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The USA Meets Europe

June 2009
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Monday 29th June, 2009 – Introduction to Cultural Diplomacy, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, and German-American Relations During the Cold War

The first day of the week-long-seminar for USA Meets Europe: A Forum for Young Leaders’ began appropriately with an introductory speech from the Director and Founder of ICD, Mark Donfried. He examined the meaning of ‘cultural diplomacy’ by comparing definitions used by field practitioners, delineating the term from other subject areas such as propaganda or advertising, and drawing on specific examples of how cultural diplomacy’s principles have been useful when applied throughout history.

The next stop for the group was the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), one of the most respected think tanks in Berlin. The research conducted there is often considered by the German government for policymaking. Dr. Stormy Mildner and Dipl.-Pol Oliver Ziegler met with participants and expounded on their responsibilities as researchers in SWP’s Americas Research Division. They were responsible for monitoring political, economic, and foreign policy developments in the United States and Latin America as well as developments in transatlantic relations. The participants showed particular interest in the discussion of transatlantic trade relations and the influences that culture has on them.

The first day of the seminar ended at the Amerika Haus with a presentation from the John F. Kennedy Institute’s Dr. Andreas Etges. Dr. Etges spoke about German-American relations during the Cold War, giving special attention to Berlin’s role in the conflict. The lecture also discussed how German attitudes towards America have shifted with the social and political situation in the United States. This was illustrated by drawing parallels between visits by US Presidents Kennedy and Obama to Berlin and the socio-political environments at those times.  

Later in the evening the group was able to enjoy some relaxed social interaction at En Passant, a restaurant in the center of Berlin specializing in international cuisine.

Tuesday 30th June, 2009 – Art, Dance, and Sports as Cultural Diplomacy

The second day started off with a session at the Deutsche Guggenheim, a unique fixture in Berlin’s cultural landscape, representing a relationship between business and the arts. The Deutsche Guggenheim is a partnership between the far-reaching Deutsche Bank and the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation and is guided by the objectives of collection, preservation, interpretation, and presentation of objects of 20th-century visual culture.  Ms. Svenja Gräfin von Reichenbach, who has been with the Deutsche Geggenheim since the beginning and is now its director, detailed the development of the institution since its November 1997 founding. Over 140,000 visitors come every year to see the collection of modern and contemporary art.

Next, the group traveled to the Placement Dance Studio to witness firsthand a portion of the production process of “Dancing with the Berlin Wall” – a three part work of contemporary dance which reflects, embodies, and subverts the dynamic interaction between individuals, movement, and the emotional impact of barriers. German-born choreographer and dancer Nejla Yatkin is spearheading this project in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The final product will consist of a short film of the dance performed at the Berlin wall and a tour of the United States. The participants were privileged to witness two of the dance pieces that will be featured in the film and the tour, and were afterwards able to interact with the dancers in a circle-sharing exercise.

Afterwards the group found themselves back in the Amerika Haus, this time to listen to Mr. Peter Rees of the ICD give a lecture on Sports as Cultural Diplomacy. The group learned about how sports, in any form, can be used as a medium for cultural exchange, as well as various examples in history in which this occurred. The participants were then given the opportunity to break up into small groups to formulate hypothetical sports-as-cultural-diplomacy initiatives, and discuss solutions to problems that their initiatives might face.

The day ended with some traditional German food at the Wirtshaus Hasenheide Restaurant.

Wednesday 1st July, 2009 – European Commission Simulation, NATO and the Obama Administration, & the East Side Gallery

Wednesday morning began with a simulation of the European Commission led by ICD’s Mr. Matthies Verstegen. Ten countries were represented in the simulation, with two participants representing each country. They were asked to partake in a structured debate and, while trying to accurately represent the interests of their respective countries, discuss the hypothetical establishment of an “Erasmus Institute” that would help both to preserve and promote culture within the European Union and a number of its neighboring countries.

The participants engaged in heated debate over issues such as the institute’s allotted per annum funding and whether or not the institute should remain independent from the government. The simulation was divided into two sessions with a short break in between to allow the “delegates” to negotiate amongst themselves and cut deals on the terms of the proposal. The simulation encouraged the participants to interact with one another and provided them with an insight into the difficulties and benefits of setting up cultural institutions.

After a short lunch break, the group welcomed Dr. Josef Braml from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik (the German Council on Foreign Relations). Dr. Braml, whose areas of specialty include transatlantic relations, began by giving a preview of his latest research topic: the Obama Administration’s global NATO perspective. He stressed how important burden sharing and an increased sense of global responsibility will be to the preservation of a healthy transatlantic relationship in years to come. The discussion then moved towards NATO and the implications using NATO – which is comprised entirely of democracies – as a replacement organization for the UN. The floor was then open to questions, which both participants and ICD staff eagerly took advantage of. The exchange focused on topics such as the disputed efficiency of a “League of Democracies” and the future of American-Russian relations.

The participants were later taken to the eastern portion of the city where they were met by painter and photographer Günther Schaefer. Mr. Schaefer accompanied the group to the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 kilometer-long section of the Berlin Wall that enjoys the prestige of being the largest open-air art gallery in the world. A large portion of the paintings at the East Side Gallery, including Mr. Schaefer’s painting “Vaterland”, are currently being restored by the original artists as part of a renovation initiative sponsored by the German Paint Makers’ Association and a host of other private institutions. The participants were fortunate enough to witness a number of artists from around the world in the process of renovating their 20-year-old paintings.

