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The Warsaw Voice » From the News Editor » January 27, 2011
From the News Editor
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Cultural Diplomacy
January 27, 2011   
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Politics, defense and economic affairs are not all there is to international relations. Culture—frequently forgotten, underestimated or only mentioned when there is nothing else to talk about—also plays a vital role. To begin with, it lets nations get to know to each other better, which, in turn, has an impact on other areas of international relations. The knowledge of the cultural traditions and heritage of a partner country fosters better understanding of the country’s views on many other areas of life, facilitates a dialogue and builds bridges between nations. When in the past, presidents, prime ministers or foreign ministers were said to “have discussed bilateral cultural relations,” that was usually diplomatic jargon for the real message: the two sides had failed to reach a compromise on any important issue, but some public announcement had to be made nonetheless. Thankfully, governments and politicians have since begun to treat culture seriously as a way to bring nations closer together, help them understand each other better and relieve conflicts. More importantly, culture comes across as the surest and yet simplest way for a country to demonstrate its national identity.

The EU has for decades embraced culture as a value that is impossible to overestimate, and came up with a number of major culture-related initiatives. One of them is the European Capital of Culture title, which the EU awards each year to two cities in two member states. A city can only be designated a European Capital of Culture once, while countries can apply for the privilege about once every 12-15 years. For 12 months, the cities make the most of this unique opportunity to demonstrate the best they have to offer in terms of culture.

The European Capitals of Culture are able to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors from Europe and around the world, who establish contacts that continue paying off for decades to come. Finally, such cities can radically improve their cultural infrastructure because along with EU funds, they are able to take advantage of money brought in by foreign tourists. It would be really hard to try to name all the benefits available for cities designated a European Capital of Culture.

Poland will be granted this big opportunity in 2016. Five cities have qualified for the final round. They are Gdańsk on the Baltic coast, Katowice in Silesia province, Lublin situated amidst pristine natural areas in eastern Poland, the capital city of Warsaw and Wrocław, the principal city of Lower Silesia. These are five very different cities, each with hundreds of years of history, traditions and foreign relations, full of aspirations and their own ideas to astonish visitors. All five have their own presentation concepts and different target audiences. Each candidate city has also selected some of its finest artists to actively lobby for the city as so-called Ambassadors of Culture.

In the coming months, Gdańsk, Katowice, Lublin, Warsaw and Wrocław will work hard to convince Polish judges from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and then the EU Council of Ministers that they deserve the title the most. The winner will then have three-and-a-half years to come up with the final agenda for its term as European Capital of Culture. The city will also obtain an EU grant of over 1.5 million euros to carry out the plan.
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