An interview with the ambassador of Argentina in Berlin, Pedro Villagra Delgado
‘At the end of the day, we are all social beings: cultural expression is the one that defines us as human beings’October 18th, 2021
On Monday, the 18th of October, Emmanouela Gogou, Athanasios Apotas and Orkida Deliu had the opportunity to conduct an interview with the Ambassador of Argentina, Pedro Villagra Delgado.
You have been ambassador since 2019, how have you enjoyed your position so far, and what have been the main challenges and difficulties you have encountered, especially with covid times?
After March 2020 and Covid-19 limitations, activities have been reduced dramatically. For this reason, sometimes I have the feeling that my presence in Germany as an Ambassador has only been six really active months. It was not only a challenge but also the impact of what you can do was reduced dramatically. Virtual reality and Zoom replaced personal contact and all social matters such as diplomacy.
In fact, when you are trying to identify what cultural diplomacy is, it is something that must not only be done virtually. For example, you cannot negotiate effectively when you have not met the other people and therefore you don't know them nor do you know with whom they are. You see someone on the other side of the screen, but you don't know if the person that you are talking to is alone or with a team. Whether the meeting is being recorded. So obviously that leads to being more careful and sometimes the excess of carefulness leads to no progress or agreement.
Certainly, it is my view that it is very difficult to create friendships, bonds, and trust through virtuality. It is different to sit eye to eye with the people that you are talking to, to see the body language and the context that the person is operating which has an enormous impact on the type of relationships that you build. Coming out of that, cultural diplomacy events and meetings are more or less starting to be restored in Europe and within the European Union. But there are countries, for example in Latin America, with some restrictions and other challenges for cultural diplomacy and for culture itself. Logically we are just adapting to that, trying to make things work despite all these differences. We are far better than we were in 2020, but we are not nearly back to normality.
Can you tell us more about your role as an Ambassador and as Counselor at the Argentine Council of International Relations?
As an ambassador, what you have to do is to promote and strengthen the relationship between the country where you are and your own. We have had very good cooperation for at least 200 years, starting from our independence in 1810.
I could say that it is a historical relation. The role that we have here, is to try to promote trade, investments, culture, sports, people to people contact and of course the political links. I am quite interested in this sector especially in this political-historical memory of German politics, as one of the most well-respected leader and probably the most important woman in the world ,chancellor Merkel is leaving the government after 16 years.
So, this is quite a moment and of course, this will have a big impact on the politics of Europe and not only in Germany because is the most important country in Europe in economic terms, but also crucial in politics and international relations both with Europe and the world.
How would you describe the Argentine German relation, and in your opinion what are the ‘areas’ that you would like to see Argentina - Germany cooperation improve?
Relations between the two countries are very good. President Alberto Fernandez has a very good relation with Chancellor Merkel and it was so also with President Macri. As Chancellor Merkel has been in charge for quite a long time, this has allowed for stable politics in Germany and also in the relationship of Germany with others.
Argentina and Germany share values in terms of human rights, gender equality, discrimination, as well as on education, trade and sustainability. We have a long tradition of working together with Germany in the formation of professions linked with science and technology.
As regards to sustainability we are a party to and strong supporter of the Paris Agreement. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that we are a developing country and that action to combat climate change needs to take into account the principle of shared but differentiated responsibility, particularly by developed countries.
Culture is also very important link with Germany. We always had a very close relationship with Europe so there are a number of links and activities that are important in terms of music, theatre, cinema, the arts in general or in sports.
What are the key programmes, events, and initiatives that the embassy is currently hosting in order to promote Argentinian culture? How do you think these initiatives can affect the Argentina - German relation?
Yes, there are some events we will do from now to the end of the year. For example, we have a couple of musical events planned and also the Argentine Film Festival "Invasión", in December (https://invasionberlin.com/festival/). Moreover, we have a hall here in the embassy where shows and exhibitions of Argentine artists which in range from painting, sculpture and photos to music take place. But again, COVID was a problem. Musical recitals or seminars on different topics have been much restricted because of covid.
Now things are starting to open up again. We are starting to organize events again but we have to be still careful, because we can’t plan much in advance. So you try to move carefully about what can be done. I am an optimist and fully vaccinated. Nevertheless, some events we had in mind could not happen. It is as with ceremonies related to Germany where as this year celebration of Einheit Tag, the Unity of Germany, could only be done with few participants. I am confident things are going to change, to open up, but authorities in Germany have a cautious approach and rightly so. That is why it is very difficult to organize cultural activities that by definition require people to get together because you can do streaming and other systems but it is not the same and we could not organize something that could not be safe for the artists, or for anyone else. So that is the challenge that we have to live with and try to overcome. The embassy never organizes events where participants have to pay for, but we support the artists. We also work with the Ibero-American Institute which is a very important cultural institution in Berlin.
The I.C.D. is highly interested in soft power and specifically in the role of cultural diplomacy. Could you tell us what cultural diplomacy means to you and to the Argentinian-German Relation in general?
Cultural diplomacy and culture itself are crucial for the general improvement of relationships between countries. At the end of the day, we are all social beings: cultural expression is the one that defines us as human beings. The Argentine Embassy is always trying to find new opportunities to share and transmit our culture. We have tango as our emblematic music next to our folk music and also classical music. But tango plays an important role also in fusion with other musical genres from different parts of the world.
Latin America shares cultural traditions similar to those of Europe. We come from the same traditional experience in institutions, democracy and also many arts forms of expression, which I think plays a critical role in the formation of this background mingle European or Western culture with that of the original peoples who lived in America before the European arrival.
With culture people tend to understand each other better as a positive asset, nonetheless culture can be used also for negative purposes, for instance when used to promote notions of one being better than others or the only good one. But in the end, cultural exchanges are the best way to create respect and positive relationships with other peoples.