Promoting Slovenia’s culture and its identity, creativity, and artists abroad is one of the key elements of the country’s foreign policy. In previous years, a lot of work has been done to support the Slovenian economy, which is very export-oriented. Nevertheless, the promotion of cultural identity remains of special value, often complementing or preceding economic diplomacy.
In a time of budget constraints, Slovenia has managed to establish two cultural centres – in Vienna and Berlin. Although they are still quite modest, operating within the residential embassies in these two cities, they are the nucleus of a future network.
Overall, Slovenian embassies are very active in introducing and promoting Slovenian cultural creativity, which is especially vibrant and rich, in cities around the world. The state has set up a special financing fund dedicated to the organisation of individual cultural events throughout its entire diplomatic network. One of the basic guidelines is that each diplomatic event organised by the embassy should also be used for presenting Slovenian cultural creativity in the broadest meaning of the word.
Culture has always played a very significant role throughout the history of the Slovenian nation, and of Slovenia as an independent country. With the purpose of promoting culture and art effectively and in an organised manner, the Republic of Slovenia followed the example of other nations and established its first Slovenian Cultural Information Centre in 2011 in Austria, called SKICA.
SKICA is a joint project of the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Foreign Affairs that has clear objectives, namely to introduce Slovenian art to the Austrian and international public, bring together Slovenian and Austrian artists, connect national cultural institutions, bring Slovenian projects and artists to renowned Austrian festivals, fairs and other events, as well as to participate in bilateral relations at the highest level.
The most important aim of SKICA is to raise the profile of Slovenian creativity in Austria. Since the EU places a high value on the free movement of people, goods, services and capital, we are now even more closely linked by culture, which is inseparably linked with the mobility of artists. It is exactly this awareness that serves as a foundation of the centre’s actions, i.e. the notion that culture, through cultural diplomacy, also includes the implementation of foreign policy in international relations in the form of soft power. This gives culture a state representative function, in that it can be used to enhance Slovenia’s presence on the international stage.
In order to ensure the successful operation of SKICA, it is vital that it is properly placed within the cultural space of Vienna and Austria. Although SKICA does not have its own facilities for hosting events, this has proven to be an advantage as presentations held at important Austrian locations reach a wider public and gain more recognition.
Since its establishment, SKICA has maintained partnerships with important festivals such as the Vienna Design Week, Wienerfestwochen, Literaturhaus Wien, Waves Vienna and others, and at the same time is an active partner in the EUNIC Austria network of cultural institutes. Through EUNIC, SKICA has become a part of both the Austrian and European cultural landscapes. Each year, SKICA organises, co-organises and promotes from 35 to 40 events. Media responses, attendance at the events and a growing interest in participation show that SKICA has already reached its original goals, and is now a successful model of a cultural centre.
The second Slovenian cultural institution in the German speaking area
The Slovenian cultural centre in Berlin opened its doors on 1 June 2016, when Slovenia was celebrating 25 years of independence. The newly-opened cultural centre, whose primary purpose is to promote Slovenian culture and artists in Berlin and elsewhere across Germany, was founded in response to the wish for deeper relations between the two nations.
The Slovenian Cultural Centre in Berlin is the second Slovenian cultural institution in the German-speaking area. This is not surprising, as historically speaking Slovenia has had strong ties with this region. The two Slovenian centres work together, in a coordinated manner, ensuring added value to the implementation of their programmes, which work to promote Slovenian culture and artists, of all genres, and establish links between governmental and non-governmental cultural institutions. They also provide support for Slovenian artists when they attend international festivals, fairs and so on.
The Slovenian Cultural Centre in Berlin has been active for nearly six months, and it is already evident that Slovenian artists are becoming more confident and recognised in this context, while their work contributes an important tile in the mosaic of the international art scene. Most of the performers in the projects carried out by the Slovenian Cultural Centre in Berlin have received good reviews, and thus invitations for further cooperation.
Indeed, there is growing interest in the events organised by the Slovenian Cultural Centre in Berlin, and with the Centre’s aid many Slovenian institutions and artists have been hosted in the city for the first time. For example, the main Slovenian theatre company, the Slovenian National Theatre Drama Ljubljana, made its first appearance in Berlin with the play Als ich tot war (When I was Dead) by Ernst Lubitsch, adapted from his silent film, and performed in his theatre and the Babylon Cinema.
The Slovenian Cultural Centre in Berlin makes efforts to encourage Slovenian artists to create new pieces especially for German-speaking audiences, where they then have their opening nights. This is certainly an added encouragement for Slovenian artists to produce more international work.
