Centering the Cultural Dialogue: An Interview

By Maly, Ivan | The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Centering the Cultural Dialogue: An Interview


Maly, Ivan, The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs


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SIXTEEN YEARS AFTER THE FALL OF COMMUNISM, THE CZECH REPUBLIC JOINED THE EUROPEAN UNION; NOW, FIVE YEARS AFTER EU EXPANSION, THE FORMER SOVIET STATE HAS JUST COMPLETED ITS FIRST RUN AT THE HELM OF THE 27-MEMBER ORGANIZATION. THE FOLLOWING INTERVIEW--CONDUCTED WITH PETR POLIVKA, THE DIRECTOR OF THE CZECH CENTRE IN BRUSSELS, BELGIUM--CONVEYS HOW THE COUNTRY'S ACCESSION INTO THE EU HAS HELPED BREAKDOWN CULTURAL BARRIERS AND INITIATE A SHARED CULTURAL DIALOGUE OF MUTUAL RESPECT BETWEEN THE CZECH NATION, BELGIUM, AND THE REST OF EUROPE.

You are the director of the Czech Centre in Brussels. The aim of the Centre is to promote Czech culture in Belgium, which has about the same number of inhabitants as the Czech Republic. Is this ratio an advantage or have you had better experiences in other countries?

I am not sure whether this ratio has any effect on our work. Nevertheless, I can say that Belgian society is quite receptive to our activities here. Belgians like the Czech Republic, and oft en visit it. Large numbers of people frequently view our projects, and some even surprise us with very decent Czech language skills.

Does it make sense, and if so in what way, to promote the Czech Republic abroad through organizations like cultural centres?

It certainly does; I would not be working here if I didn't believe in it. While many Belgians are quite informed about Czech affairs and Czech culture, others know nothing at all or have only been exposed to one-sided information. I believe that it should be somewhat compulsory for every EU member-state to provide the kind of information that Czech Centres provide across the EU. A diverse number of people live in Europe; if we are supposed to live under one roof, we should know at least basic facts--such as culture--about our housemates.

How would you rate the Czech's EU presidency from the perspective of the Czech Centre's work in Brussels?

I think it went well. During the six-month timespan, we organized 77 various projects related to different aspects of Czech culture. Specifically, we presented exhibitions on the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu, writer Karel Capek, and photographer Frantisek Drtikol. One art exhibition was devoted to the Czech Art brut movement, and specifically highlighted the work of Anna Zemankova. We held contemporary music concerts and showcased specific individuals such as pianist Libor Novacek and Katerina Chrobokova, an organist and harpsichordist. The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra also played a very successful concert at the Palais des Beaux-Arts to mark the end of the presidency. The projects that we organized at the Czech Centre in Brussels were well received with over 12,000 attendants.

Do you perceive the Czech Centre in Brussels to be a centre for Czech/Belgian relations or rather, Czech relations in the EU since Brussels is the de facto capital of the Union?

The Czech Centre in Brussels is definitely intended to promote Czech/Belgian relations. While most of the projects we organize take place in Brussels, we still organize a large number with partners across the country; we have partner centres in almost all Belgian cities as well as in numerous towns and villages. But since Brussels does play this special role in the European Union, there does exist a certain European dimension to our work; we routinely cooperate with European institutions and gladly welcome "European" visitors to our Centre.

In your opinion, what kind of relationship does the Czech Republic have with the Kingdom of Belgium?

In my opinion, the two countries share a very good relationship--from the "human" as well as political perspective. Agreements at the governmental and local level are regularly carried out.

What should the Czech people take away from Belgian culture--both traditional and contemporary?

In general, the architecture in Belgian is particularly noteworthy.

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