Cultural diplomacy. Traditions and perspectives in the Levant

Education is the only way of ensuring respect for diversity


“The third panel of the present conference, entitled „Cultural Diplomacy. Traditions and Perspectives in the Levant“, consisted of two sessions, of which the first has been moderated by Ms. Shoshana Bekerman, Director of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Global Ethics, and Mr. Dan Petre, General Director of the Romanian Diplomatic Institute, while the second session was presided over by Dr. Alexandra Zbuchea, Acting General Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levantine Culture and Civilization.

This „challenging panel“, as Mr. Petre stated in his introduction to the contributions, debated on the role of cultural diplomacy, and especially – as Ms. Bekerman has emphasized – on its importance in the struggle for peace with regard to the present situation in the Levant.

First, Professor Nicolae Achimescu discussed the interreligious and intercultural dialogue in contemporary times, stressing its relevance in the attempt of bringing not only religions, but also people together. The goodwill of a listener becomes essential, particularly when the cultural backgrounds diverge from one another. The respect which is due in every interaction entails the perception of the other not as a mere name or statistical figure, but as a person in its own rights. Consequently, Professor Achimescu advocated a culture of dialogue rather than a theology of dialogue. He also identified three stages of a successful interreligious dialogue: the abandonment of preconceived opinions, accounting for the values and the religion of the counterpart, as well as understanding the different perceptions of the other. Thus, dialogue is a progressive process, leading to a gradual approach and acceptance, while also strengthening the own consciousness of tradition. Religion can only separate people if it is misused in such a manner.

In my own address, I have examined two informal concepts of Ancient Graeco-Roman relationships, as well as modern theories on cultural diplomacy, asking whether these two fields of research could enrich each other’s empirical efforts. An examination of the notions of friendship and freedom in Classical Antiquity proves that every society subconsciently brings its own cultural imagery into the diplomatic vocabulary it uses, often leading to cultural misunderstandings. From this point of view, Joseph Nye’s universalist concept of „soft power“ might prove misleading – as Mr. President Constantinescu has emphasized in his inaugural speech. For the purposes of cultural diplomacy, one has to progress from a mere translation to the identification of the differences of cultural semantics, hence taking a constructivist stance into account.

The third contribution, belonging to Dr. Daniela Zaharia, put an accent on the historical dimension of heritage, emphasizing the cultural traumas that can arise from its destruction in times of war. She showed how European interests in the Middle East developed since the 19th century, leading to the creation of the modern Arab states according to a certain Western image of the area. Discussing the transfer of cultural goods from the Middle East to the museums in Paris, London or Berlin, Dr. Zaharia underlined the Western responsability when addressing cultural and heritage diplomacy. Through the examples of Max von Oppenheim and Gertrude Bell, she highlighted the misuse of cultural heritage as a weapon during the inner-European conflicts of World War I. With regard to the urgency of the problem, she argued for the treatment of crimes against heritage as crimes of war.

In the next speech, Mr. Maxim Onofrei focused on the changes that took place in the legal systems of the Ancient Levant, and especially on the shift that occured during the 7th century BC, transforming the divine and moral authority of law into a social one, and leading to its codification in Classical Antiquity. The initial practice of what the author calls the three O’s – the oath, the oracle and the ordeal – gradually gave way to more modern forms of crime investigation. By the 6th century, justice was carried out in the name of the gods, but not by them directly, as has been the case in the imagery of earlier times.

Returning to contemporary practices, the second session began with an address by Dr. MihailDobre, who started by clarifying the differences between the varying forms of present-day diplomacy. Hence, the classical view of diplomacy is one of an interest-driven relationship between governments. Public diplomacy, on the other hand, although addressing the public opinion, is still confined to governmental initiative, thus designating a unilateral course of action, which brings it close to the concept of propaganda. Contrary to that, cultural diplomacy makes allowance for relationships taking place in the private sector. Its bilateral orientation aims at the mutual understanding of cultures, attempting to „bridge the differences“ between them – as Dr. Dobre has shown, basing his statement on a definition by Patricia Goff. The relevance of this approach has been underlined by an analysis of the Cyprus-conflict and by contrasting the efforts of the United Nations in solving this dispute with the activities of two organizations stemming from Cyprus itself: the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research, as well as the Cyprus Academic Dialogue. Concluding his contribution, Dr. Dobre stressed the importance of cultural diplomacy in present-day Levant, affirming that a political solution must inevitably be based on bridging the differences between the communities themselves.

