The Ukrainian Institute creates an additional dimension – cultural diplomacy

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“The Ukrainian Institute creates an additional dimension – cultural diplomacy, which also helps the state achieve its strategic goals,” says Volodymyr Sheiko, Director General of the Ukrainian Institute, exclusively for the Fashion of Diplomacy.

Mr. Sheiko, the creation of the Ukrainian Institute under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine fell on one of the most difficult periods of modern Ukrainian history. Can we say that exactly the armed aggression and the information war against our country have become the impulses that led to the creation of the Institute?

– The social and political transformations, which Ukraine has experienced since the Revolution of Dignity has, of course, become an impetus for a qualitatively new policy in the field of culture and cultural diplomacy.

There appeared an understanding of their importance for the subjectivity of the country, for information protection, for the development of Ukraine’s capacity as a state. This is a natural reaction to external challenges and stimuli, when the country found itself in a situation of forced opposition to the informational, power and cultural influence of another country and suddenly realized that it had no strong institutions and structures for this. Therefore, it is obvious that Ukraine’s foreign policy situation requires non-standard, non-linear approaches to counteract Russian aggression.

On the other hand, there is an internal request of Ukrainian society for a more qualitative policy in the humanitarian field. This request has stimulated the updating of managerial approaches in already existing institutions (such as Mystetskyi Arsenal, Dovzhenko-Tsenter, Derzhino), as well as the emergence of a number of new ones – the Ukrainian Institute, the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation, the Ukrainian Institute of Book. Nowadays, we are building cooperation models, that can maximize the synergy of our eff orts both inside the country and beyond, together with the colleagues from these organizations. By launching the Ukrainian Institute, we understand that there was a request for a qualitatively new format of horizontal interaction. The post-Maidan window of opportunities means not only the emergence of new social lifts, but also the joint responsibility before the public of those who, thanks to these lifts, have got new opportunities for changes and reforms.

The Ukrainian Institute creates an additional dimension – cultural diplomacy

Promotion of national culture abroad assumes not only profits, but also serious costs. Are you ready for this?

– First of all, I want to start with terminology. I would not consider it as a cost, but rather as an investment. Systemic activity in the field of cultural diplomacy creates invaluable achievements for the country, which makes it clearer to the foreign community, creates the ambience of trust around itself, can effectively communicate itself in the modern world, thereby gaining other advantages – increasing the tourist flow, intensifying economic cooperation, improving (in the long run) a security situation and so on. It is a long-term investment, which cannot be measured immediately and, that is to say, “in kilograms”.

Of course, such activity requires substantial funds. Any country spends significant budgets on defense, education, social protection and creates opportunities for the development of the creative potential of every person. These are the social benefits where a priori a state has to invest time and money. The Ukrainian Institute creates an additional dimension – cultural diplomacy, which also helps the state achieve its strategic goals.

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In addition, we have an example of other countries which have understood long ago and are effectively implementing that – at least those countries whose quality and standard of living we would like to match. Is Ukraine ready for this, and does it fully understand the need for such investments? I remember talking to our colleague from the Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University, Oleh Kotsiuba, about whether the state can understand the non-obvious, at first glance, role of culture in its national security. He said that culture also saves human lives, as military men do, just in a different way. This thesis is close to me, I understand the need for these costs. On the other hand, while the Ukrainian Institute is not successful and does not demonstrate the effectiveness of cultural diplomacy, it is not easy for us to persuade skeptics. I am delighted that the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly called cultural diplomacy one of the priority directions of its work.

What is the budget of the Institute?

– The budget of the institute for 2019 is 90 million UAH. Approximately one-third out of this amount is planned for the realization of the bilateral year of culture – Austria-Ukraine 2019.

Other program funds are directed to cultural and educational projects in six other countries, the programs of international mobility and maintenance of the institution.

The Ukrainian Institute creates an additional dimension – cultural diplomacy

Will you attract sponsor funds?

– We are planning, of course, to do so. We want to diversify the sources of our funding in order to reduce the load on the state budget. It is a complex and long-term task. In my experience in a similar institution – the British Council, which also at some point set itself the goal of maximizing partner and sponsor funds – the first results appeared only a few years after the start of system work. We need to build trust with our partners in a consistent way, we need to have groundwork that attracts potential sponsors and partners; we need a well-established and extensive international network of subsidiaries, through which partners can also achieve their communication goals.

It is worth to understand that our state institution status imposes the same restrictions on any sponsored funds attracted by us, like on budget funding. This applies to public procurement, reporting, planning, and so on.

