Preparatory Action on Culture in the EU External Relations: An Interview with Nenad Bogdanovic

The Preparatory Action “Culture in EU External Relations” is an initiative funded by the European Union. It is implemented by the European Commission, Directorate General for Education and Culture, with the support of a Consortium of eight cultural institutes and organisations, which won an open call for tenders to this effect. This Preparatory Action was initiated by the European Parliament following its Resolution on the cultural dimensions of the EU external action, which called for the development of a visible common EU strategy on culture in the EU external relations.

The preparatory action will run until mid-2014 in three stages. Stage two is a consultations process involving a wide variety of stakeholders from both the EU and third countries, which should contribute to identifying strategies and visions on the contribution of culture to the development of external relations as well as the positioning of different actors vis-à-vis this topic. So far, the research has received contributions from 38 different countries. All recommendations, opinions and views submitted through the survey share different perspectives from different respondents coming from EU Member States, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, South Korea, Australia, Peru, USA and many more.

As an on-going activity on the Culture in External Relations blog different perspectives from different respondents are going to be shared on a regular basis. We’re proud to see the first in line is Mr. Nenad Bogdanovic, Director of the Euro-Arab Youth Music Center in Cyprus, who represents the Euro-Arab cultural exchange through his organisation, his work and his mindset.

We asked Nenad Bogdanovic to describe the European culture(s), and explain what he understood by European culture?
First of all: diverse. When we say culture, we particularly address the arts, which is a very important part of the European identity. It has been so for a very long time and is still the case today. Having a global look, the diversification of artistic disciplines, genres and types of works is something deriving from the long history of Europe, from ancient time to modern. This richness, built for centuries, was spread throughout the world, but is still vivid and active. It is impressive to see a single line from Ancient Roman and Greek mosaics and architecture, through baroque interior design and romantic symphonies to contemporary dance and media installations, all having a single European identity but at the same time all being extremely diverse.

Is culture important in external relations?
Yes. Especially when European nations jointly approach the third countries. It is important to stand united in these approaches and relations to third countries. For too long, European nations were acting solely or even in conflict one with another. For example, the European south partner countries have been seen by some European countries as their post-colonial playgrounds and in many cases ex-colonial powers claim a leading partner role with specific states. Such approach has not only been rooting negative stereotypes in the view of Europeans among local people, but it also becomes an obstacle for their sustainable development. There is therefore a need for a long-term single European foreign policy, and in this process culture and arts play an important role.

Does culture have the power to change the relations between two states?
Yes, both for the worse and for the better. Mutual understanding and respect is a basis for good and long term relations. Arts are a mean for that. The arts could strengthen the relations between two states where the governmental level fails. Artists usually have an ability to see the world around them from various perspectives, very often significantly different from the majority. The power of arts is that they can easily change perception about the Others and Otherness in general – which is in the core of diplomacy. Therefore, the arts have the power to enrich the diplomacy, but at the same time the arts obtain a new dimension becoming ambassadors of dialogue, which is typical for the diplomacy as political discipline.

How should culture be approached in external relations? Are some relations more important than others?
Europe is surrounded by two large neighboring regions: Eastern and Mediterranean Partnerships. The Mediterranean neighbors find Europe much more culturally remote from them than the Eastern partners. This means that an emphasis shall be given to intercultural dialogue, which is two-ways road. Culture and Arts could be very important as bridge making activities. A previous project at Euro-Arab Youth Music Center showed that Europeans know very little about Arab arts, composers, philosophers, scientists, the Arab cultural heritage in general. Our organization Euro-Arab Youth Music Center works with the aim of presenting the Arabic cultural heritage to the Europeans. At the same time, following the good practices and experiences from Europe, we use music for youth empowerment in Arab societies. The world-wide movement of Jeunesses Musicales International, which was funded in post-war Europe 1945, has generated great accumulation of know-how that is utilized by the network of the Arab Academy of Music of the League of Arab States, having outreach in all LAS members. The third funding partner of the Euro-Arab Youth Music Center is Cultural Movement “Epilogi” from Cyprus that has detected an important role that our island could play in this historical dialogue process, being placed between three continents, geographically in the Middle East and with strong cultural ties with Arab world, while fully integrated to the European Union. We have done many interesting projects bringing hundreds of young musicians together for the Euro-Mediterranean Youth Music Expo in September 2012, Euro-Mediterranean Youth Choral Fairs “Choral Crossroads” in 2011 and 2013, the Euro-Arab Youth Music Encounters “Ethno Jordan” in 2012 and “Ethno Cyprus” 2013 – all of them supported by European Commission. We have created a platform involving over 100 youth & music NGOs and other stakeholders from the entire region, organizing festivals, youth exchanges, fora, training courses and similar events. Still there is a lot to be done. Concluding, I would like to argue that it is very important to have a long-term strategic approach and vision for culture in the European external relations, which should be built through a bottom-up approach but inclusive for our Neighbors from the beginning. This would have a positive impact not only to the relations with them, but also to the European integration process as such.

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