“Europe is about learning”

Bulgaria: Cultural Panels on the Future of Europe

What is the future of Europe? And how can culture shape this future? On occasion of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, EUNIC organised a series of “CulturalPanels” in Sofia. We interviewed Rumen Petrov, senior lecturer at the New Bulgarian University and one of the creators of the series, about the questions raised.

 In the “Cultural Panels”, you investigated the role of culture in shaping the Europe of the future. How do you personally perceive this role, especially from a Bulgarian point of view?

The Bulgarian point of view is rather conflictual in itself. One the one side, there is a tendency to keep culture intact. The idea of culture in the context of other cultures changing and influencing each other is a little bit threatening for many Bulgarians, especially for Bulgarian officials. We can see a resurgence of a kind of nostalgia for Bulgarian traditional dances for example, as if people resolved to rituals in some attempt to identify themselves within something that is probably less identifiable. Knowing each other’s history is something that is also very important for Europe. Not to look at whose culture is going to dominate, but rather to invest in each other. An important purpose is engaging people into knowing each other, and also learning about their own culture through others. This aspect is sometimes missing from the work of some cultural institutes.

What prompted you to address the role of culture and the future of Europe?

The idea came from some coincidences. First of all there was the EU Presidency of Bulgaria, which brought the European theme and issues to Sofia. We felt that Europe is more or less taken for granted, especially in Bulgaria, and we wanted to challenge that position. We also identified the alienation between people, between present and past, sometimes between generations, and also between many Bulgarians and the idea of Europe.  

You co-created the panels together with colleagues from European cultural institutes. What was your role in the project?

To co-create projects is an important approach, because it stipulates that we can’t understand the local culture without engaging with local experts and vice-versa. With Enzio Wetzelfrom the Goethe-Institut we remained different on some issues. This was the objective, to remain different in order to be together, to be aware of the different perspectives, the different cultures that we are bringing in. Towards the end of the series, as we knew each other and trusted each other more, we allowed more risk and experimentation and we gradually achieved more interactions and dialogue instead of just a monologue or a lecture.

Looking at EUNIC, the network of EU cultural institutes and organisations, from an external point of view: Is there some advice you can give?

I would say that in a way I’m fascinated by this framework. It’s very good to imagine that cultural institutes are not competitors on the market of culture as some people would think, but also that they would profit from this collaboration. The next step I think for this collaboration is the idea of mutual learning, which is about helping our cultures to know each other better. How can we enrich this learning? I think cultural institutes have this great potential to enrich and sustain the idea that Europe is not about homogenisation, but Europe is about learning. And through this getting to know each other, we improve our human condition. Knowing better European histories – and not one European history –,and putting them in contact with each other could be a very European approach.

 

Interview by: Roxane Schavoir

Background:

In the first half of 2018, Bulgaria held the Presidency of the Council of the EU. The cluster designed the project “Bulgaria in Europe: 2018 and beyond” to provide support to Bulgaria’s cultural relations in Europe. It included a strategic and concept development workshop with external moderation and facilitation followed by a number of adjacent meetings to develop means and recommendations for empowering an independent cultural sector in Bulgaria. The concept workshop was designed to identify needs and perspectives to professionalise communication, encourage cooperation at various levels (between municipal/state cultural institutions and the independent sector, between Bulgaria and its European neighbours and partners, and between the European cultural institutes active in Bulgaria), share good practices and mechanisms between these groups, work on recommendations for cultural actors and for administration responsible for culture, and raise awareness around the role of culture and the arts in Europe and their spill-over effects and benefits within Bulgarian society. A follow-up workshop on “Plovdiv 2019: communication and cooperation” will be organised, together with the realization of EUNIC projects in 2018 and 2019. The project intends to achieve its objectives by facilitating exchanges on operational means such as network meetings, fundraising skills, trainings and the experiences of the members of EUNIC Bulgaria with their local partners.

Duration:

September 2017

Partners:

European Commission Representation in Bulgaria

Total Budget:

Total budget: 17,600€; Cluster fund grant: 6400€

Keywords:

EU Presidency, cultural relations, networking, capacity building, independent cultural sector, cross-cultural cooperation, knowledge sharing, professionalisation.