Current Affairs Prague conference explores role of culture in diplomacy
This Thursday saw the hosting of a Culture Plus event at Prague’s Černín Palace, co-organised by the Czech Foreign Ministry. On the table was the topic Culture & Diplomacy – namely how culture, including the arts, can be used to promote greater communication and understanding.
“Our link to culture is very strong: we would like to promote, and we always try and use our heritage as a means, to promote our country. A place with a lot of art and possibilities; there is a strong interest – and this is one of the themes of the conference – to use culture as a communication tool to bring partners together, to increase information, tourism and business.”
Is it also one of the focuses of this conference to go ‘beyond’ Europe and discuss, for example, China or India?
“Well one of the topics at the conference is called ‘More Europe’ and that means Europe ‘in other parts of the globe’. This year the European Union has put special emphasis on culture and cooperation with China. And this aspect will be discussed. You know, we have our first China experience: the Czech Philharmonic was there some time ago, there are plans for the National Theatre to perform in Shanghai... In short, it’s very important that we are unified in Europe and to bring European culture and heritage to other places. Not as a ‘power’ but as a communication tool.”
It’s no secret that we’re living in difficult economic times: the current government has implemented austerity measures that have hit some Czech cultural institutions hard - from Czech Centres to Radio Prague, which suffered a major budget cut last year. In the end, won’t it all be detrimental? Isn't there a risk that it will reduce the Czech Republic’s ability to really present itself abroad the way it has in the past?
“Well, hopefully not: I don’t want to complain now about the economic situation. The situation throughout all of Europe is very difficult – perhaps more difficult even than here. But you are right: it’s difficult also to say that we should use it as an advantage now and with a reduced amount of money to 'make more'. It sounds perfect but is difficult in practice. I do think that the best things and things that are top quality will continue to get across, to make it, and sometimes we can see that top quality doesn’t necessarily mean more money. We can still concentrate on perfect quality, perfect systems and perfect service and they will help us overcome this difficult period.”
Have you received response from places where services, such as Czech Centres, were cut?
“Yes, yes of course. This is our first experience with closing centres and I have to say I was lucky: I was involved with Czech Centres when they were opening them. I think Argentina’s centre was closed now, as was an office in Dresden. It’s a pity but what can you do? But again: perhaps we will be able to rebound once the situation will be more stabilised and if we see there is room for us in places to do something ‘more’. To keep ‘the boat on the water’ is certainly not enough: we have to be able to ‘put on a show’.”