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Purchasing Credibility? Image-Crafting and PR Strategies in Eurasia

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 5:00pm - 7:00pm
Columbia University Morningside Campus International Affairs Building, Room 1219

This roundtable will explore the increasing attention paid by Eurasian states to their image-crafting and public relations as a diplomatic strategy. In particular, it will explore how countries are hiring global PR firms, such as Kazakhstan's retention of former UK President Tony Blair's firm, to vouch for their credibility as reformers, while purchasing stories in global media outlets to showcase these public images. 

Does image-crafting serve as a substitute for implementing domestic reforms? Where is the line between political advising and the purchase of political credibility? What standards should global media outlets adopt when accepting paid content from governments? And what implications does contemporary Eurasian image-crafting have for both foreign relations and transnational advocacy campaigns? 

Please join Hugh Williamson, Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch, and Myles Smith, a Eurasian affairs analyst and Senior Program Officer at IREX, to discuss these issues. The panel will be moderated by Professor Alexander Cooley.


Hugh Williamson, director of the Europe & Central Asia division, oversees the organisations work in western and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, Central Asia, the south Caucasus, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. He oversees issues including migration and discrimination in Europe, torture and other abuses under authoritarian rule in Central Asia, and impunity and the rule of law in Russia.

Prior to joining Human Rights Watch, Williamson worked for 11 years as a correspondent from the Manila and Berlin bureaus of the Financial Times. He served as the Europe news editor during the 2008-2009 financial crisis and most recently as the papers deputy foreign editor. He has written and commented in the international media, including on the BBC and CNN, on European politics, development issues and the international political economy, business ethics and corporate responsibility, and the politics of the human rights movement.

Williamson has worked for other non-governmental organisations, including a labour rights group in Hong Kong. He has degrees from Manchester University and the London School of Economics. He speaks German.

Myles G. Smith is an analyst, writer, and project manager in Eurasian affairs. He contributes to news outlets, risk management firms, and development organizations on Eurasian affairs and engagement strategies. He has worked in trade development and technology programs in 12 former Soviet republics, Burma and Africa. From 2007-2012, he was based in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. He is currently Senior Program Officer for technology and media programs at IREX.