A Discussion With Ivo Hanu, Director Of The Slovak Institute
During a Slovak-German art exhibition at the Slovak Embassy on January 16th, we discussed the cultural relationship between Slovakia and Germany with Ivo Hanu, the director of the Slovak Institute.January 20th, 2020
The Slovak Embassy and the Slovak Institute jointly organized an art exhibition spotlighting a Slovak and a German artist specialising in paintings on wood. At the vernissage we had a nice conversation with Ivo Hanuš and talked with him about his job and his point of view on cultural topics.
At the vernissage, the Embassador H.E. Marián Jakubócy, Ivo Hanuš and the curator Miroslava Urbanová as well as the two artists themselves jointly presented the exhibited paintings. At the beginning, their similiarities and differences were highlighted: Both used wood to work on, but their motives varied widely. Oľga Paštéková draws dark, imaginary paintings of animals, whereas Larissa Leverenz focuses on architectonical spaces. Both teach at universities, even though they studied in different countries. Larissa is German and Oľga is Slovak.
This exhibition showed us how a successful intercultural partnership could look, and we became more curious about the cultural relationship between Slovakia and Germany. During our conversation with Ivo Hanuš - the director of the Slovak Institute – we got an insight into diverse cultural exchanges. He not only told us about the political, cultural and economic relationship between Slovakia and Germany, but also about his job at the institute: The most interesting feature of his job is working together with friendly and different people. After working for 20 years as an economic and trade counsellor, he now feels privileged and proud to sell a “nice product” – be it concerts, art exhibitions, or readings.
First of all, could you please explain more about the Institute and its main activities?
The Slovak Institute is part of the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its most important task is to present the most beautiful Slovak works - in the past and now - in Germany. A special feature of the embassy building is that the entrance is not free like in a gallery, but you have to register. The staff of the embassy actively help us with the events.
We present different artists, most of them from Slovakia, as well as concerts for up to 150 people in the Embassy and bigger ones for important anniversaries and jubilees in Slovakia. Last year, for example, we held two beautiful concerts. For this year, we have already planned a concert in the Berlin Cathedral in May and next week we will do a concert here in the Embassy for a Slovak blind singer. We are also presenting and supporting Slovak writers and planning various panel discussions. This way we want to bring to mind historical events in Slovakia.
We also have a consulate general in Munich as well as honorary consulates. These consist of German citizens who represent Slovakia voluntarily in cities other than the capital: in Leipzig, in Frankfurt, in Hanover, in Hamburg. I also provide them with financial support for events since I am responsible for all federal states. Nevertheless, most of the events take place in the capital Berlin.
Are Germans interested in Slovak culture and do they appreciate it?
This is a difficult question, but today you saw that many guests were here among them many Germans. We usually have about 50-60 people coming to our openings. Of course, Germany isn't a neighboring country. Generally, the people from the new federal states know Slovakia a bit better than those from the old federal states.
How are relations between Slovakia and Germany in the political, economic and cultural fields?
I am responsible for culture, and relations there are very good. Also in the field of education - we have three Slovak editorial offices. One is at the Humboldt University in Berlin, then we have an editorial office for Slovak culture and language in Regensburg and the third editorial office is at the University of Cologne.
Now about the economy: Germany has been our most important trading partner for many years, and the cooperation is fantastic. There are a few thousand German companies operating in Slovakia. Faber, the largest employer in Slovakia in Bratislava, is worth mentioning. Also many car brands are produced in Slovakia, for example Porsche, Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7 and all these big cars and also the new electric cars are all produced in Bratislava. The economic cooperation is really excellent and the political relations are also very good. The Foreign Minister was just here in Berlin today.
If you had to choose a symbol representing the Slovak culture: which one would it be?
The Germans knows us very well for our classical music concerts.
What is your definition of cultural diplomacy?
I personally regard cultural diplomacy as an opener or pioneer for my colleagues from the political department. In and of itself it should be the basis for them to invite their partners to our events and talk about the things they are interested in in a cheerful atmosphere. Just as complex diplomacy is again a pioneer for the economy for example.
What is your best experience as director of the Institute?
I have been the director of the Slovak Institute since September 2018, before that I always worked for more than 20 years as an economic and trade counsellor. Now I have the luck and privilege to have a beautiful product: I convey art and the best experience is that I always work with nice people. Either from the Slovak or the German side. The results can always be seen. Either a nice concert or a nice exhibition, an interesting panel discussion. It is always a nice product at the end of our negotiations or initiatives. I always work with a smile, because there are really happy partners I have here.
Did the relations change when Slovakia became a member of the EU in 2004?
Certainly, yes. We can now work here and there are also Germans working in Slovakia. We can travel freely: Many Slovaks travel to Germany for their holidays and vice versa. There is no border and it goes very fast: Berlin is 670 km away from the capital Bratislava - so you can be in Bratislava in 7-8 hours. Or simply take the plane from Tegel to Vienna and then the bus - it's very fast.
How do you work together with the Slovak embassy?
The Embassy and the Slovak Institute belong to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic. We are partners. Our money is anchored together. That means there is close cooperation: We are like a complex and are in the same building. We are all employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was also active here in Berlin 20 years ago as an economic and trade counsellor. Now I am here again as a cultural manager, as a cultural diplomat.
References and Links
Annika Mayer and Marie Leroy
Berlin Global, News from Berlin