Eastern Partnership: cultural diplomacy is a driving force for good relations between neighbouring countries

15 November 2013, Last updated at, 08:44 EET
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author: Reuters/Scanpix

Lithuania, presiding over the Council of the European Union, marked the Eastern Partnership as one of its key priorities. The country is interested in having economically sound and promising neighbours in the East which are oriented towards European values and democratization. In order to achieve these goals, the Eastern Partnership is the most efficient instrument, and program's sustainable development is ensured by cultural diplomacy. But such a strengthening of relations is just an introduction because the culmination will take place on 28–29 November, during the Summit in Vilnius, where the fate of the Partnership and its countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – will be determined.

Culture is vital for the development of the Eastern Partnership programme

On 16–17 October during an informal meeting of senior officials of Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the issues of cultural diplomacy, discussions took place of how shared history and culture can contribute to good relations between neighbouring countries. Representatives of EU Member States, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European External Relations Council, and other related institutions participated in the meeting.

Olexandr Butsenko, Ukrainian intellectual, active observer of Ukraine’s political and values-related processes, Head of the development centre Democracy through culture, who was one of the participants, said that culture played the main part in the potential activities of the Eastern Partnership. It brings Eastern Partnership countries closer to European values and preserves their sustainability and dissemination.

Speaking about the specifics of European values, human rights, democratic ruling, and freedom of speech should be mentioned. According to Prof. Butsenko, these values are also considered fundamental in Ukraine's internal processes mainly thanks to cultural development and related activities. Culture helps to reveal the potential of self-realization. Its dissemination across nations and various layers of society occurs through various cultural events even if they are post-modern or universal in style, setting, or viewpoint. Everything depends on the interests of people – everyone finds his/her medium.

"In some cases it happens in a controversial and extravagant way, for example, an art workshop at Mystetsky Arsenal in Kiev, during which the importance of expressiveness and individualism was demonstrated in various wall paintings," the Professor recalled.

On the other hand, these means of self-expression develop active citizens who are capable of creating their future bravely and individually. Thus any human right which is exercised not on a cultural level becomes but a meaningless phrase. Finally, the role of culture in a human being’s life encourages him/her to be curious, active, and seek knowledge and that determines the fate of an individual.

Mutual cultural understanding brings political interests together

Countries with a common past have similar interests in the field of culture. This promotes mutual tolerance and a sense of understanding. Officials of such countries start talking about the context of a common past, start thinking about such a present and future which could benefit diplomatically from both countries. Thus a continuation of a common past through culture paves the way for common political goals in the future. This guarantees that the foundations for good relations are based on democratic values.

“Joint culture projects of the Eastern Partnership programme may involve not only different artists and culture specialists, but also a wide audience, and the interests of various officials,” Mr Butsenko stressed.

The contribution of culture is especially significant in the promotion of political reforms, democratization, and a dialogue between the societies and cultural policy makers of neighbouring countries; that's why a common past and culture may serve for the benefit of a good neighbourhood, preserving the identity and promoting an intercultural development of interests, mutual trust, and cultural polyphony.

The road to a democratic society goes via cultural policy

Ukraine‘s Democracy through culture defines culture as a means of developing democracy in a society. “Our goal is to develop cultural policy in local communities and between cities. It should be innovative and available to everyone. But cultural policy won’t be successful without an interaction with other areas of life, such as education, social security, economics, and the media. When promoting cultural policy in a society, we also try to incorporate other areas of activity,” Mr Butsenko said.

Therefore, creating a democratic society is difficult without an effective cultural development. Since democratization is the stability priority of European values, its development is an integral part of the Eastern Partnership.

By implementing the Eastern Partnership programme, the EU would push Ukraine out of Russia's huge zone of influence and could promote democratic reforms and the integration of the euro in this country more actively. “A single trading area between the EU and Ukraine is particularly necessary for Ukraine to further establish closer relations with the EU and strengthen its economic and political independence from Russia, and for the EU – to boost its economy," claims Tomas Janeliūnas, a political scientist and lecturer at Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science. This gives mutual benefit and meets the expectations of countries, making cultural diplomacy an integral part of the implementation of the Eastern Partnership programme.

Written by Patricija Babrauskaitė, a participant of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Eurodesk Lithuania's competition of young journalists.

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From 28.11.2013 to 29.11.2013
The 3rd Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius

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