The next topic, addressed by Professor EmanoilBăbuș, was the religious dimension of borders in Europe. By pinpointing the role of religion in creating national and collective identities, he insisted on the bond between church, state, and civil society. According to Professor Băbuș, religion also establishes new, dynamic borders, which he examined in the context of the present situation within the European Union.

The final contribution, by Ms. Gabriela Dristaru, focused on political, economical, and religious developments during the Byzantine and Arab domination of the Levantine area. She emphasized the continuities of Roman patterns within the Byzantine Empire, which can be detected in the perpetuation of administrative, as well as of military structures. The economically important provinces of the Roman Empire – such as Egypt or Syria – have retained their relevance under the rule of Constantinople. Religion, on the other hand, constitutes a new factor of power in the Levant, playing an essential role in Byzantine, as well as in Arab politics during the Middle Ages.

The concluding discussions shifted between the historical and the contemporary perspective upon cultural diplomacy. Ms. Bekerman brought forward the example of Switzerland, advocating the strengthening of individual communities. Regarding the European Union, she ascertained an „overpowering“ of national entities, which would ultimately encourage the nationalist tendencies within the member states of the EU. Dr. Zaharia pleaded for a historical perspective in order to raise awareness of the cultural aspects of diplomacy. Dr. Zbuchea agreed to that point, expressing her hope that cultural diplomacy would not only include the expertise of historians, but also of sociologists and other representatives of Cultural Studies. Dr. Dobre, on the other hand, argued that we should use history with caution, in order to avoid its misuse as propaganda. As the main target of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levantine Culture and Civilization, he emphasized diversity as the richness of our society. Accordingly, Ms. Bekerman concluded that the education of children and adults alike is the only way of ensuring respect for diversity.

Cristian Criste




Diplomaţia culturală. Tradiţii şi perspective în spaţiul LevantuluiDan Petre
General Director of the Romanian Diplomatic Institute
Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2012 – 2013

“With Ms. Shoshana Bekerman, we are the moderators of this panel. I will try to be the immoderate moderator because I think that in a certain sense the challenges of this panel are extremely strong and I can speak in a very canonical diplomatic language to why do we need cultural diplomacy. In fact, we should, if we look at what’s happening now in the Middle East, not even traditional diplomacy, I think, has a place, we should send our colleagues, which are wearing green or blue or blue and green, and try to solve the problems.Thus being said, it’s just a provocation and from time to time, at least when you have a boring job like mine, you need to be l’Agent Provocateur.”


Diplomaţia culturală. Tradiţii şi perspective în spaţiul LevantuluiShoshana Bekerman
Director of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Global Ethics (IPCGE)

“On this topic, we’re going to discuss cultural diplomacy, traditions, and perspectives in the Levant. I think we should just have a little focus for a minute on the culture of peace which should be, needs to be really the basis and the foundation for cultural diplomacy. Our patron at the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Global Ethics is Federico Mayor who is the Director General of UNESCO for two terms and and actually introduced this concept to the United Nations. I will just read out from UNESCO their sort of explanation or definition: “the culture of peace and non-violence is a commitment to peace building, mediation, conflict prevention and resolution, peace education, education for non-violence, tolerance, acceptance, mutual respect, intercultural and interfaith dialogue and reconciliation”. I think in the plenary session we touched on all of this and President Emil Constantinescu’s passion has been bringing forth a history of the Levant as the cradle of cultural diplomacy and the culture of peace, and looking at the challenges we’re facing today as our honourable diplomats brought forward, this is not even helping in the current conflicts in the Levant but as President Constatinescu likes to bring it back, maybe we can learn the lessons of the past in order to face the challenges of the future. In UNESCO, of course, the commitment is at the very foundation in the United Nations established after the 2nd World War to create and maintain peace through economical, social, political agreements. As we know, this is not working, the foundation of peace still needs to be laid and hopefully this new institute will help in this direction. For over 60 years, UNESCO took over that mission in conformity with its Constitution which asserts that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed”. Unfortunately, as we know, even UNESCO itself is facing challenges in this area and I will not go in to that at this point, but hopefully the presentations that you will give today will point us in the right direction, because from our past we learn towards our future.”


