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France/culture/“Institut français”

Published on July 23, 2010
Article by Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, published in the “Le Figaro” newspaper

Paris, July 22, 2010
French culture has the means for a global reach

Our Foreign Ministry is reforming and adapting to the changes in the world. A milestone has been passed with the adoption of the Act on the State’s external action, which creates a new instrument for raising France’s international profile. An agency, the Institut français, will soon head up our 143 cultural centres abroad. Its remit? To promote our artists and writers, our cultural creation. Spread our language in the wider world. Have a bigger say in the discussion of ideas and play a greater role in the global realm of artistic and scientific knowledge.
What’s new? The Institut français – an umbrella name embracing a multi-faceted network of cultural instruments and centres – will be France’s face abroad. With its public agency status, the new operator will combine effectiveness and legitimacy. It will have a genuine career structure. It will bring together the world of the arts, local authorities, businesses and the network of Alliances françaises with which we are signing an agreement. It will benefit from exceptional additional budgetary resources.

This reform’s objectives are very clear. A country’s influence stems from the strength of its economy and its armed forces and its role in global governance. It stems too from the power of ideas and images. Yet this intelligent power has taken on a totally new importance. Why?

Because the world we have entered is an increasingly dematerialized world. As evidenced by the importance of the Internet, a global space which we must guarantee and protect. Words, ideas, knowledge, images and music circulate at faster speed in a now unique dimension. Prosperity, influence and freedom go to those controlling their production and dissemination. We must be present in this global competition of culture, communication and knowledge.

Frankly, we have no reason to be ashamed of our position! France is one of the world’s four or five foremost cultural powers. French is the second most taught language in the universe. Our country is one of those which file the most patents and publish the most scientific articles. It is the country with the third-largest number of foreign students. We distribute more films than any other country except the United States and our literature is the most translated after that of the English-speaking world. We have international media, watched, read or listened to all over the world.

But let’s look at the facts! The battle of cultural content and ideas is intensifying. No position is ever achieved for good. The big countries understand this. In London, Berlin and Washington, public diplomacy is on the up. Above all, new powers are emerging which, from China to the Gulf countries, are making their voices heard, which is normal.

France must not be outdone. This is why, with Frédéric Mitterrand’s help, I am establishing the Institut français. It is not just our interests and influence which are at stake. Our values are too. People talk about the threat hanging over cultural diversity. They are right. We must defend this pluralism, on which our freedom depends. But there is another threat: the temptation to pit civilizations against each other, to imprison individuals within a culture supposedly purer than the others.

Against this background, the Institut français will also have to reaffirm the obstinate idea that there is a universal culture, formed of works to admire, knowledge to share and principles to respect. The obstinate idea that all men, all nations, define themselves by their contribution to this constantly evolving body of work.

The Institut français – and I am happy that Xavier Darcos will be taking on its chairmanship when the time comes – is the most visible part of a vast reform, the most ambitious for a long time, of our diplomacy of influence. With Valérie Pécresse, we are also creating an agency, CampusFrance, to encourage student mobility and enhance the attractiveness of our universities. With France expertise international we are increasing our ability to address the strong demand for expertise from the developing and emerging countries. This circulation of grey matter is of primordial importance for our economy, our influence and the development of the other countries.

By equipping our public diplomacy with modern and effective operators, I firmly believe I am preparing the future. Hugo wrote: “serving your country is doing half your duty, serving mankind, the other half”. He was right! This is why we are reforming our diplomatic machinery: for a stronger France in a fairer world./.

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