Promoting culture as a vital element in international relations of the European Union is one of the three fundamental pillars/goals of the first European Agenda for Culture in a Globalising World adopted in 2007. A strategic approach to cultural cooperation remains a priority of work plans and programs for culture, as well as resolutions on the cultural dimension of EU’s international relations (i.e. Resolution on the Cultural Dimension of the EU’s External Actions) from 2011 to the present. Strengthening international cultural relations of the EU, including cooperation with cultures outside of Europe (external dimension), remains one of the three strategic objectives (along with the social and the economic ones) of the New European Agenda for Culture adopted in 2018.
European Commission published the document Towards an EU Strategy for International Cultural Relations in June 2016, with the goal of promoting culture as ‘an integral part of the European Union’s international action’, i.e. strengthening cultural cooperation of the European Union with other regions of the world. This document prompted the preparation of the European Parliament’s report published under the same name in July 2017. The Strategy highlights the contribution of culture – as a transversal factor – to sustainable development, mutual understanding and respect for fundamental values. It formulates a new model of cultural cooperation between the European Union and other countries of the world. Support for culture as ‘a catalyst of sustainable social and economic development’ (especially about the contribution of cultural and creative industries to economic growth and employment) and support for the promotion of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue for peace and stability are at the forefront of this model.
Rapid changes that mark today’s world, such as the revolution in digital communication, rise of social media, new global actors, rapid urbanization (74% of the population of the EU today lives in urban areas) as well as changes in cultural values, numerous challenges and conflicts, bring to the forefront questions such as how to strengthen the awareness of interdependence of cultures and support/improve practices of cultural exchange and interaction. Are efforts to promote a more balanced exchange of cultural goods and services enough? How to strengthen the role of culture in development policies and inter-sectoral linkages? How to support the role of local communities in international cultural cooperation? Could cultures stand up to the numerous global instabilities? Could the European Neighborhood Policy, especially in the region of South East Europe, be more effective?
The unique value of the European project that has been reexamined recently, due to the rise of different circumstances and priorities, needs to be re-emphasized. The present historical moment, burdened by multiple international crises, demands the evaluation and (re)affirmation of the unique value of Europe. Culture is at the core of European soft power. The nucleus of the cultural logic of the European process is to unite, not to divide, West and East, North and South, or countries that identify with any geopolitical side of the world. Therefore, the goal of the conference is to consider challenges and modalities that lead to more intense cooperation and partnership between the European Union and the world.
Croatia is committed to following European standards in its internal and foreign relations. As a country that has accepted to care for and develop European values in all forms of its political and cultural activities, Croatia strives to strengthen the role of culture in its internal and foreign relations and invests efforts to include culture as a connective element of international relations within a development process that is attainable, inclusive and sustainable. Cultural cooperation affirms, in a non-contradicting way, different approaches and experiences of all countries and societies in the world. According to available data (2014), Croatia’s cooperation has been focused on EU member states (57.36%) and other European countries (16.65%). Precisely at a time when the European Union is paying more attention to international relations with strategic partners on other continents and towards European neighbors (in accordance with the EU Strategy for international cultural relations), Croatia, using its knowledge and experience in cultural cooperation, has a chance to participate more intensively in creation and development of new forms of intercultural communication and cooperation. Culture-related issues are no longer only in the domain of cultural policy but are also linked to other public policies and development as a whole. This requires continuous attention when it comes to interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral approaches in Croatian international relations.
Is today‘s Croatia capable of being an example of a European country that thinks culturally because it cooperates with countries, institutions and peoples tolerant of others, and a country that recognizes its own good and bad sides, striving, through international cooperation, to overcome differences that divide in favor of differences that unite? What are the diversities that connect? Culture has been resolving these questions for centuries through theory and practice of multicultural environments. In places where politics or economics speak the language of exclusivity, culture speaks of inclusivity. Cultural traditions and heritage have always revealed the fundamental sustainability of pluralistic worlds and the unsustainability of the illusion of culturally “clean” spaces. Modern creative cultural accomplishments, which connect locally and globally, urban and cosmopolitan spaces, reconcile seemingly irreconcilable spaces and harmonize what is seemingly contradictory and divisive.
Many issues arising from old and new misconceptions and narrow-mindedness, and attitudes that see others as threats remain to be resolved. Will Rijeka – the European Capital of Culture 2020 provide innovative ways of addressing such issues?
(Biserka Cvjetičanin and Vjeran Katunarić)