Diplomaţia culturală. Tradiţii şi perspective în spaţiul LevantuluiProf. dr. Nicolae Achimescu
Director of the Centre for Religious and Intercultural Dialogue and Study at the University of Bucharest

“The role of dialogue between religions, cultures and peoples in the contemporary world”

“In his book, „ProjektWeltethos“, published in the year 1990, Professor Hans Küng from the University of Tübingen in Germany has stated that „there can be no peace between nations without a peace between religions, and there can be no peace between religions without a dialogue between religions“. Dialogue constitutes a genuine means of approach and of true knowledge about each other’s values, as well as about everything that forms the „truth“ as viewed by peoples, cultures and religions. The fundamental nature of any dialogue consists in an honest enthusiasm to listen to your counterpart with attention and goodwill, even if he varies from yourself, if he feels and thinks in an entirely different manner. The main concern of the partners in a genuine and honest dialogue should not be that of acquiring arguments in order to rebut the other. A true dialogue takes place when one of the partners speaks in such a way that the other assents to listen, as well as when one listens in such a manner that the other is compelled to speak. From a Christian perspective, in such a situation, dialogue is nothing short of the workings of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, someone’s capacity to enter into a dialogue and to communicate effectively, favorably and constructively from a spiritual point of view generally reflects a particular mind-set, an attitude of love and respect towards everyone who doesn’t believe, think or live in the same way as the former does himself. Whoever proves this capacity views and perceives the ones he enters into a dialogue with as people, not as mere conventional names, simple statistics or irrelevant entities. From a Christian perspective, we currently do not necessarily need a theology of dialogue, but rather a culture of the latter, paired with education and courage for such a dialogue. In this sense, dialogue should represent an attempt to understand and express our particularities, not only in terms of our own spiritual heritage, but also in its ties with the spiritual and religious – or cultural – heritage of our interlocutors who belong to different cultures and religions.”


Educația reprezintă singura cale pentru a asigura respectul pentru diversitateDr. Cristian Criste
“Ludwig-Maximilian” University, Munich

“An ancient example of cultural diplomacy? The informal principles of Graeco-Roman Diplomacy”

“In order to assess the applicability of the concept, I would first like to dwell upon the most important aspects of definition, quoting the – probably most famous – interpretation of cultural diplomacy by Milton Cummings. According to Cummings, „the concept of «cultural diplomacy» refers to the exchange of ideas, information, art, and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding“. Nevertheless (and unfortunately rarely quoted) the author goes on by saying: „But «cultural diplomacy» can also be more of a one-way street than a two-way exchange, as when one nation concentrates its efforts on promoting the national language, explaining its policies and point of view, or «telling its story» to the rest of the world“. At this point we might add an aspect that has been highlighted by Jessica Gienow-Hecht and Mark Donfried, and which refers to the governmental involvement in the process of cultural diplomacy. According to them, only such diplomatic efforts that are perceived as being independent of a state’s interests can establish a dialogue and long term relationships. One last point also needs to be emphasized. As a scientific field of research, cultural diplomacy took its beginnings in the Cold-War-Era, as a consequence of the attempts of the United States and the Soviet Union to sway the foreign public by means of culture rather than by force. Thus, practical cultural diplomacy actually predates the theory. The question that arises from a historiographic perspective is whether such a – certainly pragmatic – term, which is deeply rooted in contemporary politics, can be useful for the evaluation of historical processes. Regarding this problem, the aforementioned authors, Jessica Gienow-Hecht and Mark Donfried, have laid down two analytical criteria: first, a comparative evaluation of the motives and of the methods of diplomacy at different times, and secondly, identifying the diplomatic personnel and the extent to which its actions reflect the political interests of the state.”


