Does Poland have ‘soft power’?

PolandIN interviewed Prof. Ewa Thompson from Rice University Houston on the subject of Polish "soft power" in the world.

Analysts: Poland’s ever closer relations with the US

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See full interview here

Prof. Thompson defined soft power as akin to public diplomacy. But she believes that it comes from hard power of a military, economic and intellectual kind.

In her opinion Poland was still in the early stages of exercising soft power. But it should not allow itself to be discouraged by charges that it is being ‘pushy’. It has to get noticed and “get a place at the table”. The present government’s efforts on the economic and security fronts were helpful in that regard.

Ewa Thompson doubted whether Polish history could be a direct source of the country’s soft power. She said that “Polish history is not known in the US” and that the “centenary anniversaries the country celebrates do not help as they are not noticed on the international stage”. Even human interest stories are not enough as the world is full of interesting stories on offer.

She did not feel Poland dwelling on its suffering from WWII could help. “Showing one’s weaknesses and defeats is no way to reach a world audience” she felt, and advised starting with successes. She hoped that creatives and the young would find the path to a narrative that strikes home with an international audience.

She had advice for Poland’s elites to engage more in ongoing international debates. But she felt that to do that successfully the elite's command of English must improve. She recommended that Polish schools should teach and practice debating.

Asked about successful examples of using ‘soft power’ Prof. Thompson singled out Sweden. She felt that the Nobel prizes it awards are a classic example of the use of soft power. She acknowledged that the use of foreign aid could be good PR and publicity but was costly and did not count for nearly as much as economic, military or intellectual power.

The academic recognised that Poland’s current political disunity was unhelpful in projecting a clear narrative about the country. She felt Poland was still coming to terms with its past. The US is too, but it has the comfort of being a superpower, she observed.

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