Vienna, 8 September 2006 Press release

Winkler: "Culture and politics in close interaction"


State Secretary Hans Winkler at 2006 International Cultural Policy Conference

Vienna, 8 September 2006 - "In international diplomacy, the communication of the cultural achievements of a country plays an important role that should not be underestimated. In Austria, foreign policy and culture have always been closely intertwined. This is why Austria is regarded throughout the world as a major cultural nation," emphasised State Secretary Hans Winkler in yesterday’s speech at this year’s International Cultural Policy Conference on "International Resonance - The Contribution of Culture to Public Diplomacy".

"Austria’s EU Presidency deliberately devoted a great deal of attention to the cultural dimension of the European project. On account of its own history and tradition, it is self-evident to Austria that Europe also has to progress as a project of cultural diversity. What is at issue is the public opinion in other countries, which we want to reach beyond the scope of traditional diplomacy. The oft-cited crisis of European integration is rightly attributed not only to political and economic problems and differences; on the contrary, in many cases better understanding of the culture of another state may be important," said Winkler.

"As far as international resonance is concerned, Austria doubtless has certain advantages as a cultural location which have become a trademark of our country. We only have to think of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the New Year’s Concert, the Linz-based Ars Electronica or the many summer festivals, to mention just a few examples. Unfortunately, there are also many questions of international policy that cannot be resolved by more cultural exchange alone. The roots of some conflicts, such as the Middle East conflict, are regrettably much too deep, so that cultural initiatives such as joint music lessons for Arab and Israeli children at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem can only represent one of many necessary contributions," continued the State Secretary.

"Today, we are repeatedly exposed to "cultural differences" communicated by the media which often also have consequences for foreign policy," said Winkler. Examples range from the caricature debate in Denmark to the altercations in connection with the "Forced Ways" exhibition in Berlin, which deals with the forced displacement of peoples in the 20th century.

"Artists and academics as well as the power of pictures and words have an impact on public opinion and to a certain extent also influence the political measures of a country, since international networking allows the media to disseminate events worldwide within an extremely short space of time. International cultural policy works at the interface between image and identity. Austria pursues an active international cultural policy because we see it as an opportunity to make a noticeable contribution to the dialogue among cultures that is also very valuable to Austria itself. To support the European perspective of the Western Balkan states, for instance, we launched the "Culture Matters" initiative, which is intended to help overcome mental barriers through intensified cultural exchange," concluded Winkler.

Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Office of the State Secretary
Mag. Katharina SWOBODA
Tel.: ++43 (0) 50 1150-3469
Fax: ++43 (0) 50 1159-3469