Diplomaţia culturală. Tradiţii şi perspective în spaţiul LevantuluiDr. Daniela Zaharia
University of Bucharest

“Historical heritage and cultural diplomacy in the Middle East – the stakes and the challenges”

“As Europeans, we are not at all far away and not at all innocent of the turnmoils and the tensions in the Middle East. Trying to intervene, to create an international cultural action in order to help constructing peace at first, and then sustainable peace, should always be done with prudence and keeping in mind that we have our responsibility. That should motivate us, and that should also introduce a certain prudence in our actions.Speaking about our general purposes: of course, our purpose is to help the Middle East to get out of this culture of what we might call the Hobbesian culture of enmity, where states frequently don’t even admit each other’s right of existence. We, as Europeans, know very well that type of culture. In general, the international community managed to get out of the Hobbesian culture, and even of the Lockeian culture, and, as an aspiration that we have to go to a more general culture of friendship (what we may call a Kantian culture), we created all the instruments of multilateral diplomacy and global governance after the Second World War. Are these instruments still functional? How can we rely on the UNESCO or on the other international organizations in order to promote peace and to preserve and protect cultural heritage in the Middle East? Of course, that is the purpose of the UNESCO, but, as you know, the UNESCO still remains an arena for political tensions. Even recently, matters of heritage created a new, painful episode in the history of the UNESCO. Still, the UNESCO managed, in its more than half a century-long existence, to promote some of the most important concepts connected to the interpretation of culture, and to transform those concepts in something more clear, more well-defined, in a matter of international conventions and, as such, in international law. The convention of 2005, promoting the diversity of cultural expressions, is one of the most important, but, even if we have that convention, it is not always obvious that we are going to transform a convention in a real action protecting that idea of cultural diversity.”


Diplomaţia culturală. Tradiţii şi perspective în spaţiul LevantuluiMaxim Onofrei
University of Saint Andrews, Scotland

“Judicial changes in the Ancient Levant: From divine to social - from tradition to codification”

“The early 7th century BC saw a shift in the judicial outlook of many Levantine civilizations, most thoroughly documented by the Greeks and Mesopotamians. During the 7th century, the commonly practiced methods of assigning guilt to a party in a case – the three “O”’s described above – gradually gave way to methods of investigation more familiar to us in the modern time. Oaths stopped being dispositive, with provisions being put into law to punish false oath-takers; and the consultation of oracles or undertaking of ordeals were relegated to the last resort following inconclusive forensic investigations of the crimes in question. The interrogation of witnesses also started to play an increasingly prominent role, as did the practice of taking into consideration the defendant’s and accuser’s history and potential interests in the case. All in all, contemporary scholars are still divided as to exactly what caused the administration of justice to shift from the realm of the divine to that of the societal: some claim it was because of the rapid growth of the population and the great increase in urbanization in the period; others that it was due to the intermingling of different religions requiring a comprehensive judicial administration to cater for them all; still others blame it on the failings of a corrupt administrative bureaucracy. Yet none doubt that this actually transpired, and that by the 6th century justice was carried out in the name of the gods, yet not by them directly.”




Diplomaţia culturală. Tradiţii şi perspective în spaţiul LevantuluiDr. Alexandra Zbuchea
Interim General Director of the ISACCL

“We are a small group right now, but I guess this is a good opportunity for deeper discussions, to investigate the topic of today from several perspectives, especially that I’ve seen that the presentations in the first session approached the topic of cultural diplomacy from various perspectives – not only political, which one would probably expect when we talk about diplomacy, but mainly from the perspective of Cultural Studies, history, religion –, so I guess this is a good framework for complex discussions on the topic.”


