The Embassy of Indonesia celebrates 70 years of Cultural Diplomacy with conference Letís Talk Culture, where representatives from Indonesia and Germany discuss Indonesian-German relations

October 07th, 2022
Maria Asklund, News from Berlin
20221007_The Instruments of Cultural Diplomacy.jpg

[Image credits: Indonesian Embassy Facebook]

In 1952, diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Germany were established, and to celebrate this 70th anniversary, the Embassy of Indonesia welcomed guests to the House of Indonesian Culture in Berlin (Rumah Budaya Indonesia Berlin) for a conference on German-Indonesian Cultural Diplomacy.

Consisting of three sessions, the conference was introduced with welcoming words by Katja Keul, the State Minister of the German Federal Foreign Office and Ir. Suharti, the General Secretary of the Indonesian Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology. Following this were keynote speeches and two panels, one regarding the concept of cultural diplomacy, and one on the instruments of cultural diplomacy and best practices. For more information on the second conference mentioned, find the article by Emily Ball on Berlin Global.

The general consensus of the introductory speakers was that the past 70 years of cultural diplomacy have been very successful. Katja Keul underlines the goal of this work; mutual understanding, a notion that is more and more stressed by both partners. In addition, she states that these diplomatic relations must prevail although we live in a world of great crises, namely the war in Ukraine and the escalation of climate change. Today we thus need international cooperation despite of and because of these challenges.

But what has formed the diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Germany? Keul states that our historical experiences have been of particular importance to the shaping of today's perspective. Moving forward, we need an exchange in all cultural sectors, and also the adaption of a sustainable framework. To achieve this, topics such as colonialism and global justice need to be kept in mind. Today, cultural diplomacy is not about presenting Germany's values, culture, and way of life abroad, but to create a balanced exchange with its partners. Speaker Ir. Suharti also underlines the importance of a sustainable lens; as it is a global issue, it should be handled on a global scale.

Moving on, Dr. Hassan Wirajuda, former Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs, held a first keynote speech in which he applauds the diplomatic relations between Germany and Indonesia. According to him, cultural diplomacy is about "hearts and minds", bringing people closer to people. In this sense, he mentions 9/11 as an important incident of the past 70 years. One issue arising from this is Islamophobia, a subject highly relevant in this context as Indonesia is the state with the biggest Muslim population worldwide. Germany, and the West, must meet Islam and deal with issues such as the rise of nationalism and populism, which largely takes place at the expense of human rights and democracy. In fact, democracy is vital and not something that is simply established, but rather a process. The essence of cultural diplomacy is dialogue, he finishes.

As the second keynote speaker, Prof. Helmut K. Anheier, professor of Sociology, dives into the sociological aspect of cultural diplomacy. He begins by problematising the general knowledge regarding Germany's work abroad - what kind of work is being done in the name of cultural diplomacy? Secondly, he questions the term "culture" - what does it encompass? To answer these questions, he states that German institutions use soft power in their diplomacy. Equally as important is financial power, however, as Germany is in a position to put pressure on other countries using these means. When it comes to values that are promoted, these revolve around liberal democracy as well as a positive image of Germany overall. Other countries have other approaches, such as China, which creates a more hostile and intimidating image abroad.

When it comes to the present-day situation, there are major cuts in budget. Meanwhile, Anheier underlines the importance of diplomatic relations in this situation. In order for cultural diplomacy between Germany and Indonesia to flourish as it has up to date, he states that two factors or “traps” will play a decisive role; firstly, the strength of the world economy, which is currently on a rocky road, and secondly, the inclusivity of the global powers, especially China and the US. The tensions between these states might affect work on the entire globe and be decisive for the future of cultural diplomacy.

