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Launch of the new cultural exchange programme under the EEA/Norway Grants

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Your Majesty, Ms Komorowska,
Excellencies,
Distinguished guests,

We are gathered here today to celebrate the launch of the new cultural exchange programme in Poland.

It has ambitious aims: The programme aims at closer cultural dialogue and promotion of a new European identity through enhanced understanding of cultural diversity. The programme intends to support projects in four areas: Artistic and cultural education, cultural heritage, music and stage art, and, finally, fine and visual arts. – A wide range of areas. 

With this in view, I encourage you – among other things - to create new arenas where people can meet. I encourage you to strengthen existing partnerships and create new ones, and to share – and exchange –your experience, ideas and views. This will provide a sound basis for further programmes and projects in the vital cultural sector.

***

There is a solid platform to build on. As the State Visit shows, the relations between Norway and Poland - two quite different nations perhaps (size, history, geography), but close partners in Europe and allies in NATO - have developed dynamically, in scope and depth, in recent years. Closer cultural cooperation is an important part of this picture. In fact, cultural cooperation is part of the reason why the bilateral relations are so strong.

Through the EEA and Norway Grants, Norway – together with Iceland and Lichtenstein – contributes to reducing social and economic disparities in Europe and to strengthening bilateral relations with 15 EU countries in Central and Southern Europe.

Out of a total of EUR 1.79 billion, close to EUR 190 million has been set aside for programmes in the cultural sector: cultural exchange programmes and cultural heritage programmes. The amount clearly reflects the importance Norway and Poland attach to the arts and to cultural heritage.

***

We must always remember that cultural expressions can be inspiring, thought-provoking and entertaining, and thus have a value in themselves, in our daily lives. However, the importance of culture and the value of successful projects can go beyond this.

What I would like to say is this: Europe is currently facing many challenges, such as how to address intolerance and xenophobia, how to live together – peacefully - in a diverse society. Europe’s extremely painful history in this regard had a particularly tragic outcome in Poland. The issue of the Jewish cultural heritage in this context – and in Norway as well - will always be a painful reminder of this.

My point is this:

Cultural expressions and traditions are and should be diverse. They draw on inspiration from rich local cultural heritage as well as national and international identities – universal currents. The arts know no borders.

Cultural diversity encompasses the full range expressions, skills and traditions of both individuals and communities, small and large.

Promoting cultural diversity involves fostering all this, as well as encouraging people with diverse social and cultural backgrounds to participate.

***

A key issue in this respect is access to culture for all, regardless of social status and financial situation, regardless of where you live and what you earn for your living. For urban and rural populations, for young and old, for the employed and unemployed. Cultural diversity can foster social  inclusion and tolerance – social capital - in my view.

Remember that culture cannot be forged out of political decisions. Fortunately. It depends on the creativity of artists and the genuine interest of the general public. However, certain political decisions – such as the decision to establish a cultural exchange programme – can play an enabling role.

How? Let me mention two examples:

One of the projects under the previous cultural exchange programme is a good illustration. The Polish–Norwegian jazz group NOR-POL BRIDGE recently held a concert in Oslo. They describe their music as a combination of free improvisation over the “cold” sounds of Nordic music and the “warm” sounds of Slavic music, as well as modern rhythms. Inspired by both Edvard Grieg and Frederic Chopin.

Another large project under the previous exchange programme is entitled “Gustav Vigeland and the Young Poland sculpture”. The Vigeland museum in Oslo and the National Museum in Cracow created the fascinating exhibition “On the Paths of the Soul. Gustav Vigeland and Polish Sculpture around 1900”, which presented – for the first time? - the Polish influence on an outstanding Norwegian artist, Gustav Vigeland. The project gave the Norwegian museum access to material that had previously been completely unknown to my country’s art historians. It showed how Norwegian and Polish artists were influenced by the same European impulses.

***

Excellencies, dear friends,

The mutual benefits of our cooperation and partnership – in politics, trade, science, education and culture - they cannot be overestimated.

Culture is often referred to as a tool, an instrument – a creative platform - that brings people together. Meetings between cultural expressions from all over the world give fresh inputs to traditional forms of expression. Music is a good example: jazz has drawn on inspiration from all parts of the world.

It has my hope that the new cultural exchange programme in Poland will give another voice to the Norwegian-Polish relations, to our common cultural roots, and to our shared European identity; that is democracy, diversity and tolerance.   

Thank you.

 

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