Diplomaţia culturală. Tradiţii şi perspective în spaţiul LevantuluiDr. Mihail Dobre
Ambassador of Romania to the Holy See 2002-2006

“Cultural diplomacy and the pressing problems of the Levantine world in the post-Cold War era”

“I came to an end with the methodological aspects and I try to pass in a rush things that are related to the examples relating to the Levantine world. About the Cyprus-conflict, which is sometimes a little bit left aside, because Cyprus is a EU member state: It’s a conflict that has a very strict tradition. More than fifty years ago, in 1964, it started as an open conflict, so sometimes we may neglect the very existence of a conflict that is practically on the European map. Cyprus became an independent state in 1960, and it was a very wise approach in the beginning, because they have two communities, a Greek one and a Turkish one, with very clear delimitations in terms of numbers. The Greek community is far larger than the Turkish one. They tried to identify a way that will bridge the differences in the sense that the function of the head of state was assumed by the Greeks, whilst the other one, the vice president, was delegated to the Turkish community. But this understanding functioned only for two or three years. Clashes started very soon and in 1964 the UN decided to send in that part of Europe a misson which is still there. UNFICYP is still in Cyprus, more than fifty years after its launching in that region. Things became a little bit more difficult in 1974, and they became difficult because there was a strong influence from the two very big neighbouring countries. I’m referring to Greece and Turkey. Greece had a dictatorship, the Colonels’ dictatorship. Practically exhausted as a form of government, the dictatorship of the Colonels tried to make a military coup in Cyprus, in order to create strong support for them in Greece, and in 1974 they decided to overthrow the legitimate president, which was the Archbishop of Nikosia, Archbishop Makarios. Immediately after, the Turkish army entered the island and the division was instilled there. The Turkish army never left the island, and the separation inside the island became visible. There is a buffer zone, a contact line, UNFICYP is there as a visible way of signalling the division within North and South, and the conflict as such became very strong and very clear, because there was also a certain type of organization, not only for the Cypriot public, based in Nikosia, but also for the Turkish side. The Turkish side decided to create its own state (which is the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus), after some tendencies to identify the way that could be more appropriate in order to regulate their presence in Northern Cyprus. However, they considered that they cannot have a merger with Turkey, which offered the UN the possibility to enter and negotiate.The one negotiating to try to find a solution for the conflict was the UN. First, they started with different ways and different plans between 1974 and 2002. However, UNFICYP was maintained on the island and the Secretary General decided to appoint a special advisor to know better what was the problem on the island. Soon after the end of the Cold War, the end of the conflict in Europe created the conditions to try to identify solutions also for the areas that are on the margins of Europe. In 1992, a new UN Secretary General, the first African, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, launched a report with a peace proposal. It was immediately defined as the „Set of Ideas“. It was a kind of way to identify the conditions to make peace on the island. He proposed a map as well, although he didn’t want to consider it a map. He tried to find a solution, but it was practically impossible to find the ways to come closer to the ideals and interests of the two sides. A new push was needed, and that was created by the very prospect of Cyprus to become a EU member state. When having such an objective, the UN decided to launch a new proposal, and the new Secretary General, Kofi Annan, launched a comprehensive proposal. That proposal was supposed to be accepted by the two parties with two referendums, one week before the accession of Cyprus to the European Union. And it was very difficult for the EU to understand that, having that decision and accepting Cyprus in the European Union, and to see that practically the referendum was positive on the Turkish side and it was negative on the Greek side. And, in the end, the Greek side that was opposed to the referendum was the one supposed to enter the Union, whilst the Turkish side was supposed to stay outside of it. The reaction from the EU was very harsh. We do not have time to enter in those declarations. What we have to understand is that the negotiations that failed in 2004 are still there, and the international community is still struggling to find a solution. The means and diplomatic mechanisms are still there and they are the same, but there is no progress. What is there to do in that context? Well, things go in different ways. In Cyprus, there is an Association for Historical Dialogue and Research, which is a Cyprus-based organization. They are doing business locally, at the grassroots level. They are very good, because they look to the future. They try to educate the adults of the future, and their activity was considered a very useful one, a very legitimate one, and as a very good example for other areas in which you can see conflicts. In 2016, the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research was awarded with the Max van der Stoel Award for history teaching as a tool for reconciliation in Cyprus. The Dutch Foreign Minister at the time, Bert Koenders had a speech in the time of the acceptance of that award for the Cypriot Association, saying that that association „has taken a remarkable inter-communal approach to fostering greater historical awareness and hence understanding of the situation in which the communities of the island find themselves. Its activities are focused on education and offering different perspectives on history“. Practically, this is the key issue when dealing with conflict situations. Another point is the Cyprus Academic Dialogue. This time it is about adults relating to adults. They are from both sides (the Turkish side as well as the Greek side) and they decided to have a contribution to the reconciliation. They published a declaration under the name „A New Beginning to the Reunification of Cyprus“, and they said that there is a need from the leaders of the two communities to try to break the deadlock. They have to build trust and they called on the two leaders „to proceed with confidence building measures that may be taken either unilaterally or jointly to complement and support the peace process“. It is the issue of the peace process, which is strongly political, that was very much supported by the civil society. As I said – the definition for cultural diplomacy seen as a wider way of understanding how to proceed in that context. The Middle East case would have been seen from a similar perspective, because even in that case there are some initiatives with the idea to make communication between the Israelis and the Palestinians possible. They say you should not leave everything to the political aspects, to the political components of the society, because sometimes there would be a need to have even more. At the end, we may say that cultural diplomacy is a very interesting and useful tool, and it is very useful for addressing conflict zones and conflicting areas in the Levantine world. In the end, the Cyprus case will be solved only by bridging the difference between the two communities, only by trying to promote projects that can assure the capacity to enter into dialogue and communication between the two sides. The same goes for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because when speaking about conflicts, in the end there should be a political solution. The political solution has to be presented to the population by the political leaders. For the political leaders to be able and to have the capacity to present such a bold initiative, to have a solution for the conflict, they cannot do that in the absence of genuine efforts to bridge the difference between the two communities. Otherwise, the failure is there.”


