CULTURAL diplomacy is a powerful tool that nations have been using to promote values they feel strongly about and they think deserve to be shared even outside their borders. Yet, the process can only work if there is a dialogue involved: so believes Jean-Marie Bruno, France’s ambassador to Slovakia. Bruno adds that during such dialogues some complex questions always surface: should we accept some values as more important than others? Are there some cultural values that are universal?
“We should promote cultural values through dialogue while exploring each others’ differences and looking at these as something that can potentially enrich us,” Bruno told students of the Topoľčany secondary grammar school in December 2012, adding that nations should not be imposing their values on others through confrontation.
Bruno, who participated in the Bringing the World to the Classroom project developed by The Slovak Spectator as well as several foreign embassies in Slovakia and Sugarbooks, a distributor of textbooks, discussed culture as a tool of diplomacy, adding that during his diplomatic career he has observed both communication and confrontation between countries and nations.
Cultural influence indeed can be a sign of economic strength and sometimes culture can achieve more than military strength, according to Bruno, who also pointed to some of the risky aspects of globalisation and its impact on nations’ cultures. According to him, we all face the risk of what he called cultural standardisation, which would force “us all to live in a huge cultural pot where our specifics would make up only very small parts of it”.
Another aspect that might impact the way people access culture is the economic situation, said Bruno, adding that “culture is often the very first thing to be sacrificed when budget constraints come”.
However, the French diplomat also noted that paradoxically in France during times of crisis people do have an increasing tendency to go to the cinema or attend cultural events, which he interpreted as “a way to escape difficulty” and to “keep social cohesion in society”.
Yet the students too posed the question of how culture might be affected by the current economic situation, with student Michaela Gálisová suggesting in the essay she submitted for the meeting with the French ambassador that culture is not about politics, economic figures or “depressive red numbers, but rather about people’s hearts”.
Gálisová added, however, that regardless of when people become jobless, their condition in many ways also affects their previous cultural habits.
Another student, Juraj Stolár, wrote that thanks to the development of telecommunication technologies, people have wider access to other cultures, with his peer Dezider Kmotorka noting in his essay that “knowing a country’s culture is the first step to becoming friends, partners or allies”.
Kmotorka also suggested that culture and its power of diplomacy should be held in high esteem for its ability to create international bridges.
Nevertheless, Bruno did stress that people have to continuously work on understanding the cultures of other nations because diversity can enrich their own culture as well.
“We cannot advance on the road to civilisation without having previously acknowledged the plurality of cultures,” wrote Tzvetan Todorov, a Bulgarian–born philosopher based in France whose work Bruno recommended to the students. “If we refuse to take into consideration visions of the world that are different from ours, we will find ourselves cut off from human universality, and end up nearer the pole of barbarism.”
According to Bruno, Todorov’s work, including his book The Fear of Barbarians: Beyond the Clash of Civilizations, points out challenging questions that differences in cultures raise.
11. Feb 2013 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová