arlier this year, five cultural centers in Lebanon signed a charter of cooperation to form a local group called the European Union National Institute for Culture (EUNIC), which works according to the EU directive on the work of cultural centers. The national network, informally referred to as cluster, includes the Romanian Institutul Cultural Roman, the British Council, the German Goethe Institut, the Italian Istituto Italiano di Cultura, and the French Mission Culturelle Francaise au Liban, with the Spanish Instituto Cervantes de Beirut set to join subsequently.
These centers have elected Romanian cultural attaché Dan Stoenescu to serve as the network’s president for one year, the term stipulated by the cluster’s bylaws. Stoenescu is also the first secretary of the Romanian Embassy in Lebanon and the head of the Institutul Cultural Roman.
NOW Extra talked to Stoenescu about the cluster, its goals, what it brings to the cultural scene in Lebanon and what the future vision is for the creation of this kind of cluster.
How did the EUNIC start?
Dan Stoenescu: There were multiple initiatives within the EU to create clusters of cultural centers in various parts of the world. The first [EUNIC cluster] was established in 2006 in Prague, at the initiative of the British Council there. [A cluster enjoys some financial and administrative independence.] Cultural networks or clusters were first set up in Europe, [before] spreading to Asia and America.
The EUNIC currently has 31 members from 26 states [and the numbers are continually increasing] with centers distributed across more than 151 states.
Was the EUNIC in Lebanon created by a local or European initiative?
Stoenescu: The creation of any network among a group of cultural centers usually comes as the result of a local initiative. In Lebanon, for example, the British and German cultural centers made the first step to create the cluster.
In the Middle East, there are cultural clusters in Cairo (perhaps with some delay because of the recent protests), Amman and Beirut.
Why has the EUNIC cluster in Lebanon been limited to five states so far?
Stoenescu: According to EUNIC’s rules, any European cultural center can join a EUNIC cluster if they have a presence in the relevant country. However, European states that do not have a cultural center in Lebanon cannot join the network unless they have named someone to handle their cultural affairs. That could be easily done by having the president of the cultural center in the relevant European state appoint one of the diplomats in their embassy in Lebanon as a deputy for cultural affairs.
What is your evaluation of previously-created cultural networks? And what is the general goal of the cluster in Lebanon?
Stoenescu: There is a need for these centers. If we have a unified [EU] foreign policy, why not have a unified program for European culture?... There was a proposal for [creating cultural centers in] neighboring countries, specifically former Soviet Union countries and Mediterranean basin states, which includes the MENA region.
Cultural relations with these countries are very important to the EU, whether in terms of cultural similarities or dissimilarities... One could say that the work of European cultural centers in Middle Eastern countries is a completion of the EU’s work. Some of these centers have been in Lebanon, since the country’s independence. Today, with the network that we have created, we will make the cultural arena easier for people [to access].
As for the network members, it is very important that we not only promote our own unique culture, but also European culture. We should also help each other to offer [the people] our unified cultural heritage – our European heritage.
How do you intend to reconcile the promotion of your unique culture with your new mission: the promotion of European culture?
Stoenescu: For us, it is extremely important to work as a unified group, even if there are differences. Europe is a continent full of differences and contradictions, but working together on the cultural level allows us to be more effective.
For example, in order to promote European languages, we are planning to have (and this isn’t exclusive to us) a “European Culture Day” to promote foreign language training. We also intend to create a website for unified European culture, where Lebanese will be able to find in one place information about all the activities of the European cultural centers.
We are also planning to celebrate Europe Day come May. We will work to hold a debate then on the subject of cultural dialogue between Europe and the Middle East. The president of EUNIC [in Europe] might participate – he, coincidentally, is also from Romania.
Will the cluster in Lebanon have an independent budget?
Stoenescu: According to EUNIC’s charter, we must at least have a unified project to which all the centers contribute. As a network, we can request direct European funding from Brussels for the implementation of cultural projects in Lebanon. This is what we aspire to in the long term, so that we can obtain greater funding that allows us to implement bigger and better projects for the Lebanese public.
Will EUNIC replace the cultural centers in the future?
Stoenescu: Not necessarily. EUNIC does not intend to restrict to itself the responsibilities of the European cultural centers. Rather, it represents an “added value” to the various activities of the existing European cultural centers. The work of all the centers will thus continue as usual, while we will implement other projects with the European Commission in Lebanon. We are an independent organization, and we are not here to take the place of the currently existing centers. In the future, and in the long term, EUNIC might become a European cultural center (exclusively), but no one can predict the future and we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
Have you created an independent logo for yourselves?
Stoenescu: We are currently discussing the logo issue. It is well known that each network or cluster in a particular country has its special logo. We will have a logo, but we have not yet voted on it. However, I can say that the logo will be in English, French, and Arabic, and it will of course be different from EUNIC’s logo in Brussels.
For more information regarding the EUNIC cluster in Lebanon, please click here.