Diplomaţia culturală. Tradiţii şi perspective în spaţiul LevantuluiProf. dr. Emanoil Băbuș
The “Patriarch Justinian” Orthodox Theological University, Bucharest

“Borders in Europe and their religious dimension”

“The opening of frontiers as a result of passing on from the Europe of six members to that of today highlights the varied dimensions of religious experience we need to consider, i.e. identity, that refers to the universe of the symbols, practices and rites; culture, that corresponds to myths, doctrines, images, in turn structuring a specific vision/oulook of the world; ethics that engages values of everyday behaviour; and, finally, emotions, the register of affective experience that build up the feeling of community. The dimension of the religious diversity in Europe pre-supposes knowing each other. We think that we perceive reality as it is and the other people as they really are, but we do not take our appraisal to conclusion; however we assume that our judgement is lucid and correct. Therefore, it is necessary and correct to abstain from hasty evaluation so as not to stay, hypocritically, afar from clear judgement; this fact might catch us in the act when we judge someone else.”


Diplomaţia culturală. Tradiţii şi perspective în spaţiul LevantuluiGabriela Dristaru
University of Bucharest

“Geopolitics, economy and religion between the Byzantines and the Arabs”

“The battle for the Levant between the Arabs and the Byzantines continued after the 7th century. In the 8-9th centuries, the empire was on a defensive position, but during the rule of the Macedonians the Byzantines started their offensive. During the reign of Roman I Lekapenos, the emirate of Melitene was destroyed. Nikephor II Phocas conquered Cyprus and a part of Syria and John ITzimiskes continued this offensive occupying Beirut, Tripoli and Caesarea Palestine. At the end of the Macedonian dynasty the Byzantine Empire confronted an internal and external crisis, thus Syria, Palestine and large portions of Asia Minor were lost. AltoughAlexios II Komnenosrevivaled the Empire, at the end of the 11th century, a new player appeared in the Orient: the crusaders. The Latins managed to reconquer Syria and Palestine in the name of Christianity and hold them for almost two centuries. In the end we can draw a quite clear conclusion about the Byzantine and Arab perspectives of the Levant. As heir of the Romans, the Byzantines took over from their predecessors the political, military and economical vision, but brought a new religious one through Christianity. The Arab invasion was determined as well by political, military, economical and religious causes. This battle for these provinces had continued for centuries, until the Byzantines reconquered Syria and Palestine, but for short time. But it is important that the evolution of the Arab caliphates, the war between the Byzantines and Arabs and the appereance of the crusaders influenced the importance of the Levant.”

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