Following a walk along the Wall, Mr. Schaefer invited the group back to his studio, the Art Infusion Factory. The young leaders had the opportunity to view Mr. Schaefer’s photography collection entitled “Pictures from two millennia”, which features photographs of Berlin from the fall of the Wall until the present.

The day was concluded with a group dinner at the popular Italian restaurant Vapiano, followed by an international boat party on the Eastern Comfort in the Friedrichshain district of Berlin.

Thursday 2nd July, 2009 – The Belgian & Norwegian Embassies and the Bundestag

The leaders’ first visit on Thursday was to the Belgian embassy for a seminar with Ambassador Mark Geleyn on Belgium’s role within the European-American relationship. Ambassador Geleyn began by discussing Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States, its implications for the transatlantic relationship, and Europe’s expectations of the new U.S. administration. With Obama as the new president, Europeans are expecting two main things, according to Ambassador Geleyn: respect for the United Nations and an increase in dialogue with both Iran and Russia. In exchange, the Americans will expect Europe to share more of the U.S.’s burden in international conflicts such as the war in Afghanistan. The discussion then moved to the effectiveness of soft power and cultural diplomacy, and was later followed by a question and answer session during which the leaders posed their questions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Belgium’s role in the Congo.

After lunch the group proceeded to the Norwegian embassy for a seminar with Ambassador Sven Erik Svedman. The leaders were given a tour of the enclosed complex, itself an ideal example of diplomacy, as it is the only location in the world to collectively house all five Scandinavian embassies.

Following the brief tour led by embassy staff, the group was introduced to Ambassador Svedman who began his discussion with an overview of the recent history of Norway. Norway was under German occupation for five years during World War II until it was liberated by the Russians. Despite the Cold War and Norway’s membership in NATO, the country maintains a positive view towards Russia. Ambassador Svedman outlined the importance of Norway’s role as a mediator in international conflicts, emphasizing that Norway has no special agenda in such conflicts, but only an agenda for peace. He also spoke of the status of negotiations regarding Norway’s entry into the EU, and provided the group with reasons as to why he believes that EU membership is not likely to be attained in the near future.

The third session of the day was held at the Bundestag, where participants met with Dr. Jan Bittner who works within the CDS/CSU Parliamentary Group as a foreign policy advisor and member of the policy planning staff. Dr. Bittner provided the group with insight into how German foreign policy effects the transatlantic relationship. He spoke about Germany’s evolving role in the international community after WWII and in NATO, as well as its policy towards participation in Afghanistan. His seminar was followed by a tour of the Bundestag and the Reichstag.

Friday 3rd July, 2009 – Croatian & Greek Embassies and the German-American Relationship Since the Obama Administration

Friday began with a visit to the Croatian Embassy where participants attended a lecture given by Miro Kovaĉ, the Croatian Ambassador to Germany. Ambassador Kovaĉ spoke about Croatia’s history and the way in which its turbulent origins have shaped its foreign policy and domestic culture. This led to a discussion about Croatia’s relations with the EU, participation in NATO, and American cultural influences. Croatia’s positive view of the United States and its culture has affected the way in which it perceives the transatlantic relationship. Ambassador Kovaĉ also discussed Croatia’s desire to enter the European Union, describing the Croatian population as one that shares many Western values and can be considered “pro-European”. The session ended with a extensive question and answer session between Ambassador Kovaĉ and participants which focused on Croatia’s foreign and cultural policies.

In the afternoon, Dirk Augustin, from the German Federal Foreign Office, spoke with participants about transatlantic relations under the Obama Presidency. He saw a chance for America to improve strained relations with Europe, but believed that the effort had to come from both sides. Mr. Augustin argued that Germany must engage in burden-sharing in the Afghanistan war; Germany, as one of the est powers in the world, has a responsibility to participate in international peacekeeping. Questions from participants focused on a wide-range of issues in German foreign policy.

The last event on Friday was a trip to the Greek Embassy to visit the Deputy Head of Mission, Efthymios Efthymiades. Mr. Efthymiades spoke at length about transatlantic relations and the importance that Greece has placed on cultural diplomacy for millennia. He began by discussing why he believes a healthy transatlantic relationship is so essential for Europe. When asked a question about the role of cultural diplomacy within this relationship, Mr. Efthymiades stated that the preferred method of cultural diplomacy in any situation depends to a large degree on which country it is being used in. He then fielded questions from participants who asked about Greece’s relations with the Muslim world and the differences between cultural diplomacy and cultural advertising for tourism purposes.

Saturday 4th July, 2009 – Leadership Initiatives: The Next Step

The last day of the forum began with a session with Mark Donfried, during which he encouraged the participants to extend the benefits of the forum beyond the week by starting follow-up initiatives in their own communities. After giving examples of past initiatives, Mr. Donfried participants’ own ideas and gave advice on how to get their initiatives started. The ideas presented ranged from founding independent programs for cultural exchange to expanding the ICD’s current activities, establishing events such as “Iran Meets Europe” and “South Africa Meets the International Community”. One of the leaders, a university professor in the United States, expressed her desire to launch a course in cultural diplomacy at her institution. There was a general consensus amongst the leaders regarding the need for academic courses on cultural diplomacy that would serve to expose more young people to the new discipline. Many participants took advantage of the networking opportunities of the forum and chose to work together on initiatives.

The forum came to a close with an end-of-the-week/fourth of July celebration. The participants were entertained by live music and were provided with one last chance to socialize and network with each other and the ICD staff.