When is cultural diplomacy not about culture? When it’s about science.
Updated on 07 September 2022
Much hilarity has been sparked among my Romanian Facebook friends by a recent statement by the new President of the Romanian Cultural Institute (ICR), academic and former Foreign Minister Andrei Marga, that Romania’s cultural diplomacy should extend to promoting Romania’s place in scientific and technological innovation [in Romanian]. He chose as his example the humble radiator which was apparently invented – who knew? – in Romania, specifically in Transylvania. Consequently, numerous humorous photo-shopped images of the radiator in various contexts have gone viral and the idea has been ridiculed.
Yet why is this considered such a bizarre proposal? Is it because Mr Marga suggested that the promotion of Romania’s technological ability should be the responsibility of the Romanian Cultural Institute, when others may believe this august body should continue to focus on, say, 19th century nationalistic poets or modern Romanian film or plastic arts? Perhaps it’s the apparatus itself which inspires such amusement. What if he had referred to Henri Coanda’s invention of the first jet engine, or Timisoara’s status as the first city to introduce the horse-drawn trolleybus and public lighting, as background to the fact that Romanians regularly win awards at the annual International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva? Would these examples have been mocked quite so enthusiastically?
Mr Marga no doubt intended only to highlight that innovation in design and technology has long been a feature of Romanian society and that as such it deserves as much attention as the country’s traditional cultural achievements. Many countries advertise their ability in the S &T field as a way to advance their national interests and build up a positive image. According to the Center for Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California, “ the realm of science and technology remains one of the most attractive elements of American society”. The Swiss have set up a network known as swissnex to promote Switzerland as a leader in science and technology, education, research and innovation. The UK’s GREAT campaign publicises innovation and technology as much as heritage, fashion or sport. India’s Future of Change initiative aims to update the nation brand emphasising innovation, design and creativity.
So come on, all you intellectuals. Time to put aside your cultural snobbery and engage in a serious debate about assets that can enhance the national image, even if they’re not what you call ‘culture’.