Therefore, deregulation and greater freedom in using these funds are essential for greater effectiveness of the Institute and the entire cultural field.

In order to avoid potential risks associated with extra-budgetary funds (for example, manipulation of content or the attempts to undue influence on decision making); a lot of foreign government organizations working with sponsor money have the so-called due diligence process. In Ukrainian language, this concept can be translated as “verification of integrity”; it involves scanning a potential partner in those aspects related to the ethics of doing business, the lack of links with weapon manufacturers, terrorist organizations or the aggressor country. For example, the British Council, in which I worked, very clearly defined the circle of companies with which it could not work as a public money operator. Therefore, although we generally support the attraction of sponsor money as one of the strategies for achieving sustainability of the organization, it is clear that for this we will need a lot of time, effort and resources.

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In which countries will the first branches of the Institute work and why?

– We hope it will be Poland, France and Germany – these are our priorities, agreed with the Foreign Ministry. This is the largest political force of the European Union, strategically important for Ukraine. In these countries there are many institutions with which Ukraine is already working, we are already known there, we can count on the centres of foreign Ukrainians who are our allies.

Also, among our focal countries for 2019 are Austria, Great Britain, Italy, Czech Republic, Spain and Lithuania. It is a mix of political heavyweights and smaller countries, which, however, have long-standing and developed ties with Ukraine, or those who face similar challenges regarding information security, or have experience of how small resources can make a significant impact in the field of cultural diplomacy.

The Ukrainian Institute creates an additional dimension – cultural diplomacy

How will the cooperation between the Institute and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs take place? What is the degree of the Institute’s autonomy?

– The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the governing body of the Ukrainian Institute. This means that they approve our annual budget and other documents regulating our activities.

But we have the autonomy declared by the MFA leadership to formulate its program activities.

The concept of the autonomy of the Institute from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was announced by Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin in the beginning of 2017, when the first groundwork of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the future institution appeared. I can testify that, not only at the level of applications, but also after the Institute started its work, the Ministry consistently adhered to this position. We have an understanding that the Ukrainian Institute is part of Ukraine’s foreign policy and, therefore, should coordinate its work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On the other hand, due to its expertise, the Institute should formulate and implement state policy in the field of cultural diplomacy. Here we are determined to cooperate fruitfully with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, because this is a joint matter, which will allow recording the strategic importance of this function at the state level and will allow ensuring its sustainable financing. This cooperation will naturally continue and strengthen the strong work of public and cultural diplomacy, which the Foreign Ministry and foreign diplomatic institutions of Ukraine have been already carrying out several years in a row. But the fact that cultural diplomacy is now isolated in a separate institution will allow us to increase the number of projects in this area, as well as to lessen the load of embassies and consulates. In addition, the Ukrainian Institute will carry out an important advisory role and will serve as a point of contact with Ukrainian cultural space. Just as the staff of the embassies and consulates is a source of knowledge about the host countries for us, we also should be a link with relevant cultural processes in Ukraine.

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What kind of cultural and educational activities will be realized by the foreign branches of the Institute?

– It’s a bit too early to talk about it, because the legal and economic model of subsidiaries is not defined at this time. On the other hand, regardless of the form of their activities, our priorities will be to ensure the representation of Ukrainian culture abroad, Ukraine’s participation in key cultural, educational and scientific events of the world, international exchanges and mobility, support of Ukrainian studies and Ukrainian studios, teaching and promotion of the Ukrainian language abroad. We are also actively studying the experience of cultural diplomacy institutes of other countries, and it will be taken into account.

The Ukrainian Institute creates an additional dimension – cultural diplomacy

Will studying of the Ukrainian language be free in the Institute’s branches?

– In my opinion, since this is a service, it would be logical for it to be paid. Currently, we are actively communicating with the Ministry of Education and Science on the development of curricula in the Ukrainian language as a foreign language, as well as the state certification on the level of language proficiency.

You have experience in working at the British Council. Do you plan to use the experience of this structure?

– For the past few years, I have been working at the British Council as a director of artistic programs for a region, which consisted of 15 countries of Southeastern Europe and Central Asia, in particular Serbia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Ukraine. My task was to determine what the local art teams were doing and to create, for example, communication companies for them, to be a liaison person between them and the central office in London. Before I headed the Ukrainian Institute, I was the director of artistic programs especially for Ukraine. My team was involved in the programming of cinema, literature, design, music and other projects.

I have gained the experience in the institution where the principles of transparency and accountability are the key ones; a function of communication and public relations, willingness to invest in employee development, project development in partnership with local institutions are developed. I am trying to implement these approaches in the work of the Ukrainian institute too.