THOUGH the aim of the French Institute in Bratislava is to bring Francophone culture to Slovakia, Jean-Pierre Meullenet, the institute’s director and the French Embassy’s cultural councillor, said in an interview with The Slovak Spectator that his native language has uses beyond the arts.
The Slovak Spectator: What are the most important cultural projects that France promotes in Slovakia?
Jean-Pierre Meullenet (JPM): France has traditionally been immensely active in promoting arts and culture. The French Institute in Bratislava cooperates with the Goethe, Polish, Italian, and Austrian institutes, and several embassies, including the Spanish Embassy. We are a partner of events like the Month of Photography and also the Bratislavské hudobné slávnosti BHS music festival. Together with the embassies of francophone countries we take an active role in organising the Day of Francophone Culture every year on March 20.
On May 22, the eighth international Bratislava in Motion festival opened its gates, featuring a performance by dance group Pernette with choreography by Nathalie Pernette. As for performing and movie arts, France is represented in every international film festival held in Slovakia. France will next appear at the international movie festival Artfilm in Trenčianske Teplice. France will also take part in the 15th annual international festival of theatre academies - the Istropolitana Festival - where it will present Ecole Florent’s performance, Knives in Hens. On July 1, the Gallery of the French Institute will present Patrice Pavis’s translation of the Dictionary of the Theatre.
TSS: Do you feel that the potential for contact between Slovakia and France has been fully explored?
JPM: You can always create more space, especially in the cultural area. We already have numerous contacts and projects but I feel that there will be even more. Changes to Slovakia’s legislation have opened up new possibilities for scientific and technical cooperation as well. The sphere of education has the greatest potential though. Each year we give 400 Slovak students a chance to go to France. There are grant programmes available to Slovaks pertaining to all fields, for example research and doctoral grants or the Copernic programme, designed for business professionals.
TSS: Do you feel that Slovaks and the French know enough about each other?
JPM: Our purpose is to promote a concept of Europe that will penetrate all spheres of public life. I have always felt that Slovaks are sincerely interested in my country and its culture. To make these links even stronger, we opened an French elementary class in a Slovak school in Bratislava last September. Next year we will open another elementary class. I already know that the school director is learning French.
TSS: French is a favourite foreign language for students. Do you assume that the number of Slovaks who want to learn French will increase now that Slovakia is an EU member?
JPM: Currently about 1 percent of Slovaks speak French. However, there are many Slovaks who want to learn French right now, many of whom are hoping to get a job with French companies operating in Slovakia like PSA Peugeot Citroen. I am confident that the number of Slovaks who want to learn French is going to increase constantly in the near future.
I have met parents whose children attend French school and who have asked whether we could organise French courses for them too. Right now we have four bilingual schools throughout the country: in Bratislava, Košice, Banská Bystrica, and Trenčin.
People often think that French is a “cultural” or, rather, “intellectual” language. This is why we try to promote business and scientific French: So that people understand that the use of the French language is not restricted to a certain type of use, actually just like any other language.
Currently, there are about 200 French families living in Slovakia, many of whom are employed by French-Slovak firms. Of course, they initially face a language barrier, but they can learn the language. I myself am learning Slovak.
31. May 2004 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová