POLITICS & INSTITUTIONS - ECONOMY

Creating human bonds through cultural diplomacy



The 4th “transatlantic dialogue” took place at the University of Luxembourg on Campus Belval in Esch-sur-Alzette from 24 May to 27 May. Université du Luxembourg

The 4th “transatlantic dialogue” took place at the University of Luxembourg on Campus Belval in Esch-sur-Alzette from 24 May to 27 May. Université du Luxembourg

The 4th “transatlantic dialogue” took place at the University of Luxembourg on Campus Belval in Esch-sur-Alzette from 24 May to 27 May.

The theme was “creating human bonds through cultural diplomacy”. 320 attendees and 100 cultural actors from all over Europe the United States, Mexico, Japan, South Africa and Saudi Arabia discussed and performed around the notion on how cultural diplomacy has a vital role to play in international relations.

In 55 discussions, performances and workshops, participants approached both theoretically and practically points of inter-sectionalism and common bonds, to bridge differences within approaching others and understand their and our own cultural identities.

In the frame of the conference, the European cultural parliament (ECP) invited to their symposium on “The Growing Role for European Art and Artists in Cultural Diplomacy and the Development of Trans-atlantic cultural bonds” and the newly created association “Moving.Lab - a European Interdisciplinary Laboratory of Education and Culture” had also a general assembly.

Anne Brasseur, ambassador of the Council of Europe “No hate” movement, said in her opening remarks:

“For me, “culture” – intended as a composite ensemble which creates meaning for society, is the expression of the dignity of all human beings, of their freedom of expression and of their freedom to develop their individual and collective identities. This is not a static, but a dynamic “culture”, an ongoing process inherently relational, internally heterogeneous, often contested and constantly evolving.”

The philosophy behind the conference was summed up by François Carbon, chargé de mission culture & TAD chair:

“If we are building an integral human community in which all of us are thriving, we will be prepared throughout our lives to generate new knowledge and solve new problems, to engage in creative expression, to serve others purposefully, and to help those around us to do the same.”

Luxembourg diplomat on shaping cultural relations

Carlo Krieger, former Luxembourg ambassador to Russia, the USA, and Austria, held a seminar on cultural creativity in foreign affairs. How does Luxembourg present itself, its culture abroad? What is the role of embassies in engaging in a cultural dialogue with the country they’re in?

Identity and diversity and regionalism

Krieger, now director of consular affairs and international cultural relations at the ministry of foreign affairs, started by explaining that the (cultural) diversity of Luxembourg and the small size of the country create a different kind of society. In a small society, it is more difficult to develop that “us against them” mentality: chances are that if you say something negative about one group, you might at the same time insult your discussion partner’s wife, neighbour or best friend. Krieger argued that this absence of "anonymity" is one part of the explanation why there is no extreme right in Luxembourg. He added that Luxembourg had never fallen into the nationalism trap; instead the country was divided by regionalism. Regional identity is strong in Luxembourg: people identify more with other people from the same area.

Wealth

He added that Luxembourg’s prosperity helps in diplomacy, but that it is also the biggest question of image. However, one has to explain that, while GDP/capita is “horribly” high, if commuters are added to the population, the levels are down to those of a Western developed country. Krieger stated that “in countries where wealth is appreciated, we use it. But in many countries, openly displayed wealth is not appropriate.” Luxembourg also portrays itself as having an open mind and, with regard to the refugee situation, advertises its calm political and social atmosphere.

Culture is not static

Culture is alive, people change preferences, cultural behaviour is redefined all the time. People don’t conform to stereotypes of what they should be.

Culture=consumerism?

Culture is more than drinking beer and wearing football T-shirts. However, in a digitised world, the consumer culture is the first people come into contact with, according to some participants.

Promoting tolerance without judging

Krieger wondered: “when we do cultural diplomacy, do we advertise cultural behaviour or promote understanding? Do we want people to see that there is another way of (doing) things? Do we plead for tolerance and openness without immediately judging ourselves?”

Krieger reflected on the difficult balancing act between pleading for openness and tolerance in radically different countries. When an embassy organises cultural activities abroad, it tries to connect, arouse curiosity and transfer values.

In a country with a strong culture, you can hit a wall and get the reaction that “you don’t respect us, we don’t do it that way”. Krieger said Western countries were in a defensive situation because of colonialism, and pleaded for soft power and an overall atmosphere of tolerance and non-aggression.

Krieger also argued that the belief that everyone is the same was often said to support people, and to work against discrimination. However, he thought that maybe a better way was to say everyone is different, had different advantages, was better at something.

The discussions with the audience centered around the question of cooperation between cultural actors, what image a country projects and should through the choice of artists it features, and how preconceived notions can be changed.