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« Cultural projects bring hope for the future »

Discours de Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres

« World Cultural Economic Forum »

Nouvelle Orléans
30 octobre 2008

For a Frenchman, New Orleans is no ordinary destination. Indeed, for my countrymen, and for me in particular, it conjures up a whole host of deep and very special sentiments. First of all, a feeling akin to coming over to visit the family or, dare I say – although, I must add, without any intention on my part to tread on your national sovereignty – coming back home.

The historical bonds between our peoples are as strong as they are fertile and multiple. No less so our political and cultural ties.
But there is more to it than that: the magnificent D-Day Museum I visited two years ago bears witness to the sacrifice made by so many American troops in Europe Old Europe, some may say, the Europe of youth, others may prefer to say – so that our Continent may once again enjoy those fundamental values of Freedom, Democracy and see the dawn of a forward-looking, humanist western civilisation.

I shall therefore begin, tonight, in this great city of New Orleans, by expressing my gratitude to America, to the American people, for this glorious and fraternal past, a past which must always remain engraved in our memories. Indeed, to echo the words which will be pronounced in every corner of Europe in just a few weeks’ time on Remembrance Day: « We shall remember them ».

For my part, Mr. Governor, I feel it is fitting for me tonight, in this place above all, to talk about the future. When your city was rocked by the devastation and suffering brought upon it by Katrina, French solidarity – « La Solidarité Française » – was immediate. A solidarity which came from the heart. A solidarity of hope and vitality. A solidarity which saw no bounds.
I cast my mind back to the first time we met. I cast my mind back to the day of the inauguration of that magnificent exhibition organised to mark the re-opening of the museum.

It is such moments of friendship and pride, shared by one and all, moments of warmth and compassion which transform political and diplomatic encounters into real opportunities for exchange and concrete action.
The theme you have chosen is particularly interesting and, indeed, compelling. Not to say innovative. For no longer must we close our eyes to the importance of Culture in its contribution to wealth and value, for you, in this State of Louisiana, for the United States, and for ourselves, in France and Europe as a whole.

That said, you may be surprised to hear a former Minister of Culture and Communication talk about appeal, economic development, employment, tourism, markets, diversity and international influence.

Yet, it is essential for us to change the way we look at the realities of global exchanges. Culture is not simply a matter of entertainment, distraction, pleasure or, indeed, elegance.

Politically, it is a key factor in ensuring peace, combating terrorism, for reasons of respect, pride and equality among peoples, cultures and religions.

And, economically, the emergence of robust, audacious strategies of international influence and power, based on major cultural and artistic projects, is clear for all, to see.

Major architects, collections and treasures from our museums, artistic creation and intellectual works, all forms of performing arts embodied in our prestigious festivals… these are the pillars of the international influence of a country, a culture, a people. Globalisation meanwhile, is a source of effervescence and valuable imitation.

It is precisely for this reason that France lends its support to a whole host of magnificent initiatives, when requested to do so by any country with which it holds special bonds.

Our aim is to promote our cultural heritage, a capital wich belongs to each and every one of us. To foster productive exchange, opening up not only our treasure chests, but also our hearts and our minds. To pay an active role in the vitality of the Art market.

France has chosen to open up its historic monument to the diversity of our world. One example, in particular, comes to mind : the Islamic Arts department in the Cour Visconti at the Louvre in Paris, with its magnificent contemporary architectural project made by Rudy Ricciotti, or the shooting of the film of Sophia Coppola « Marie Antoinette » in Le Château de Versailles.

France seeks to welcome all cultures, not least of all at the Quai Branly museum, designed by Jean Nouvel to exhibit Primitive Arts collections, from every continent.

France has also decided to show its own collections more frequently throughout the world, with exhibitions of arts treasures from the Louvre, Pompidou, Orsay, Picasso, Fontainebleau and our other major museums. We are regular participants at numerous arts fairs. Our curators organise magnificent exhibitions in all corners of the globe.

In this vein, it was with great pleasure that we acceded to the wishes of the United Arab Emirates, with the creation of the « Louvre – Abu Dhabi ». I am indeed very proud of this project, which was something of a revolution in the world of French museums.

At the outset, I was the butt of much of criticism, not least from those who – mistakenly – thought we had set out to sell off our national art collections. Today, this initiative is widely recognised as a forward-looking policy, a win-win process, based on a fully-understood mutual interest.

What is more, a tourist appeal strategy based on culture, culture with a capital C, culture with all its finesse and prestige, furthers one’s appreciation of the world beyond our frontiers, fosters dialogue between cultures, traditions and contemporary forms of art.

