Guy Féaux de la Croix
Guy Féaux de la Croix is the Vice-Chairman, European Union Club of Athens
presentation: Cultural Initiatives of Europe for a Dialogue between Civilizations
category: Dialogue between Cultures
European identity and the cultural dimension of the Europe’s external
relations - Some reflections on the productivity of cultural diplomacy,
on its perspectives in the external relations of the European Union,
and on the political imperative of European identity
In the history of humankind tribes and nations have fought their wars over territory, economic opportunities, dynastic egotisms. It should, however, not be overlooked that in their origins many violent conflicts had a cultural dimension: From our human beginnings culture has been the agent of the individual’s collective identity, a means of identification. Culture being the linkage between the individual and society without which only an hermit can survive, even though not very comfortably, is of existential importance.
In extremis culture may be a question of war and peace, for example when people feel threatened in their religious faith. And yet, as compared to the enormous effort which states invest in expensive military deterrence the possibilities to defuse conflicts by addressing their cultural roots are grossly neglected.
The cultural dimension in international relations does, however, not only come to bear in the ultimate question of war and peace: In more peaceful times it serves as an agent sometimes favouring, sometimes forming obstacles to the development of fruitful relations. The standing of a nation in the international society is importantly determined by its international cultural profile. Some states engage in spectacular festivities like Olympic Games or the football world championships. Others entertain networks for a world wide cultural presence. And others yet show little ambition to project themselves in the international arena as cultural players at all.
Writers, artists and other producers of culture do not like to think of the political or economic implications of their productions. They tend to resent their works being subjected to the measure of political productivity or commercial utility. The productivity of culture in their respective fields, however, is precisely what politicians, diplomats, and industrial sponsors will be interested in.
Take language capabilities for an example: English being a lingua franca of international trade relations, countries like Germany and France depend, in their foreign trade and investment, very much on people abroad which, as partners or employees, are familiar with their language and culture. Much of their trade and investment would simply not happen were they not stimulated and supported by an intercultural network, from schools through academic exchanges to concerts, lectures and exhibitions organised by the cultural institutes.
We have come to see, from three different angles, the importance of the cultural dimension in international relations: As a question of war and peace, as an obstacle or promoter of peaceful political co-operation, and as a catalyst for profitable trade and investment relations. Measured in terms of its factual or potential productivity culture is, however, regularly underrated as an instrument of diplomacy. On the stock markets analysts would point to an under-capitalisation, of an insufficiently exploited growth potential.
There is no standard model for a cultural diplomacy. The institutional arrangements of the cultural institutes of Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Germany, these five being the major players of cultural diplomacy in Europe, are similar and yet they clearly have their own specificities. This applies for example for the degree of their dependence, respectively autonomy, vis-à-vis their governments and embassies. Some cultural institutes are run as de facto sections of their embassy, coming under the full control of the ambassador, others are decidedly sovereign in their relations to “their” diplomatic mission, the latter often appearing to be no more than a service-station for the former.
A reflection on which model is the most successful, i.e. in terms of the cost and effects ratio, can hardly go beyond very personal impressions. A comparative evaluation, as tempting and useful it would appear to be, would require a body of research on cultural diplomacy which practically does not exist.
Guy Féaux de la Croix - Deputy German Ambassador to Greece (Cultural dimension of a European Cultural Policy) and Vice-Chairman, European Union Club of Athens