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Wednesday, 16 February 2011 16:20

Karl-Erik Norrman and the European project

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From 14th till 20th of February E&M author Christian Diemer will be one of about 60 selected international participants attending the academy "Arts as Cultural Diplomacy" at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) in Berlin.

The ICD is a cool thing. Mark C. Donfried, its founder and director, is a cool guy. The participants, having travelled to Berlin from all over the world (including Nigeria, Mexico and Australia), must be a cool group. But is Karl-Erik Norrman a cool guy as well? The Swedish ex-ambassador to Spain is the second speaker at the prestigious gathering's opening ceremony.

Talking about Sweden, he is reserved and a bit ignorant. The Swedish myths: the bizarre notion of Bergmanesque melancholy, ABBA, H&M, and IKEA. The Swedish facts: a rich country with a formidable social welfare system. A country that has lived 500 years of history without occupation (though occupying others) and 200 years without war. Why would such a country need cultural diplomacy to sell itself to the rest of the world? Sweden sells just as it is!

Talking about Europe, Mr. Norrman becomes more ambitious. In response to the criticism that Europe is merely an economic and political project run by technocrats and bureaucrats in Brussels, the retired ambassador established the European Cultural Parliament. Following the message of the late violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin that "the artists need a parliament", by now 160 musicians, painters, philosophers, sculptors etc from over 43 (!) European countries are giving their input on what Europe could become beyond politics and economy. Members are eligible from countries such as Azerbaijan or Iceland. "It almost breaks my heart to say that Canada is not a European country, when we have so much in common with them as well!"

Norrman himself has been an opera singer. But his thoughts on Europe have little to do with artistic pipe dreams:

  • European politics? Europe, Norrman states, is far from being perceived as a political unit internationally – and how could it be. "In India or China no diplomat would ask what Europe thinks, but people would be very interested to know what Germany thinks, and France, and Britain." Plus, according to Norrman embarking on the path of enlarging Europe has made it physically impossible to increase cohesion between the member countries at the same time, and thus to create a common position and a strong Europe in the world.

  • European education? EU strategy papers from 2000 (Lisbon Agenda) and 2010 (Europe 2020) do state the goal to make Europe if not a political global player then the most competitive economy in the world in terms of knowledge and innovation. "That didn't happen of course", Norrman states soberly. "And both in 2000 and in 2010 my colleagues and I have been lobbying Mr. Barroso: where is culture in your damned strategy?"
  • European culture? Americans would probably disagree on the notion that culture is a condition for competitive education, economy or politics to emerge. And cultural connections can be found between a lot of countries without making their governments political allies automatically, nor their citizens countrymen.
  • So what else has Europe to offer? In the eyes Mr. Norrman "Europe more than anything else is a social democratic project. A vision of a socially acceptable life for every single one of its citizens." European sociality? "Having said that", Norrman adds, "one has to be aware of the fact that globally, the differences between rich and poor have been extended to a disastrous and scandalous extent."

In contrast with the case of Sweden, some depressing movies, an embarrassing pop group and some strangely-named furniture do not seem to be enough to sell Europe to the rest of the world. Good to have Swedish Europeans like Karl-Erik Norrman to go for it.

The ICD, founded in 1999 by Mark C. Donfried, is the world's first institution running cultural diplomacy on a strictly transnational and non-governmental basis. Its main goals are research and education in the field of cultural diplomacy as well as supporting and encouraging so-called 'leadership initiatives' fostering intercultural exchange and mutual understanding – initiatives similar to that of E&M.

Last modified on Friday, 18 February 2011 09:37
Christian Diemer

Christian Diemer, 28, is from Rottweil in South Germany. Having studied musicology, arts management, and composition in Weimar, he is now writing from Berlin and obscure spots in East Europe, where he is currently working on his PhD thesis about traditional music in Ukraine. 

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