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Cablegate: Iceland: Reinvigorating Public Diplomacy Cultural

DE RUEHRK #0526/01 3610700
R 270700Z DEC 05




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 222516

1. Cultural programming is a key element of Embassy
Reykjavik's public outreach, which aims to foster a positive
image of the U.S. among Icelandic citizens and, especially,
elites. Following is post's response to questions posed

A. Which of your mission objectives benefits from cultural
programs or could be better supported by cultural programs,
including sports programs?

Potentially all of our mission objectives could benefit from
cultural programs insofar as such programs provide
opportunities for positive interactions with host nationals
while offering an implicit reminder of the diversity and
quality of American endeavor. Because Icelandic society is
small (under 300,000 homogeneous people) and intimate (over
half the population lives in the capital region, and the
elites mostly attended the same three or four secondary
schools followed by the University of Iceland), access is
not ordinarily a problem for our diplomats. Nor do cultural
programs assist in building direct public support for U.S.
policy objectives, which in Iceland have mainly to do with
defense and trade. They do, however, challenge and change
negative public opinion or stereotypes that thwart U.S.
interests. For example, in November we provided substantial
funding for the opening of an exhibit at Reykjavik City Hall
entitled "Gandhi, King, Ikeda; Peace for Future
Generations," enabling the organizers to hire an African-
American actor to perform Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I
Have a Dream" speech. The exhibit, running for two weeks
and viewed by thousands of Icelanders, promoted non-violent
activism not only as virtuous but also as an effective tool
to realize social change. The performance challenged the
contemporary stereotype of Americans as seeking to solve all
problems militarily and as disrespectful of human and civil

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B. What kind of specific cultural or sports programs or
initiatives are, or would be, most effective in supporting
those objectives?

As a small post (only 12 direct-hire Americans) with a small
public diplomacy staff (three people) and budget (about
$40,000 annually for programs and grants), we do not have a
lot of data on which to base conclusions about some types of
programs working better than others. We can say, however,
that we do not find poster shows helpful as we have no place
to display them, and exhibitions and performing art shows
are normally too expensive to fund in their entirety out of
our regular budget. Our ideal event is to bring a musician
(shared with another post or posts, to save us money) to
perform in the Ambassador's Residence, inviting a mixed
audience of artists, politicians, bureaucrats, and
businessmen for hors d'oeuvres, drinks, entertainment, and
good cheer in the distinctively charming environment of the
CMR. Even sophisticated, worldly Icelanders act immensely
flattered by an invitation to be the Chief of Mission's
guests, and by all appearances they leave such events in a
haze of warm feelings about transatlantic relations.

In theory we like videos because for the price of popcorn
and soft drinks we can then invite student groups and young
political activists to our embassy basement for a screening
and discussion, thus creating good will while we educate.
In practice, unfortunately, the videos we receive can seem
too simplistic or propagandistic for Icelandic audiences,
and we simply shelve them for fear that they could alienate
rather than engage proposed guests.

What we tend to end up doing most often is in effect to
stretch our budget by providing duty-free alcohol for
receptions at exhibit openings and art festivals. Because
alcohol is highly taxed in Iceland, our gifts of wine for
receptions strike Icelanders as far more generous than they
actually are. In return for these gifts we get thanked on
invitations and publicity materials prepared by the event
sponsors, and we get invitations for our staff to attend
events along with high society. Then we use the events to
hobnob, make connections, and talk up U.S. policy. An
example is in August, when we provided the wine for a
reception held in honor of Clint Eastwood, who was in
Iceland to film part of his upcoming movie, "Flags of Our
Fathers." The reception, held at an art museum, brought
together American movie stars and staff with pillars of
Iceland's art world. Our Charge d'Affaires was invited to
make a short speech, which he used to highlight the breadth
of U.S.-Icelandic bilateral cooperation.

In the year ahead, post would like to do more sports - or,
to be specific, health and fitness - programming. One of

REYKJAVIK 00000526 002 OF 002

the most popular children's TV shows in the U.S. is
"Lazytown," a combination live action/computer-generated
imagery show that encourages young kids to adopt healthy
exercise and nutrition habits. The show is in fact the
brainchild of an Icelandic auteur, produced in Reykjavik
with a combined American/Icelandic cast. We would like to
bring American athletes - e.g., members of the President's
Council on Physical Fitness - to Iceland for a symposium on
children's fitness that would provide an opportunity to
thank Iceland for its contribution to the health of
America's kids. Such a project would be helpful politically
and strengthen cultural ties as well.

C. What constraints does your mission face in effectively
utilizing cultural, arts, and sports programs?

Iceland has a plethora of choirs, many of them excellent, so
we have trouble getting our hosts excited about visiting
singing groups. More generally, the cultural (for example,
Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other
country in the world besides Israel) and technological
sophistication of Iceland requires that cultural programming
be of extremely high quality in order to make an impact.
And due to the small market and nine annual months of winter
it can be hard to attract cultural programs of note or
sports programs that require warm weather. Even when
opportunities do arise, we need to be very picky, because
even a relatively minor program like bringing an artist
(say, through the Art in Embassies program) or musician to
give a series of master classes can devour a staff member's
time for days, stretching colleagues thin.

Of course the main constraint is fiscal, so Department
support for notable cultural programming targeted
specifically at small posts would be appreciated. Given the
widespread concern about U.S. intentions regarding provision
of Iceland's defense, as well as our genuine desire to
strengthen the country's police, port and airport security,
and Coast Guard, most of our small program and exchanges
budget supports programming addressing specific security
issues. If we could afford additional cultural and sports
programs, we could reach broader audiences on, frankly, more
salubrious subjects.

D. How have you been able to partner with the private
sector in your country to sponsor cultural/sports events, or
to overcome resource (staff and funding constraints)?

Yes, we have. For example, in 2002 we partnered with a bank
(which donated U.S. $20,000) and the Reykjavik City Theater
to bring New York's Merce Cunningham Dance Company for a
series of what were critically-acclaimed, sold-out
performances. Also, for several years we have partnered
with Time4 Media to organize the Iceland Open. Starting
around the Summer Solstice, the Iceland Open combines a 36-
hole golf tournament (tee-off is at midnight) with
sightseeing for about 300 golfers from around the world.
This event brings significant revenue to the Icelandic
economy as well as promotion of the country's tourism
industry, thus creating goodwill in our Icelandic hosts.

2. Comment: Cultural and sports programming is
particularly important at present, ironically at a time when
the U.S. is using transformational diplomacy assertively to
advance our political and economic values. We spend a lot
of time trying to explain U.S. policies, for example, in the
war on terror. But with many audiences - especially an
Icelandic audience that has no personal experience of
terrorism or war -- these days, no amount of explaining is
going to win support or even sympathy for these policies.
Sometimes it seems like the best we can do is distract
people from policies they find repugnant with marvelous
cultural and sports programming that focuses them on
America's ongoing spectacular contribution to world
heritage. End comment.


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