In the current stock market crisis, with the spectre of global consequences for the world economy, growth and employment, cultural projects bring hope for the future.

There is a certain robustness in art which seems to make it more resilient in the face of economic fluctuations than is the case with certain stocks, banking or otherwise !

Together, we must state our cultural identities as factors of political sovrent and pillars of sustainable economic influence.

Without falling into the trap of arrogance, we must promote the idea that there is no one single world culture, no absolute cultural supremacy of one world over another.

We must kindle the fires of creation, uphold the flame of cultural heritage, place the spotlight on works of art, from the most ancient to the most contemporary. I’ve in mind for comming the opening of the Museum of islamic arts in Qatar.

This is how we shall contribute to wealth and prosperity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

By virtue of my former functions as Minister for European Affairs and Minister for Culture and Communication, I will focus, in particular, on the cultural dimension of the French presidency.

Indeed, this is the ambassadorial role assigned to me by the President of the Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy.
I see it as a great honour to be able to speak to you today, an honour which is further heigtened by the joy of seeing once again a personal friend, a man of great talent, our Ambassador, Pierre Vimont.

I shall begin, therefore, with a touch of humour and, I might add, provocation, by informing you that France has decided to act with humility.

We sincerely hope that, by the end of our 6-month presidency, nobody in the States will come away with the impression that we are, in any way, arrogant !

It is true to say that, in view of the current political climate in Europe, we must adopt a strategic reflection into the sense of our political project and, in particular, how to encourage our fellow European citizens to embrace this vision of the future for our continent. For a Frenchman, this naturally conjures up memories of the unfortunate outcome of our country’s referendum on the European Constitution.

Talk of peace may seem out of place and somewhat unconvincing, in light of the very real threat of violence, fundamentalism and terrorism on European and American soil.
For our generation, freedom of movement, whether it be that of people, goods or creative works, is quite naturally taken for granted. The risk of conflict seems a very distant menace. Putting this down to the result – albeit a magnificent one – of political consensus seems pointless, with the ghosts of the wars which haunted the twentieth century now seemingly so distant, so abstract, to the extent that it has now become necessary to create the notion of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

To create a positive momentum of support for Europe, we must, I believe, set up shop in the new context, namely widespread internationalisation, globalisation, on the premise that this opportunity, this new horizon, this invigorating yet brutal breath of fresh air, is also a source of fear, anxiety and sectarianism.

Life out on the open seas may well be exhilarating, but at the same time it heightens our yearning for the home port, the familiar territory, the places we know best.

We cannot discuss culture, in the modern era, without evoking a political project, coming to terms with our history and opening out to the future.
To open out, to embrace the future, we must ourselves be in a situation of influence, a position of force. Our willingness to build a new mosque must not overshadow our duty to renovate our cathedrals…

If globalisation generates rejection or sectarianism, it is precisely due to the bare reality of competition, size, credibility, critical mass and scale.

In economic terms, it is relatively simple to achieve, as we can see, on an everyday, yet remarkable basis, through the strategies which have led to the emergence of our major worldwide groups. From this point of view, Europe can be proud of its success in rising to this challenge, even during this financial crisis.

In social terms, however, the human consequences are considerable. Globalisation is often perceived by the public as no more than the syndrome of outsorting, plant shutdowns and company closures. And sometimes as a new form of international specialisation, in which our talents seem to have lost their value, for reasons of prohibitive cost.
The opportunity of expatriation, new horizons, life in a new town or a new country, is therefore, unfortunately, often perceived as the reserve of the elite, resulting in a divorce between economic, financial and technological imperatives, on the one hand, and the popular aspiration to be able to work in one’s home region, without jeopardising one’s future, on the other.

From a cultural standpoint, globalisation should generate knowledge of others, other cultures, innovations and creations from all over the world. Unfortunately, it is also interpreted as a risk of uniformity, excessive mercantilism, destruction of identity, levelling down, formatting to the tune of a global culture where the brand is all that counts.

Here again, Europe has a an exalting task to accomplish: provide our national capacities with the means to achieve global influence, the exhilaration of a worldwide presence.

In spite of our genius and the vitality of our cultural industries, one figure gives food for thought and should stir us into action: eighty-five percent of cinema ticket sales go to Hollywood productions. In saying this, it is not my intention to cast doubt on the excellence of American creativity, but simply to defend the existence and greater influence of our own artistes.

France has taken on the presidency of the European Union at a very particular time in European history. The partisans of freedom, peace, democracy and humanism have won. Despite different social realities in each of our countries, with unemployment and poverty, we are nonetheless in a situation of prosperity and growth.

Europe and the States could be an oasis, a model, an example, a guiding light.