Following this interesting introduction on the notion of cultural diplomacy was a panel discussion between six speakers with different backgrounds and thus six different perspectives on diplomacy. The Ambassador of the Indonesian Embassy in Berlin, Mr Arif Havas Oegroseno was present, as Vito Cecere, Director for Academic Relations, Educations and Research Policy from the Federal Foreign Office, Germany, and Prof. Helmut K. Anheier. Joining these speakers in Berlin were three speakers in Jakarta, that took part in the panel digitally. These were Dr. Hassan Wirajuda, former Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the German Ambassador in Jakarta, Ms. Ina Lepel and finally, Hilmar Farid, Director General for Culture, Indonesian Department for Education, Culture, Research and Technology.

What followed was a discussion on cultural diplomacy of more than half a century as well as perspectives for the future. Amb. Oegroseno stresses the importance of more Indonesian speakers in Germany, numbers which are currently not representative of the Indonesian population. But, the everlasting question, how does one mobilise the younger generation? Meanwhile, he underlines that the two countries have similar values. In addition, he shares an anecdote that testifies to the great relevance the countries have for each other; when a university program on Islamic studies was established in Europe, he himself was contacted and asked if he knew any researchers that could help in creating the curriculum. This is a fantastic example of cross-border and intercultural cooperation, where assets are shared and dialogue established.

Likewise, Dr. Wirajuda speaks well of German efforts to deepen ties with Indonesia. For example, he mentions climate change and natural disasters. Global questions, he says, should be handled on a global level, and this had been the case in 2004 when the horrible earthquake killed numerous of people in the Global South. In this difficult time, he says, there were great global responses, especially from Germany, which lent a helping hand to Indonesia. On a similar note, on global issues, Vito Cecere states that global challenges such as the climate crisis and pandemics should be handled with unified forces. For example, he says that research should be linked across the globe to work together for global solutions. Academia should be promoted, as well as the intersectional perspective. Especially female voices should be boosted, and the past of colonialism must be kept in mind as well. In fact, how do we move on from this? “Trust and understanding”, Cecere says, “is the base for political cooperation”. The general consensus: we have to move on from a one-sided cultural diplomacy, a presentation of Germany to the rest of the world.

On a similar note, Prof. Anheier questions the narrative existing in today’s cultural diplomacy. According to him, it is largely up to the Embassies themselves on how they want to develop the narrative conveyed abroad. Germany largely focuses on liberal democracy, rule of law and human rights, but today, the unbalanced cooperation between the Global North and Global South is more and more relevant in development cross-cultural relations. “We have to learn how to create a cultural foreign policy that is at eye-level," he stresses.

Amb. Lepel agrees with this. Today, efforts to cooperate are strengthened. Still, she is proud of Germany’s cultural diplomacy which she describes as “unique”. In fact, Germany works with numerous institutions abroad and especially focuses on creating stable relations on a local level. Moreover, the creative scene is important as well, since cultural ambassadors have a great force. Now, a challenge for the future is to justify the financial means supporting this work; what makes it worth the effort? Reaching individuals might be an important component in this process.

Finally, Hilmar Farid concludes that a lot has happened in these past 70 years of diplomatic relations. Today, the focus is more on arts than before, as Embassies work a lot more with local heritage and cooperate with relevant institutions such as museums. Within cultural diplomacy, he sees a path towards dialogue through the linking of cultures on the artistic scene. For example, he wants to link artists to each other, as well as open archives to allow people to dig into history.

To summarize, the event Let’s Talk Culture, organized by the Indonesian Embassy in Berlin and the German Embassy in Jakarta gave us as students of cultural diplomacy a great insight into past projects, new philosophies, and the specific work that Embassies do to promote the discussion and implementation of diplomacy within the cultural sector. Inviting scholars, artists, and ambassadors, numerous of aspects were thrown into the room, allowing us to get a detailed overview of how two states of the Global North and Global South examine the future of their cooperation. Our great take-away; no matter what happens, great efforts to keep this diplomatic relationship fruitful and sustainable will be made. Please find Emily Ball’s article on the second half of the conference for further insights.

News from Berlin