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Belarus in Focus
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22 Jan

Dmitry Bobrovsky, Tatarstan, December 22, 2012 (Belarus)

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Is it worth for Tatarstan to improve its image as Belarus did?

Each state has its own image. But not all countries have an image that has been purposefully formed, and which works on the economy of a state. For example, Holland is known in the world as an agrarian country. The authorities purposefully formed its image that way. The result is obvious: agricultural products from this country are considered to be of sufficient quality. Japan has created an image of a high-tech country. Mali has formed a pirate image. It is an image, which, of course, nobody established on purpose. It was formed by itself, after numerous attacks of the representatives of this country on international ships.

The authorities of Tatarstan try to keep up with world trends, therefore, they began to pay attention to the establishment of positive image of the Republic in the hope to attract more investors. Tatarstan is being positioned as one of the most attractive regions of Russia for conducting business; as innovative region with developed modern technologies. As reported, on a company to create a recognizable brand of Tatarstan was spent about 30 million rubles.

Now the recognition of Tatarstan abroad is held at the level of 44%. Before this figure was 18 per cent. However Tatarstan has something to aspire to. To accomplish that goal region needs to take into account the experience of the other countries on creating a positive image. For example, the experience of the main foreign partners of Tatarstan – Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Belarus.

How it all began

Belarus forms its foreign political image since 2008. Back then the authorities of the country have concluded a contract with the British PR expert Timothy Bell, who was to conduct a marketing campaign to attract investors, as well as inform the world community about the true image of the country, and change the attitude towards Belarus formed in the world media.

So, Tageszeitung considers the country has “modern day slavery”, and its President has been called “the last dictator of Europe”. A journalist of Foreign Policy calls the leader of Belarus the “favorite dictator of Europe”. The German magazine Der Spiegel reported about the concerns of the Israeli government about the creation of a new “axis of evil” between Iran and Belarus, which is ready to deliver air defense complexes s-300 to Tehran.

In a situation when the image of Belarus in the West is far from perfect, Timothy Bell had to face a difficult task. However, the public wasn’t informed about the details of his work, as well as the value of the contract concluded for one year. Ordinary people learned about details between the cooperation of the authorities of the country and Timothy Bell only in December 2012. The 32-page plan on improving of the image of Belarus was published on Facebook by the Head of the Belarusian Free Theatre, Nikolai Khalezin.

“We held the papers of Lord Bell’s plan on laundering the image of Lukashenko for nearly two years. It’s 32-page document, estimated by the exiled Lord at 10 million Euro. By the way, from these ten million the Bell Pottinger company has received only one. There was no way further, reputational losses were incomparably greater than financial profit,” Mr. Khalezin commented on the report.

So, Bell gave the Belarusian authorities recommendations for improving the perception of its regime in the world, he also advised to focus on tourism and business while working with Western media. The British offered to make a series of articles about Belarus in The Financial Times business newspaper, to invite journalists from western newspapers to Belarus (on the example of the invitation of Russian journalists). However, Bell wasn’t able to find a common language with the authorities of the country. In 2008 there was a question as to whether British specialist, who knows no national peculiarities of Belarus, could create a positive image of the country abroad.

Attempt number 2

However, the Belarusian authorities did not leave attempts to change the country’s image. The image of the “last dictatorship of Europe” was untenable.

On December 31, 2008, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky signed the order “On the creation of an interdepartmental working group for developing a plan of territorial branding of the Republic of Belarus”. The members of the group had to develop a plan of the territorial branding of the country within a month. By the way, that group also included independent experts – Yaroslav Romanchuk, the Head of Scientific Research Center of Mises and Andrei Vardamatski, the Director of the Research Laboratory “Novak”. However, after the first meeting the interdepartmental group was disintegrated.

As Director General of the Center of Strategic Development “Marketing systems”, and member of the interdepartmental group, Anatoly Akantinov considers, this initiative was not approved due to the fact that the main attention was paid to the economic segment of the promotion of positive image of the country. According to the specialist, the other parts of the territorial branding weren’t taken into account.

After that there were several other attempts on developing of the image of the country. The forum “Image of the Republic of Belarus: development strategy” has been held for three times. However, this event is more of a theoretical character. In 2012, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus has presented the issue of the annual reference-book “Belarus. Facts, 2012” and a 3-minute video about the country.

Now it is difficult to judge the results of the campaign on improving the image of Belarus. On the one hand, a certain number of foreigners have learned something new about Belarus, something that is not connected with the political situation in the country. On the other hand, the image of the “last dictatorship of Europe” remains as strong as ever. Although Belarusians have all possibilities to make something else as their business card, not mentioning its political situation. For example, to create the image of a “country-breadwinner” of the European Union. In order to accomplish this they need to establish proper cooperation with the EU in terms of supplies of agricultural products, which, in the opinion of some experts, has rather high quality. However, the Belarusians have not learned to sell it yet. It is also possible to focus on rural tourism, science, programming, construction...  As for the beginning it’s necessary to create some kind of a center, which would coordinate the whole work process and people involved in creating of the positive image of the country. Careful study of experience of other countries in this matter will also be at hand. And only then, having analyzed the situation, country should begin a search for its own way of development, attracting domestic and foreign experts. But not jump in feet first.

The authorities of Tatarstan need to take into account the experience of other countries in the formation of positive image on the international arena. The region should pay attention to the experience of Belarus, which is among the five major trade partners of Tatarstan. Maybe Belarusians haven’t made serious progress in promoting the image of their country, however, they have succeeded in some areas. Tatarstan also has certain achievements. In December, the forum “Invest in Tatarstan 2012” took place in Kazan city. It was the final stage of a large-scale PR-campaign “Invest in Tatarstan”. The campaign was carried out for the promotion of the brand of Tatarstan at the global level. This actions helped to attract about $420 million of investments in the republic, which is almost 5 times more, than for the similar period of 2011.

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