The emergence of new economies, new cultures and new regions of the world oblige us – and this is indeed a blessing in disguise – to wake up to the situation. To fight back.

We must accept our destiny as a civilisation, as a major force, with humility, but with clear sightedness and energy. With method, but with no less passion.

Without seeking to patronise, Europe’s role is to embody a major political project. Its voice stands out loud and clear in favour of peace. The theme of cultural diversity is a truly European message. This fraternity, this respect, this equalitarian dignity of cultures, religions, languages, artistic and intellectual expression is a European message of prime importance.

We must state this message as a matter of priority. The question of culture is not a sideshow, nor is it a luxury, a fleeting celebration, or a glossy sub-culture.

For us, as Europeans, it is essential. Our economic appeal depends on it, as do our political influence and our international cultural reputation. It must be remembered that cultural products and services are the second largest US export sector.

The agenda put forward by the French presidency includes, with equal priority, the environment and sustainable development, immigration control, defence and the cultural imperative.

Let me say, loud and clear, today, « We must get Europe back on track through culture! »

Identity, pride, open-mindedness, roots, creation, tradition, modernity, values… words which seem to be banished from our vocabulary when it comes to talking about Europe!

This attitude fails to see that the European peoples are in search of a frame of reference, meaning, repossession of their own history. They are looking for freedom and democratic power.

The brutality and violence of the headlines we hear in our daily news bulletins are a source of constant turmoil for our fellow citizens. As the glittering horizons of a global world open up, so too are the political skies darkening, as everyday reality serves a reminder of hard times for one and all.

The closer we are to the stranger from across the way and the more the boundaries between us are broken down, the greater the need to assert our own identities, to mark our territory, to feel that we belong. In short, the greater the need to come together.

Individuals, faced with cultures, religions or ways of life which are unfamiliar to them, sometimes feel ignored, oppressed, scorned. To be able to welcome « others », whoever they may be, we must ourselves be in a situation of influence, success and harmony.

To counter concerns about the future, forcefully illustrated by the rejection of Europe which has become manifest in recent referenda, it is now urgent and imperative to « talk culture » to our fellow European citizens. Raising the promotion of cultural heritage, the hosting of contemporary creation, the circulation of works of art and their proponents or artistic education to the rank of true political priorities, is no longer simply the necessary expression of our good conscience or an elegant manifestation of artistic life. More fundamentally, it is a response to the conscious or unconscious expectations of the European peoples. Celebrating a language, cultivating tradition, welcoming contemporary architecture, promoting new forms of cultural expression, honouring our artistic repertoire, contemplating the future by reflecting on our past, fostering a taste for discovery and innovation, safeguarding arts and crafts, embracing urban cultures… the ways to reconcile our diversity are many and varied, providing a forum to assert our European identity, while recognising the individuality of one and all.

There is no contradiction between the Europe of the arts and the digital revolution, no conflict between the spiritual dimension and the need for social progress, no real opposition between the singularity of a language which needs defending and the need for translation which, according to Umberto Ecco, is « the language of Europe ». These are all mutually-nourishing? strengths, which we can and must be proud of.

Moreover, how could we fail to see that our appeal and our economic development are largely dependent on our cultural and artistic capital, our potential for intelligence, knowledge, creativity and imagination? Culture and growth two lines of the same verse, abundant in meaning and very real consequences for our fellow citizens!

In the face of fundamentalism and violence, in the face of uniformity and excessive mercantilism in our societies, the Europe of culture is our new frontier.

It is a hymn to our common pride, a fertilisation of our roots through creation, a celebration of our scope of influence. It is also the rightful respect we owe to one and all, to every people, to their history and to their future. It is the very essence of democracy.

The President of the Republic has clearly expressed his will for France to don its European garb in order to give full prominence to the 26 member States during the French presidency. The European cultural season, which began on the first of July, hosting a great many artistic events from the 26 countries at venues throughout France, is not, therefore, just a sideshow. It is a founding political project!

Starting with culture is a means of halting the spiral of fear which leads to rejection. It means focussing our political project on what is essential. It means combining collective perspective and self-assertion. It means placing men and women at the heart of our political and humanistic ideal.

It is also our will to reflect upon and foster debate on the role which culture can play as a factor of growth.
This will be the theme of an international forum in Avignon later this year, on the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth of November, bringing together the worlds of politics, economics, culture and the arts.

In our view, this forum will provide a foundation for 2 « firsts »: a joint meeting of the 27 ministers of Economy and Finance and the 27 ministers with responsibility for culture and communication. The theme could be the emergence of « cultural independents » on a European level, to guarantee them a true scope of influence and, in some cases, more brutally, a means of survival.

