Culture as the messenger of the country

Kaire Jürgenson, Culture and Business Diplomacy Division

Besides traditional diplomacy, other aspects of statecraft are becoming increasingly important – business diplomacy, public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy. Of these, the last one – cultural diplomacy – in particular has a growing significance in foreign policy.

Cultural diplomacy isn’t just a way to promote one’s country and people but to increase their prestige in the eyes of other nations. A positive image engendered through cultural diplomacy creates fertile ground for cooperation in other walks of life.

People who have had previous contacts with the culture of a given country – such as by participating in a language course or cultural event – are much more open to investing in that country or looking for business partners there. The reason for this phenomenon is simple – cultural outreach makes a country and people that seem “foreign” seem more familiar. Often the participants in the exchange are surprised to find that their countries are more similar than it seemed at first. Getting to know one another better makes working together more natural, and mutual relations become more trusting.

Increasing the profile of the Estonian state through promotional efforts and outreach is one of the most important roles for diplomats. Estonia’s foreign representations deal with national image-building through, among other avenues, serving as co-organiser of cultural events. In 2013, close to 120 cultural events in various countries were co-organized and/or supported by Estonia’s foreign representations. Examples that deserve mention include the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra tour of the United States, the focus on Estonia at Schleswig-Holstein and Usedom music festivals, the introduction of the “Let’s Do It” trash cleanup programme at the UN Headquarters in Geneva and the distribution of James and Maureen Tusty’s new documentary, “To Breathe as One”.

Nor can the triumph of Estonian design in London go unmentioned – for the second year in a row, Estonia’s fashion design display won the award for best display at the International Fashion Showcase at London Fashion Week. Other cultural events deserving mention this year are the release of the feature film “Tangerines” in cooperation between the Estonian and Georgian embassies in Riga, Helsinki and Brussels. In January, the Tartu Academic Male Choir went on a concert tour of Japan. In February, Tel Aviv hosted the Tallinn-Tel Aviv MustonenFest 2014. In March, Estonian contemporary art was featured in Moscow and Estonian Week was held in Budapest. Looking ahead, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra are set to go on a joint concert tour of the US, where works by Arvo Pärt will be performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington and Carnegie Hall in NYC. Among many other upcoming events, Jaan Toomik will open a solo exhibition in Berlin and Estonian music and art will be in the spotlight in Carcasonne.

Estonia is a culturally rich country. Estonian artists and musicians and their work are becoming increasingly better known worldwide and these individuals are also shouldering a key role in promoting the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has an annual tradition of thanking and recognizing Estonian artists who have contributed to increasing Estonia’s international prestige and renown as well as people who have imported world culture to Estonia. At this year’s event, held for the fifth year, we acknowledged Imbi Paju, Tiit Ojasoo, Arvo Pärt, Tõnu Kaljuste, Tiina Lokk, Aivar Mäe, Aet Maatee, Veronika Portsmuth, Märt Agu, Raul Talmar, the band Ewert and The Two Dragons, the production team of the motion picture “Une Estonienne à Paris”, Kalle Kasemaa, Anne Erm, the production team of the motion picture “Tangerines”, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Kristiina Ehin and Ilmar Lehtpere.