Dr. Monika Mokre – “Foreign Affairs: Austria-USA, Diplomacy through Arts Alliances”


DR. MONIKA MOKRE: Thank
you for the invitation. Thank you for the
nice introduction. I feel very lucky here. First, because I
consider as an academic. So I can raise some
questions and I do not have to give answers. I do not have to
defend anything here. So this is always a very
privileged position. And also, I am very glad to
speak after Ambassador Briggs, because he played up some balls
so that I can take office. It’s usually the case when
you’re on a panel together. I started working
some time ago together with the Greek on a project
on cultural policies as part of external policies,
a project which hopefully will find its end in a book where
also Ambassador Briggs will contribute. And I do not want to
talk about this project, but maybe about our
starting point, which were EU external policies. So I did a lot of talking during
the last decade, I would say, about deepening, widening, and
hardening EU external policies. Deepening meaning
more cooperation. Widening meaning
functional widening– more fields of external policies
and also geographically. And hardening meaning
more military power. And especially the
hardening point was obviously very
conflictually discussed in the European public sphere. And somehow, it’s a means
against this hardening, or against this bad
image of hardening. Softening external
policies came up, and softening meant
casual policies. And similar to as
Dr. Briggs, I started wondering if casual
policies automatically mean softening of
external policies– that culture is a
soft political tool. There is an assumption
behind this, obviously, which is that culture facilities
harmonious relationships between states and
cultures, because of the universal character of
culture in a general meaning, because of the common
language of the arts, et cetera, et cetera. However, we all know that this
doesn’t work for all the time. It hasn’t worked all the time. That this universal
character of culture was very frequently used to
say, OK, there is one culture. There can only be one
really high culture. And so we can have a
hierarchy of people who are closer to this
culture or far away from that. Opposed to this
understanding, we have the understanding which
is nowadays rather popular, about cultural exchange. Multiculturalism we
called it in the 1980s, saying there are different
cultures of equal value, and they can exchange. Very frequently, these
concepts are kind of mixed up. So there are several cultures,
but still ours is the best. In debates between European
countries like either Austria and the US, this very
frequently are good high culture that’s around in Europe. Low culture,
commercialised culture, is rather in the States. So this means ours
is the real culture. And unfortunately, it
is much less popular than the US culture, but
that’s another thing. Still, even if we avoid
these kinds of hierarchies, the problem still
remains that we tend to talk about
cultures as systems, relatively closed systems
even, which can then exchange between each other,
live together peacefully or not or whatever. And obviously, we know
that this is not the case. Countries have never
worked like this, and they have never
been closed systems, and they are even more fluid and
less clearly defined nowadays than they have been. There’s a lot of culture theory
on this, a lot of publications. But somehow this academic work
has not found really its way into everyday understanding. But still, we are
talking about culture– the necessity of assimilation,
the problem that some cultures cannot adapt to other cultures. We have this in Austrian
everyday politics every day now. We know what they’re
talking about. But still, even if we use it
in a more benevolent, or a more progressive way, the problem
remains– that we, in this way, do not recognize the
constructed character of culture and cultural
affiliations, the ways in which different cultures
influence each other. When we look at migrants,
young migrants in Austria, we can see how they
self reinvent themselves and their culture due
to definitions that come from their
maturity that lead to different
self-definitions and so on. So I think what
our task should be when talking about cultures and
cultural exchange, whatever, is to decentralize
and degeneralize the term of culture. By this I mean that we have to
accept that individuals have different cultural
affiliations within themselves, due to different
influences on their lives, and that there are different
forms of identification. Not all of them
are due to culture, but are due to
socioeconomic affiliations, to integral
experiences, whatever. And I think that this brings
me now to my last point and also to today’s event. A very good way to
go on like that, to desentialize,
to degeneralize, is to work very
concretely together with a concrete other person
on this kind of exchange. So not to exchange between
cultures, but to exchange, let’s say, between
Leslie and Isabella. So to have two persons
who meet, right, and to figure out
which differences, which similarities they have. And which ones of them
are cultural ones, and which ones are
completely different ones. And it is in this way
you can learn something about the other
individual, obviously, but also about culture
that goes deeper than this rather superficial
understandings of culture. This is a lot of
work, and I guess this has been a lot of
work for these two persons. It means a lot of time
and a lot of resources. But I think this
kind of investment has to be made if we want
to understand anything at all about another person,
or culture, or whatever. And if everything
goes really well, then you can even pass
on these experiences of what you have learned from
this exchange, which then again brings us in the lucky
situation not to have to make all these
investments in order to learn a little bit
about what you did. And so I’m very curious
about your work. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]




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