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Mónika Balatoni – Interview

Hungary Today 2014.09.14.

Mónika Balatoni, born Tatabánya in 1971, is the new secretary of state in charge of cultural diplomacy. In an interview for she talks about the possibilities of Hungarian cultural diplomacy and the challenges that lie ahead.

Why is it important that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade promoted cultural diplomacy from its previous department level to its own state secretary?

It is important to note what the new government expects from the country’s foreign affairs and what tools they intend to use for these goals. Besides traditional diplomacy, trade will have a more important role. As a department we could aid the work of embassies, but this was only marginal, with this structural reorganization cultural diplomacy becomes the “third pillar” of international relations. The government realized that soft-diplomacy can open up gates, can trigger certain cultural processes between countries, which can later yield political and economic capital. […] This was previously an untapped resource in Hungary. […] I believe that cultural diplomacy creates a channel between the world and Hungary.

The restructuring affected several other institutions as well. Balatoni talked about cultural institutions and start-up companies, which could mean the future for the country:

It is important to have Hungarian companies, capitalizing on a Hungarian idea, keep their headquarters in the country, for example Prezi and Ustream. This creates jobs, but it is also an opportunity for international conferences to come to Hungary. […] We believe that the market does not have to exploit young minds, but has to find the values within them. Cultural diplomacy has a role in Design Terminal, launched by a new generation, and which bear a serious value. We would also like to establish a serious relationship with MOME University, which has one of the strongest art campuses in the world.

Balatoni also spoke about the 23 worldwide Balassi Institutes, which will be restructured under the new state secretary:

The government is committed to opening new institutes, the cultural and scientific presence of Hungary has to be strengthened around the world. But I don’t believe that every country in the world needs a Hungarian institute. We have to examine, what we expect from a region, what are the priorities, and so based on our goal, we need a different approach and program for each country. In some countries we have more scientific diplomats, while in eastern countries we do not have such representation. […] We also have to reevaluate the efficiency of the Somlói street Balassi Institute, where the Publishing Hungary program office, the Hungarian Scholarship Committee and the oversight of the Stipendium Hungaricum resides. It is also an important aspect, that foreign institutes does not only serve the diaspora, but trough Hungarians living abroad, they broadcast the culture of Hungary. There is a great demand for cultural and language education in Egypt and Belarus, while we would also like to develop closer ties with South Korea, England and Poland.

The state secretary also spoke about upcoming anniversaries and events:

From October to December we are to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Chinese-Hungarian relations with several programs, and we would also like to organize a successful presidency for the 2015 International Holocaust Remembrance Association, and the 200th anniversary of English-Hungarian diplomatic relationships is also next year. There will be a Semmelweis memorial year in 2015, in association with the Ministry of Human Resources, […] while there will be a UNESCO World Science Forum in Budapest in 2015.

Finally, Mónika Balatoni shared her thoughts on the role of cultural diplomacy on Hungary’s foreign image: 

The worst course for this, if we thought that these actions are to compensate the negative political-economic opinions of Hungary, formed by certain interest groups. The question is, what is the target audience of cultural diplomacy: press writing negative articles about Hungary, or those European and world citizens, who already have a positive image of the country?

We have to show our strengths for the world, our scientific innovations, art potential, creativity. We have to sell culture and science. The job of cultural diplomacy is to find those channels, where we can offer these values. By doing so, we can support our economy, encourage investment, and can contribute to the competitiveness of the country.

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