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When is cultural diplomacy not about culture? When it’s about science.

Published on 15 October 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

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’. 

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4 replies
  1. Naomi Leight, USC Center on Public Diplomacy
    Naomi Leight, USC Center on Public Diplomacy says:

    Mrs. Galvez, you are
    Mrs. Galvez, you are absolutely correct – ministries of culture from around the world should think “outside the box” and see culture not through the traditional lens of the 20th century but through the eyes of the growing youth populations around the world who are focused on new mediums of culture. Science and technology from around the world are respected and extolled by nations even between those who aren’t best of friends. Free and fair news media is another mode of which a country can promote it’s national image. The start-up technology sector is another important one. Sports…the list goes on. The Romanian FM had the right idea…

  2. Liz Galvez
    Liz Galvez says:

    I don’t know the answer to
    I don’t know the answer to your question though I suspect that scientific research doesn’t get much government funding. But aren’t there modern-day success stories, eg in the IT sector, which could be publicised by ICR offices abroad?

  3. CM
    CM says:

    Marga’s mistake was not in
    Marga’s mistake was not in picking the wrong example. Rather, he sadly mistook history for innovation in an age when the mere concept of “innovation” is outdated within a year. Does anyone in Silicone Valley care that this heating contraption was invented in Transylvania in the 19th century? The overarching problem here is that the current government chooses to fall back on historical commodities instead of actively encouraging and investing in 21st century scientific innovation. What notable discoveries were made by Romanian scientists IN Romania (with relevant govt or private support) in the last 20 years? THAT is what the ICR should be worried about.

    • Jovan Kurbalija
      Jovan Kurbalija says:

      Your example looks like an
      Your example looks like an obsession in Serbia and Croatia with Nikola Tesla (two countries claim “the ownership” of Tesla who was Serb from Croatia). Today, like 100 years ago, Tesla would run away from the Balkans. Most likely, without membership in some of the local political parities, he would not be allowed to conduct his experiments at the local universities.


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