This year will mark even deeper cultural cooperation with Russia
The year 2016 was dedicated to the 25th anniversary of Slovenia’s independence. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Karl Erjavec, addressed the guests at the opening of an exhibition called Velika vojna v Krnskem pogorju. Sinovi Rusije v slovenskih Alpah (The great war in the Krn mountain range. The sons of Russia in the Slovenian Alps) in the Museum of Contemporary Russian History. Following his speech, artist Dragan Živadinov carried out an informative performance in the vicinity of Red Square. In Saint Petersburg, the honorary consul of the Republic of Slovenia organised an exhibition called I Feel Slovenia. I Feel at home, to mark the anniversary of the nation’s independence.
In the country that sent the first man into space, the opening of a memorial room at the Slovenian Embassy in Moscow dedicated to Herman Potočnik Noordung, the pioneer of space architecture, was certainly of a great value and interest.
In addition to such memories of the past, Russian experts in fields of culture and art did not overlook the impressive achievements of contemporary Slovenian artists. The regular autumn programme of one of the most important Russian galleries, the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, included an exhibition from the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana called Neue Slowenisch Kunst: From Kapital to Capital. Its opening was attended by the Minister of Culture, Anton Peršak. His visit in September 2016, as well as signing a joint statement with the Russian Ministry of Culture on the presentation of Slovenian culture in the Russian Federation, and of Russian culture in the Republic of Slovenia for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, further encouraged the strengthening of bilateral relations in a cultural context. The performance of the renowned Slovenian choir Carmina Slovenica, and their project When the Mountain Changed its Clothing, convinced the committee that it was worthy of Russia’s most prestigious theatre award, and thus this group won the coveted Golden Mask.
The acclaimed M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University also hosted an international conference on the Slovenian language, literature and culture in a Slavic and European context in November 2016, which was organised by the Department of Slavic Languages. A comprehensive two-day conference programme was enriched by an exhibition of Slovenian grammar books and dictionaries, called Poljub z jezikom (A Kiss with a Tongue).
The many successes of 2016 were rounded off with the opening of the Centre of Slavic Cultures at the Rudomino All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature, in co-operation with the International Foundation Forum of Slavic Cultures. The Centre serves as an additional platform for promoting Slovenian culture in the Russian Federation.
Other notable events of the previous year, as organised by the Slovenian Embassy in Moscow, included a literary evening with Ivo Svetinam, the Slovenian writer and president of the Slovene Writers’ Association, held at the Rudomino library; a screening of the Slovenian film Panika (Panic) at the EU film festival in Kaliningrad; and the presentation of Slovenian products at the Winter Bazaar, a traditional charity fund-raiser in Moscow.
The Slovenian Embassy in Moscow is now preparing for further cooperation with the Ministry of Culture in opening and implementing the Season of Slovenian Culture in 2017.
Every year, the Embassy of Slovenia in Washington organises a range of cultural, public diplomacy, educational and science events – all highlighted in the weekly Embassy Newsletter and promoted through the Embassy’s website, social, printed and even TV media. The Embassy has a spacious reception hall, which also serves as a gallery space and concert room. On these premises the Embassy often also hosts exhibitions curated by Slovenian museums.
Besides a series of cultural events held at the Embassy, including concerts, film screenings, plays, panel discussions, lectures, wine tastings, cooking lessons, tourist promotions and at least five exhibitions a year, the Embassy presents many of its events in collaboration with other embassies and consulates, non-governmental and nonprofit organisations, Slovenian societies and clubs in the USA, universities and other partner organisations. In 2016 alone, the Embassy organised around 140 events, trying to embrace all aspects of the arts, from architectural showcases to films, sculptures, paintings, visual arts, dance, theatre and music. Many of these events were dedicated to the 25th anniversary of Slovenia’s independence.
In addition to introducing Slovenian culture to US audiences, the Embassy is also active in Mexico. With the assistance of honorary consuls in Mexico City and Guadalajara, Slovenian writers participate in the Guadalajara Book Fair every year, while theatre groups perform at different festivals (such as FCTAI in Zacatecas). Most recently, curator Vasja Nagy presented the Art in a Suitcase project in Mexico, which featured several Slovenian artists.
The Embassy of Slovenia also participates in annual cultural events organised in cooperation with the Delegation of the European Union in Washington, DC, other EU member states’ embassies, non-EU embassies, consulates, non-governmental and nonprofit organisations and universities. The Embassy is also an active member of two European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) clusters – the EUNIC Washington cluster and the EUNIC New York cluster, both dedicated to promoting contemporary European culture in the US.
The American Slovenian Educational Foundation and Kerže Endowment Fund work enhance cooperation between Slovenia and the US in the context of educational programmes, such as the Fulbright Program. The Embassy regularly collaborates with the VTIS Association and the Society for Slovene Studies, and has for the past three years organised a Science and Educational Showcase for researchers, scientists and scholars, with the support of the Slovenian diaspora.