Glocalisation. An essay by Ursula Plassnik.

What a bolted together, monstrous term! Two dimensions to be fused together: the nearby or local and the distant or global. Moreover, in a form rendered more dynamic, as a process: globalisation and localisation = glocalisation. 

Putting it more simply, it’s about the charged relationship between here and there, between me and the world. For each individual, bringing these opposite poles closer together and continuously setting the pace for their opposed motion is difficult. It obliges us, as individuals and as a state, to engage in demanding balancing acts. Those who live on a manageable scale within reach  can easily disengage from the world and life out there. Those who have ascended to planetary altitude suddenly lose their footing. One is threatened by provincialisation, the other by developing aerial roots. 

From a biological point of view, humans are small-group social animals, losing their overview when more than 12 people are involved. Too much unfamiliarity causes stress. In addition, modern man is also still an insatiable being. He wants everything, straight away, global and local. Generation EasyJet. No wonder there are occasional pinch points. “Moi, je veux tout, tout de suite – et que ce soit entier – ou je refuse”, was the line Jean Anouilh gave his Antigone. This unbounded demand is associated with youth. Later on, comparatively unspectacular aspects move into the foreground, like balance, dosage and moderation. These are the real challenges in a world in which we are literally overwhelmed by what’s on offer.   

Whatever suits us, we want it anytime. Kasnudeln and sushi, cider and prosecco, village gossip and world news. Fencing and distant view. Whatever doesn’t suit us should stay outside, we simply shut it off. In architecture, our secret love is the garden fence. We ourselves are the greatest fence builders. We want both: the nearby and the “incorporated” – and astonishingly that works even over great distances. We are the first generation to experience rapid processes of acceleration in two opposing directions. Moreover, able to use both in a previously unimaginable way thanks to new technology. Globalisation, i.e. networking outwards into the world, and individualisation, i.e. disconnecting from the general. Personalisation, localisation, rootedness. 

The world can be our homeland. We who live today have incomparably more opportunities than our predecessors. Our access to information, security, healthcare, education and law is better than ever before. Indeed, despite all the injustices that still prevail, there was no previous time in human history when there was less structural injustice. If I had lived at the same time as my great grandmother, at best I might have become a handmaid on a farm in the mountains. 

But the age of globalisation overtaxes us too. Many perceive the ever faster and ever denser growth of the network as a threat. Understanding new tools requires continuous learning. It’s a bit like being forced to climb a mountain or keep to a diet; simply uncomfortable. Feelings of becoming disconnected and left behind are widespread and find expression. In politics too, naturally. The hour of the terrible simplifiers has come. They make the pretence that highly complex questions can be answered simply. The bogeyman of “stranger” or “foreigner” fits perfectly here. We are familiar with what is nearby, bad stuff too. What is distant makes us unsure, prompting anxiety.   

Enmity towards globalisation can be cultivated, deliberately and with a purpose. Anxiety is a routine phenomenon in ageing, well-to-do society just like we have in Europe. You might say a natural accompanying symptom. But if society loses confidence, then it is damned to fall, like a person without hope. Across Europe there are now a wide variety of parties that base their business on cultivating negative feelings. This weakens Europe’s position in the global village. Elsewhere hope abounds, along with the will to achieve positive change. But here, ever more despondency and dispiritedness. How do we want to help our young people to get fit for the future? 

European integration gives us an ideal means of bringing together small-scale tribalism and global self-assertion. Here we can be proud Carinthians, Lavanttalers and Europeans. Here we can set standards worldwide, for anything from industrial goods to data protection. Of course there is no end of potential for improvement in the EU. But only together can we bring global creative power to bear; no matter how attractive we might be as micro-entities, we won’t prevail that way. Never again does Europe want to be the object of others’ politics; the Yalta world is over. From a demographic point of view, we’re a shrinking continent. It would be wise to pay less attention to the petty squabbles between us and more to forward-looking survival training. The EU is certainly no sure-fire success. It needs us to be co-owners and partners who are ready for responsibility. 

Above all else, the EU is a project involving the real practice of neighbourhood policy. The link between globalisation and localisation is often made via this route, with the view of the neighbour and beyond the hill showing us what might yet be possible. Neighbourly accord brings twofold effects: modesty and confidence. Along with the knowledge of being dependent on one another. Everyone needs the neighbour at some time. Just like people, so too are states. Today, no sovereign state can afford the illusion of absolute independence. No matter how successful, no business model is sure of survival in the long term without continuous adjustment. Seen this way, international interconnection is a constant driver of self-optimisation.

Incidentally, regarding globalisation, being small is not necessarily a disadvantage. The Internet, digitalization and Artificial Intelligence not only nullify geographical distance, but also put business size into perspective. They’re everywhere; those capable little units ambitiously pushing their image, the “success dwarfs” . They benefit disproportionately from new technologies. An economy like ours, which relies on smart delivery, produces continuous advances in modernity. The niche can also be an excellent laboratory for creative breakthroughs. Speedboats are after all more manoeuvrable than ocean liners. Whoever has structurally more family businesses than huge companies will apply resources more intelligently and sustainably. Early on, advertising recognised that those who want to get their products to the customers must take local sensitivities into account. It’s therefore no coincidence that our supermarkets offer an ever increasing number of regional foodstuffs from the immediate environs. There lies a successful coupling together of new homeland attachment and internationalism.

Styria Media Group and its flagship Kleine Zeitung are an object lesson in successful glocalisation. A leading medium in Austria having a regional origin and business activity, with an altogether sensitive eye for what matters to Styrians and Carinthians. For two decades now, crossing borders to become internationally active, above all in Croatia and Slovenia. It fits together whilst, at the same time, being a suitable model for the digital future. I myself start my daily routine by reading the digital Kleine, then come the Swiss papers and the international press. To my students from all over the world I recommend the daily reading of at least two daily papers as well as a paper from their own home country and the International New York Times. This way they most quickly learn how the global is linked to the local. That sharpens the focus on the world of tomorrow. 

Globalisation is no chooser list. We only have limited options as to where we participate and where we withdraw. But it pays to seek out the available scope and use it actively. The skill of being good neighbours can be learnt, fuelled by the quest for knowledge and attentiveness. Blind globalisation zeal delivers nothing, precisely as little as anxious withdrawal into our shells. The opportunities for success go only to those who are thoroughly involved in worldwide trends and developments. This requires early detection systems in the media, business and politics. Both globalisation and regionalisation access new sources of strength in markets, products and technologies. So the correctly measured mix of regional and global determines the added value. There is no patent remedy for this. Occupying the winner’s rostrum will be the one who brings together global openness and a love of the local. Welcome, neighbour! 

Ursula Plassnik, born in 1956 in Klagenfurt, is a lawyer, diplomat, former Austrian Foreign Minister (2004–2008) and parliamentarian. She studied law at the University of Vienna (Dr. iur.) and European law at the Collège d’Europe in Bruges, Belgium, and entered the Austrian diplomatic service in 1980. Since September 1st 2016, Ursula Plassnik has been the Ambassador of the Republic of Austria in the Swiss Confederation. 


Photo (c): Marija Kanizaj