As the guns were finally silent, Romanian diplomat and President of EUNIC in London Mr Dorian Branea tells Venetia van Kuffeler how he knew it was time for cooperation, and his calling for public service
1. How long have you been President of EUNIC in London? Can you give me a brief rundown of your career and how you got to this position today?
I was elected president of EUNIC London in 2012 and my mandate was renewed, quite unexpectedly and unusually for our procedures, in 2013. It was a token of confidence from a cluster that numbers some of the most successful cultural diplomats in the world and I am grateful to my colleagues for investing me with their appreciation and trust. I was Founding Director of the Romanian Cultural Institute in Warsaw (2006-10), and in 2010 I took over the direction of our institute in London. In December 2013 I was re-appointed for another four years.
2. Can you tell me about your childhood and schooling? Did your upbringing influence your choice of career? Have any of your family members had a background in culture and/or diplomacy?
I come from the most cosmopolitan city in Romania, Timisoara. This open and diverse place – connected to the rest of the world with myriad relations, old and new – has infused in me, almost as a second nature, the conviction that international cooperation is a genuine form of human interaction. My choice for cultural diplomacy has not been influenced by any family traditions. I knew from the very beginning, as a young graduate in foreign languages, that public service was what I wanted to do. At the start of my career, I was very much involved in cross-border cooperation among Romania, Hungary and former Yugoslavia, running various EU programmes. The guns were finally silent in the region and it was time for diplomacy and cooperation. I learnt a lot during that time, especially in terms of managing complex projects, which involved international stakeholders. After some years working in regional cooperation I continued my education in International Relations at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and then I was appointed the first Director of the newly opened Romanian Cultural Institute in Warsaw. It was in Poland, at a tremendous time of personal and professional development, that I first came across EUNIC as we were one of the founding members of the newly formed cluster.
3. What are the main issues that you deal with as Director of the Romanian Cultural Institute in London?
Like most foreign cultural institutes, our mission is manifold. We work to increase the general public’s awareness of Romania and Romanian culture; to promote Romanian artists and artefacts on the British cultural scene; to generate a strong and lasting relationship between Romanian artists and institutions and their British counterparts and to strengthen our country’s reputation among the general public. In order to discharge our duties in the most effective way, we employ a diverse repertoire of activities, more often than not carried out in partnership with various British and international institutions and organisations within the frame of EUNIC. In short, we aim at impressing on the perception of the British public what is most admirable and memorable in our culture.
4. What are your main plans and priorities for your role as President of EUNIC in London? What are your achievements so far?
EUNIC London is the biggest among the 90 EUNIC clusters scattered in every corner of the globe. Working closely with my colleagues, we’ve been able to transform a network of potential partners into a solid institution which, acting as one, is able to imagine and carry out a diverse body of projects every year. In fact, we have accelerated a process of institutional development that has started under the previous presidential teams. Consequently, we’re concentrating on several directions: strengthening our small but crucial executive apparatus; increasing our financial autonomy; diversifying our offering by launching new projects in domains previously not frequented; devising ways to evaluate our progress and success in a permanent fashion; and enhancing our visibility as a group.
5. What are the main projects that you’re currently working on?
EUNIC London’s events take place throughout the year. The imminent one is also one of the cluster’s most important: European Literature Night, a showcase of the best European fiction organised in partnership with and at The British Library and several other partners. We are also preparing a series of screenings at the Sheffield Documentary Festival, called Sursum Linguae. This project is devoted to European languages, our annual international conference on cultural diplomacy, and a celebration of Dvorak through new, original compositions. Our most recent projects also include Robot Safari EU featuring biomimetic robotics from across Europe, and the Currency Festival at The Place, showcasing the rising stars of the European dance scene.
6. Do you think ‘cultural diplomacy’ is part of every mission’s mainstream workload these days? Do different governments view the importance of cultural diplomacy to varying degrees? Does this vary from country-to-country throughout the globe?
Cultural diplomacy is a part of any coherent diplomatic effort, together with the political, economic and commercial and consular affairs. London is a global hub for cultural diplomacy, with one of the busiest and most competitive cultural scenes in the world. Almost all foreign cultural institutes have well-endowed branches here, which implement rich and sometimes costly event programmes. Many embassies conduct, from time to time, cultural diplomacy activities. Today, of course, budgets are lean and diminishing. At the same time, there are differences in the resources that governments are able and willing to invest in international cultural cooperation, but this has always been the case. All in all, what we see is that cultural institutes and embassies in London still produce a significant number of events, which indicates that cultural diplomacy is still considered meaningful and worthwhile.
7. What do you think is EUNIC’s greatest diplomatic challenge?
In my personal opinion, as a global network EUNIC currently faces an important, perhaps crucial, challenge. After many years of growth and development, it’s time to see whether this powerful instrument of promotion of European values and European soft power can become the cultural diplomacy arm of the EU everywhere in the world. We need to determine, as a matter of strategic positioning, whether the European foreign policy is complete and effective without a cultural component, without engaging, as cultural diplomacy does, many layers and groups in the society.
8. What do you think has been the most memorable day or event of your career to date?
There have beeen so many good memories in my work that I hope do not fade away. And a few unpleasant ones. After four intense and exciting years in Poland, at the end of the steepest learning curve imaginable, I clearly remember the moment when I was offered the job in London, the exhilaration, the gratitude, the fulfilment of many days and nights of hard work. A wonderful feeling.
9. Are there any particular hobbies that you enjoy and why?
I enjoy doing a lot of sports – although I’m rather bad at most of them – and I haven’t given up taking foreign language courses. I’ve always liked learning foreign languages and not necessarily because they are useful from a professional standpoint. But as a fascinating complement to travel and discovery.
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