Visit to the Canadian Embassy in Berlin
Interview with Mark McLaughlin (Counsellor of Public Affairs)June 28th, 2019
As the Counsellor of Public Affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin, Mark McLaughlin, plays a driving role in the promotion of the Canadian cultural image. Among his duties, we may site the spread, organization, and management of cultural activities in coordination with other institutions as well as the cooperation with other embassies, such as the US Embassy, in order to extend the scope of the promotion of their culture. The ICD is very thankful to Mark for sharing his cultural strategy with us.
How is the Canadian Embassy representing and promoting Canadian Culture in Berlin?
Where should we start? This year we are having Canada Day in Berlin. Typically, on Canada Day, we go to different cities around Germany, and there is an event to which we bring our ambassador, where the German mayor of that particular city present, and there is usually dinner. That is how we have been doing Canada Day this past couple of years. However, this year, we decided we would do something a little bit larger and make it for the general public, providing some very Canadian things like ball-hockey. We are going to have a couple of great Canadian bands, like Jesse Cook and White Horse. There will also be a movie that’s a lighthearted take on inclusion for the LGBT community,
How is the acceptance of the LGBT+ community welcomed into the Canadian culture?
Canada has been at the forefront of gay marriage, and for this government, it is particularly important to show Canada is an inclusive place for people of all backgrounds, cultures, and sexualities. Thus, we have done a lot of advocacy work for that as well and continue to do this advocacy work at events like Canada Day. We also have a Canada Room in which we host events as well as a cinema to show Canadian and activist movies.
Apart from Canadian Day, which will be taking place on June 30th, how does Canada promote Canadian culture in Germany? What kind of events the embassy is organizing in order to achieve its goals?
We have a lot of partners with various institutions, that is sort of our model of how we work at this Embassy, it's our distinctive feature. See, the Canadian embassies in London and Paris have a large venue, huge buildings with art galleries, movie theatres inside to organize cultural events inside the proper Embassy. However, we don’t do and we don’t do that on purpose, the building of the Embassy was built outward facing, so we work in cooperation with institutions, art galleries, film festivals showing off our work and instead of bringing people in we wanted to bring the culture out so its available for everybody.
Our cultural team is working with all of those institutions and thanks to the governmental funds we receive every year we can achieve healthy cooperation with these establishments, representing all the parts of Canada. By this day, we have supported a considerable amount of institutions and festivals, and we truly believe that it is one of the best ways of exposing the Canadian culture, by getting out and cooperating.
Would you consider putting a Canadian-Culture Kiosk or little stand in the Mall of Berlin for showcasing Canadian culture to the public?
That is an interesting idea. We have not considered it, but this location by the Mall of Berlin is a very international one and can give Canadian culture some great exposure.
In which field do you operate mostly?
We do not focus on one particular field, we would like to promote all the cultural activities as possible, whether is performing arts whether is literature or whether its film making, the full spectrum. Lately, we have been focusing particularly on literature, due to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2020, where Canada will a country of Honour and a lot of work has been done for that event. We had several departments working on the Bookfair, such as the cultural, trade and advocacy team, alongside Canadian departments such as the Ottawa department. In terms of the financial support for the organization of this fair, the Canadian government, including other governmental institutions has given considerable funds to the coordination of the event, which will start in October and last for a year, including different activities not only regarding the literature but also art exhibits, dance, and movies.
How do you assure that all the cultures constituting Canada’s cornucopia of cultural diversity are all fairly represented through the promotion of their art and things of the like?
There are a number of cultures within Canada that are well represented. For example, Quebec is very well represented, having its own building by the Brandenburg Gate. They have a great office there, and the province of Quebec itself also provides a lot of money for their own cultural promotion that we tie closely with. Quebec probably does the best job out of the provinces at promoting itself. However, we put forth our best efforts to promote all the major provinces. Instead of focusing on just one, we look across the board. Wherever great artists are coming from, we look to promote them by showing them to external partners, who are not given the identity or origin of the artist so as to purely focus on the art without our influence and to avoid prejudice or favoritism. We make the same effort at the Frankfurt Book Fair to assure all the cultures within Canada are represented.
How do you promote Canadian Culture outside Europe?
Although we are focused on Germany specifically, we use various channels to promote what we do internationally. One of the ways of doing it, it’s through our Ambassador, who was a very important and well-known politician in Canada and was appointed by the Prime Minister himself to occupy this role as a Special Envoy to Europe. We are very lucky to have him here as our Ambassador and as his name is of great importance, he counts on numerous followers on Twitter, which can serve as a channel to publish the information regarding cultural events and promotion not only in Germany but also worldwide. Said that we are very active at Social Media, especially Facebook, as we truly believe that it is one of the major promotion channels nowadays. In addition to that, we also use the newspapers and traditional media as the way of spreading our activities, with the support of German media, which has a special section for the promotion of cultural events, as well as the events in order to promote upcoming events.
What is the role of Canada in UNESCO?
In terms of our own connection to UNESCO, there is no much cooperation with this Embassy is going on, however, Canada currently is a permanent member at the UNESCO, so it is a very important member but from here it is still hard to talk about the Canadian participation in UNESCO Board meetings and decisions.
However, in the field of the education, a lot has been done in Canadian provinces as we are very proud in our cooperation and participation in the latest UNESCO programs, as well as all our provinces.
In representing Canadian culture and cultures within Canada, what challenges, stereotypes or misconceptions do you find yourself dispelling the most?
We are pretty lucky as Canadians. One typically thinks of Mountains and forest, maple syrup, hockey, nice. Generally, we Canadians are perceived as being “nice.” So, we do not try to dispel that. So, I guess our challenge is to show that Canada is more than that. Our cultural diversity is ripe and fantastic in so many ways. Thus, we are trying to broaden people’s perspective of what Canada is. We also try to project Canada’s inclusive and activist stance on feminism, indigenous rights, and, as previously mentioned, the LGBT+ community, as a part of what Canada is all about.
Has this mission to broaden people’s perspective on what Canada is and to represent its activist stance become any more or less difficult when cooperating with the American Embassy in Berlin, given the political shift from the Obama administration to the Trump administration?
We still work alongside our American colleagues and still do a number or events. For example, we co-hosted a holocaust remembrance tour with a woman who was ninety-three years old and went through the Holocaust. So, although there is a different focus with the Americans now, there are still great opportunities to cooperate together and we are finding those opportunities for working together.
Russian cultural relations.
Unfortunately, there is no many examples of Canadian- Russian cultural cooperation that I am aware of, but we would be really happy to share our culture with Russian Community in Berlin, as well as receive feedback from their cultural background. It is more about politics right now and we are really looking forward to initiating soft diplomatic cooperation. That would be a great opportunity in terms of cultural diplomacy as we truly believe that Russia has a lot of cultures to share and we have a lot of similarities in our cultural background as well.
In conclusion, we wanted to express gratitude, as the interns of the ICD, for such a warming welcome from the Canadian Embassy, as well as the rest of the members of the Embassy. it was a very enriching experience and a unique opportunity to meet the Counsellor of Public Affairs at the Canadian Embassy and get to know closer the activities that the Embassy do on a daily basis. Thanks to an elaborate explanation of Mark McLaughlin, some of the very important aspects of the cultural cooperation were discussed and discovered, which served as a clear demonstration that Canadian Embassy's efforts are a brilliant example to follow showing in terms of cultural diplomacy and sustainable relations between countries. We wanted to express special gratitude to Thilo Lenz, the Press Relations and Social Media coordinator to provide special assistance during our visit.