that “140 characters” has reshaped the modern perception of diplomacy and expanded the variety of tools diplomats have in use.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry could not stay away from a new trend and in 2011 began to explore a digital world with the creation of its’ very first Twitter account.
We have come a long way since then. Thousands of followers, millions of viewers, whilst new platforms and methods are still constantly introduced.
Over the years we have devised our own digital diplomacy strategy and formulated main guidelines of social media presence. We value our accounts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Periscope for their role as the bridge between us –policymakers – and people all around the world.
The openness and transparency of social networks, which although comes with its’ own challenges, allow us not only to spread information on Belarus’ foreign policy aims and perspectives, but also to create connections and reach out to our citizens in need. Recently there have been many instances that have proved usefulness of the social media accounts in the cases of emergencies and natural disasters.
But good news needs to be spread as well. After a Decree that introduced a 5-day visa free travel regime to Belarus was published, we launched an information campaign using social networks as our primary focus and tool. In all modesty, it was quite a success. On the first day alone, our post on the topic reached an audience of more than one million people. We received and answered hundreds of questions from more than 40 countries. As a result of our efforts and interactivity of social networks, we managed to prevent problems that might have been caused by misunderstanding or an incorrect perception of the Decree and its’ regulations.
Moreover our social media accounts, predominantly Twitter, are used to grant equal and impartial access to information on the activity of the Trilateral Contact Group on East Ukrainian settlement. When Minsk became a venue of the TCG meetings, we needed to design a scheme that would keep public updated on the negotiation process while preserving information neutrality. Thus, twiplomacy was chosen as the method that meets all the requirements and is acceptable to all parties involved. It is since summer 2014 that everyone can feel the pulse of the Minsk negotiation process on Twitter.
It is also worth mentioning that social networks in the realm of diplomacy can be perceived as a soft power instrument available to everyone. Belarus, as a relatively small country, seizes every opportunity to tell the world about our culture, traditions and values.
We also use our accounts for networking purposes. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry established connections with relevant local and international stakeholders, representatives of state authorities of other countries, international and regional governmental and non-governmental organizations. We use those connections to launch and promote projects we are interested in and get feedback on our actions on the international arena.
Digital diplomacy presents opportunities that were unimaginable even 10 years ago and its’ our aim to use them to the fullest. It is a digital diplomat era and we are ready to be involved.