“Culture is Playing a Great Role in Consolidating the Bonds of Friendship between Tunisia and Germany’’

A dialogue on cultural promotion and exchange - culture as an instrument of integration and solidarity between Tunisian and German communities

December 03rd, 2019

On November 5th 2019, Berlin Global had the honor of visiting the Embassy of the Republic of Tunisia in Berlin, Germany and conducted an interview with H.E. Ambassador Ahmed Chafra. Cultural activities are highly encouraged by H.E. the Ambassador and his diplomatic staff and they gave us many interesting insights on various topics, including cultural, economic and people-to-people exchanges between Tunisia and Germany.

How is the Tunisian Embassy promoting the Tunisian culture in Berlin?

Promoting the Tunisian culture in Berlin is among the top priorities of the Embassy and the Tunisian Consular Missions in Bonn, Hamburg and Munich. This is being done through different events such as Tunisian Film screenings and painting exhibitions. During the next year, my country is going to host the upcoming Francophonie Summit and the annual celebration of the Francophonie Day in Berlin on March 2020. These two events will particularly give us the opportunity to further focus on cultural activities reflecting the new dimension of the Tunisian culture as well as its new variety of expressions that has been further developed since the last nine years thanks to the wind of change and freedoms favorable to creativity and innovation.

Are there initiatives or programs that offers cultural exchange and employment between Tunisian and German students?

Culture is playing a great role in consolidating the bonds of friendship between Tunisia and Germany. Auguste Macke and Paul Klee were among the most famous foreign painters whose paintings reflected their admiration and fascination of Tunisia. Today, numerous Tunisian cities enjoy excellent relations with their German counterparts and a dynamic of youth and cultural exchange is being conducted within the framework of these existing relations. As an example, I particularly want to mention a very impressive music exchange between pupils from Tunis and Bremen, initiated thanks to the financial support of the German government between two foundations in Bremen and in Tunis.

How do you improve the integration of Tunisian people into Germany? Do you think that Tunisian community are well integrated in Berlin? In particular, how is integration in schools?

Tunisian community is well integrated into Germany. Their children go to the German schools and most of them succeed in speaking fluent German. Nevertheless, I think that it is important to let the children with an immigration background at schools have a better knowledge about their parent’s countries of origin. I think such an openness towards other cultures and civilizations will help the children have richer experiences and prevent them from being manipulated as adults by any identity or extremist ideology.

Being both German and Tunisian, the Tunisian community is fully aware about the fact that they have to be integrated and loyal to Germany, while simultaneously being proud of their Tunisian origins. Indeed, they contribute largely to build new bridges between two friendly countries sharing the same values of human rights, modernity, freedoms and a strong belief in cooperation and solidarity.

What do you think about cultural diplomacy and how reliant are you on it?

I think that humanity strongly needs cultural diplomacy. When Germany celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the Wall Fall this year, we must recognize how important it is for us today to avoid putting up new walls. Only cultural diplomacy can ensure fostering mutual understanding and promoting global answers to global issues that threaten mankind. This also helps the international community by showing more solidarity and mutual help towards all its members.

What do you think of the instrument of culture as a means of prevention in crisis areas? Could It facilitate negotiations and breakdown established prejudices or stereotypes?

Tensions can be eased through culture exchanges provided that a strong political will exists in order to overcome established prejudices or stereotypes. It is important to mention that in some tense situations, cultural diplomacy can only be effective after initiating a political or social dialogue or negotiations. It can be an important factor to accompany such a process or to consolidate it. This is, in my opinion, also valid in the case of post-conflict situations either inside one given country or between two countries.

How important is tourism as a means of raising awareness of the country’s culture and traditions? Does the government promote policies in favor of this issue?

The Tunisian sector was severally hit by terrorists’ attacks in the year 2015. Thanks to a better security situation and a proactive anti-terrorism strategy, this sector has recovered in the last year. Moreover, a new strategy to diversify the tourism product in order to generate more income and create more jobs, especially in the remote areas is being implemented by the government. Promoting sites such as Tabarka (Western area) and Tozeur (desert area) is one key element of this strategy. Meanwhile, the public authorities are doing their best in order to highlight the Tunisian rich and diversified cultural and archeological heritage so that it integrates the tourism product offered to our guests.

Actually, a large variety of music, film and theatre festivals all over the country, as well as a very dense museums network, offer our curious guests the opportunity to learn more about Tunisia, whose history is dates back more than three thousand years.

Given the importance of tourism in Tunisia and its recent recovery, following the difficult situation in the country, which programs have been implemented to restore it as an authentic resource?

The previous decline in tourism after the terrorist attacks didn’t affect the image of the country. Despite the fact that in a globalized world no country is immune to these phenomena, these terrorist acts generated a large movement of solidarity with a nascent democracy. Indeed, those desperate acts aimed to humper the democratic transformation process by targeting one of the country’s main economic activities. As a gesture of solidarity, more and more brothers from Algeria decided to come to Tunisia at that time. Many other non-European citizens decided also to visit Tunisia. As for our European friends, we understand that for legal reasons, they issued travel warnings to prevent their citizens from travelling to my country.

I would like to mention that all of those travel restrictions have been lifted as soon as necessary measures were taken to secure tourists areas. Let me also mention that relations between Tunisia and its European partners such as Germany, France and Italy have always been based on mutual understanding and a strong win-win and fruitful cooperation. The thousands of Tunisians living in Europe and Europeans living in Tunisia have been always contributed to a better understanding of both sides. Despite the unstable situation during the three years after the revolution and those attacks, not a single German company left Tunisia. On the contrary, many new companies have been created and many others are considering further extensions.

Which challenges did Your Excellency face during your mission here in Berlin? What was the most challenging decision you have to make in the interests of your country?

The biggest challenge I am facing as the Ambassador of Tunisia to the Federal Republic of Germany, is how to turn the capital of sympathy towards my country and its successful political transitions into economic and financial support to help my authorities in their endeavor to make our economy recover. This is a daily challenge because Germany is one of Tunisia’s most strategic partners, not only economically, but also in many other fields such as science, the environment and energy sectors.

Every day, we have to do our best to convince our partners about the Tunisian assets, making it an attractive investment location, which offers real opportunities for German investors. Furthermore, its strategic location makes Tunisia a real regional hub for African markets.

Last week, I witnessed the signing of an MoU between the ‘’Tunisian Health Alliance’’ and the ‘’German Health Alliance’’, aiming to further promote the exports of health services to some African countries.

On the 7th November, I and the General Director of the Foreign Investment Promotion agency will be participating in the first German-Arab Economic Forum to be held in North Rhine-Westphalia and a day later we will discuss again all these aspects with some thirty interested German companies, in Berlin.

We try our best to maintain this momentum so that our German partners keep economically and financially supporting a nascent democracy eager to achieve prosperity and a much more balanced and fair development.

Elisabetta Quinzanini, Olivia Higgins and Giulia Russo Wälti
News from Berlin