An unforgettable image: hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians, holding hands in a 650-kilometer chain with their Baltic neighbors — the Baltic Way, a peaceful protest against Soviet occupation in August of 1989, was the backdrop of a year long campaign carried out by the public affairs section at Embassy Vilnius to build resilience and bolster national pride to counter pro-Kremlin disinformation.
That image was painted in words by Meghan Luckett, assistant public affairs officer in Vilnius, Lithuania, at a First Monday panel via Zoom on May 4. First Mondays are a joint endeavor of the Public Diplomacy Council (PDC) and the Public Diplomacy Association of America (PDAA).
The full hour’s discussion can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/414943292.
Each year the Public Diplomacy Association of America bestows awards on outstanding public diplomacy initiatives, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State. Ms. Luckett was joined by representatives of other 2019 awards winners:
Zennia Paganini, Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Embassy Sana’a and Yemen Affairs Unit temporarily located in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Deneyse Kirkpatrick, Public Affairs Officer from the U.S. Embassy in Luanda in Angola, and
Riad Yazbeck, a Cultural Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon
One of the most challenging assignments was that of Ms. Paganini, guiding public diplomacy in civil war-ravaged Yemen from afar. Undaunted, she noted that most Yemen government officials are now in Riyadh, and that she’s developing contacts with other up-to-date Yemenis — including writers and artists — as far away as Cairo.
Deneyse Kirkpatrick in Angola noted that her small team helped the government promote opportunities for tourism around the theme of shared cultural heritage, and introduced the Minister of Culture to worthwhile American cultural contacts.
Ms. Kirkpatrick and her seven-member team’s efforts generated positive national coverage of the cultural envoys which included a motivational hip-hop artist, a chef from the South Carolinian Gullah-Geeche community and an American dance troupe, Step Afrika!, who highlighted U.S.-Angola shared cultural heritage.
Angola’s vice president and six cabinet members witnessed the dance troupe’s final appearance in Luanda which concluded with a joint interview with the U .S. Ambassador. As a result of the success of the initiative, her staff successfully arranged for Angola’s Ministry of Culture and Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture to meet and discuss future partnerships or exchanges with the goal of promoting U.S. exports and advance Mission goals toward strengthening the Angolan economy through cultural tourism.
Riad Yazbeck is the senior local employee at the American Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. According to an excellent article by Domenick DiPasquale for the PDAA, Mr. Yazbeck “has capitalized on his personal connections in Lebanon’s Shia community to advance not just public diplomacy initiatives but also the Embassy’s political reporting on this major player in Lebanese politics. “The sect,” DiPasquale added, “is considered most at risk for violent extremism due to the influence of Hizbollah and Iran over many of its members.
“When months-long civil unrest erupted in Lebanon in 2019, Yazbeck’s network of contacts among the Shia allowed him to collect extensive information about Shia participation in the protests, despite Hizbollah restrictions. Yazbeck used this information to draft a reporting cable on Shia involvement; this cable was included in briefing materials for the Secretary of State and was recently cited in the Presidential Daily Brief.”
As PDAA President Joel Fischman put it:
“This year’s winners of the Association’s awards program have shown particularly impressive ingenuity, given the conditions they’re working under. Budgets are woefully inadequate, and many officers and locally employed staff have had to carry on, virtually at a distance, because of security concerns, and now, the coronavirus. Their creativity, perseverance, and commitment to their goals bode well for the continuing high standards of our profession.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More