The second « first » would be the inclusion of a cultural question on the agenda of the European Council which brings together the Heads of State or Government of the European Union member countries.

This is not a spectacular or artificial stunt. It is a political priority.

Politics must focus on meaning, what is essential, ethics and values.

To convince our peoples of the reality of European success, let us begin by highlighting achievements of the intellect in all fields: from science to poetry, from the visual to the corporal art of dance, from cutting edge technology to the rarest, most fragile of crafts. Europe must be the champion of this cultural wealth and this forward-looking momentum.

Our capital and our traditions must provide a springboard, a starting point, a prerequisite to foster a passion for creation. Likewise, the marks of respect due to one and all, each people, each culture, each language, each religion and each way of life.

The French presidency will strive to push forward numerous concrete projects which are traditionally part and parcel of our common European ambition.

But we cannot ignore popular scepticism, the rift which has opened up between the privileged elite and the people.

The wide-ranging projects at the heart of our ambitions must give equal place to space technology and arts and crafts, to technologies of the future and biotechnologies, alongside architecture and sustainable development.

« Talking culture » to Europeans means giving a dimension of pride to one and all. It is also a very real political, economic and spiritual perspective.

Paradoxically, this is not a whimsical fantasy, but very much a down-to-earth assertion. Indeed, a democratically political necessity.

For our peoples and their elected representatives to walk hand-in-hand towards a fervent « Yes » to the European political project, we must talk to our fellow citizens about the subjects which concern them in their daily lives: employment, money, purchasing power, health and, of course, security.
But also, freedom, meaning, respect, diversity and fraternity.

During this French presidency, we intend to strive to defend a cause which, in actual fact, exceeds us all: a folly wonderfully illustrated by Victor Hugo in the middle of the ninetheenth century.

I will end, then, not only to rest my vocal cords, but also with my sincere apologies for my poor diction in this magnificent language of Shakespeare and James Joyce, with these few premonitory words, worthy of a true European genius:

« Un jour viendra où les armes vous tomberont des mains, à vous aussi ! Un jour viendra où la guerre paraîtra aussi absurde et sera aussi impossible entre Paris et Londres, entre Pétersbourg et Berlin, entre Vienne et Turin, qu’elle serait impossible et qu’elle paraîtrait absurde aujourd’hui entre Rouen et Amiens, entre Boston et Philadelphie. Un jour viendra où vous France, vous Russie, vous Italie, vous Angleterre, vous Allemagne, vous toutes, nations du continent, sans perdre vos qualités distinctes et votre glorieuse individualité, vous vous fondrez étroitement dans une unité supérieure, et vous constituerez la fraternité européenne, absolument comme la Normandie, la Bretagne, la Bourgogne, la Lorraine, l’Alsace, toutes nos provinces, se sont fondues dans la France. Un jour viendra où il n’y aura plus d’autres champs de bataille que les marchés s’ouvrant au commerce et les esprits s’ouvrant aux idées. – Un jour viendra où les boulets et les bombes seront remplacés par les votes, par le suffrage universel des peuples, par le vénérable arbitrage d’un grand sénat souverain qui sera à l’Europe ce que le parlement est à l’Angleterre, ce que la diète est à l’Allemagne, ce que l’Assemblée législative est à la France ! Un jour viendra où l’on montrera un canon dans les musées comme on y montre aujourd’hui un instrument de torture, en s’étonnant que cela ait pu être! Un jour viendra où l’on verra ces deux groupes immenses, les États-Unis d’Amérique, les États-Unis d’Europe, placés en face l’un de l’autre, se tendant la main par-dessus les mers, échangeant leurs produits, leur commerce, leur industrie, leurs arts, leurs génies, défrichant le globe, colonisant les déserts, améliorant la création sous le regard du Créateur, et combinant ensemble, pour en tirer le bien-être de tous, ces deux forces infinies, la fraternité des hommes et la puissance de Dieu ! »
Et ce jour-là, il ne faudra pas quatre cents ans pour l’amener, car nous vivons dans un temps rapide, nous vivons dans le courant des évènements et d’idées le plus impétueux qui ait encore entraîné les peuples, et, à l’époque où nous sommes, une année fait parfois l’ouvrage d’un siècle.
Et Français, Anglais, Belges, Allemands, Russes, Slaves, Européens, Américains, qu’avons-nous à faire pour arriver le plus tôt possible à ce grand jour ? Nous aimer. »

Thank you for your kind attention. Vive la Nouvelle Orléans ! Vive l’amitié franco-américaine. Vive la diversité culturelle !

de Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres

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