Portraying Bangladesh to overseas audience had always been problematic for us due to years of bad propaganda that have tainted the image of a country with rich cultural heritage. Though the country is now attracting more international attention because of healthy economic performance, not much have been changed in foreigners’ perception of other aspects of our society. Added to it is a new phenomena of religious fundamentalism that some love to add to the image that they hold of us. This shift is attributed mostly to the July 2016 tragic incident when a number of foreign nationals were brutally gunned down at a posh Dhaka restaurant by a group of fanatic Islamists. However, the road to economic prospect and prosperity the country have been taking in recent years is gradually shifting that paradigm of the long held view of nothing attractive or interesting.
Saying so, the stereotyped image of Bangladesh that many in the world hold about our country is still being influenced very much by those early zealots who in the past derived kind of a pleasure in branding countries of the developing world by naming them according to their own choice and preferences that quite often had been politically biased. The international media too is much influenced by what those opinion makers say and do. As a result, the verdict that they give often stand out for quite long. In our case the brand name was a waste basket with a deep hole, so whatever is thrown inside that trash bin gets sucked by the endless reservoir that it holds. For Bangladesh the specific term was coined at the dawn of our independence by someone holding a deep rooted hatred for the country that the person tried best to block its appearance in international arena. And that legacy continued very long, also due to our turncoat politicians who, after emerging from another deep hole of political sarcasm had taken the country miles backward. However, reemerging in 1991 as a democratic country willing to throw such past legacies away and move forward with dignity, Bangladesh have been doing not badly in any count, despite the wrong route the democratic trend has been taking from time to time. The end result is the difficulties that our policy makers encounter in portraying the country overseas in a positive way.
Japan being an advanced nation with the past history of helping us in a big way in times of our difficulties was also not an exception in the past. However, our economic success along with gains in participatory politics was gradually altering that long held view well until the 2016 incident that saw a number of Japanese among the victims. Bangladesh since then has been placed under a Japanese travel alert advisory. This too is showing signs of change in recent years due to the relentless efforts made by our officials to convey what have been happening in reality back at home. Also a group of Japanese nationals sympathetic to Bangladesh made significant contribution correcting the wrong image. The result of all such efforts is being reflected in the flow of Japanese investment in Bangladesh as well as number of Japanese companies establishing offices in the country with the aim of taking advantage of the situation. In both counts an encouraging upward trend is portraying a convincing picture of bilateral relationship going the right way. Hence, it also is time for us to take appropriate move to showcase the country to Japanese audience in a more convincing way. One such recent timely move was Bangladesh Night, a cultural event held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) with the joint initiative of the club and our embassy in Tokyo.
The country night program is part of a long tradition that FCCJ has been following since the early days of cub’s founding in post-World War II Japan. The purpose is to allow members to get better understanding about various countries by experiencing first hand cultural performances accompanied by culinary samples. The country night program was interrupted recently due to the shifting of FCCJ to its new premises in October last year and has been re-launched after all necessary supporting arrangement at the new place were put into place. The club had chosen Bangladesh as the first country to showcase for club members cultural and culinary excellence of the nation. The event that was held on September 4 was attended by more than 100 club members and their guests. The audience composed predominantly of Japanese and foreign nationals representing the press, diplomatic community, official circles and business groups, enjoyed the event in totality and many were highly appreciative of the initiative.
The event started with a brief introduction of the country along with a video presentation by Ambassador Rabab Fatima. The ambassador in her presentation highlighted the importance of Bangladesh’s relationship with Japan and also briefed the audience about recent economic trend that placed Bangladesh among most attractive investment destinations in Asia. She also reminded the audience of some of the socio-economic aspects where Bangladesh had long been singled out as a country with significant achievement. These include not only the empowerment of women, but also success in such diverse fields as eradication of extreme poverty, education and health care. Ambassador’s address was followed by a short cultural program where local artists from expatriate Bangladesh community enthralled the audience with their delightful performances. The audience particularly enjoyed the presentations of Tagore songs accompanied by dance and also the folk music performance by local artists. The embassy officials, particularly young diplomats of our mission in Japan, had taken all possible measures to make the program successful.
Finally, tasty dishes composed of some of our traditionally known items turned out to be the ultimate point of enjoyment for the audience. How much appealing the food turned out to be for the audience can be realized by the comment made by a fellow American journalist Albert Siegel, who, at one stage was telling others around that he regretted to be at the event for the simple fact that such tasty dishes he wouldn’t be able to get in Tokyo that often.
The event was wrapped up by a raffle draw in which lucky winners received traditional gift items from Bangladesh donated by the embassy. It also had shown very clearly the effective way of making our voice heard among foreign audiences and can serve as an example for our missions around the world.
(Tokyo, September 16, 2019)