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Manuel Bouard, Counsellor For Cooperation And Culture At The French Embassy In Belgrade And Director Of The French Institute In Serbia

To Be A Citizen Of The Current World

“Everybody is concerned by themes like global warming, identity, discrimination, history or education. We want to build the possibility for debates linked with our common world!”

It’s been 70 years since the French Institute came to Serbia to spread the country’s culture and share our everyday existence with us. The birthday celebrations began on 21st June and, apart from the building of the Institute, have expanded to encompass the part of Knez Mihailova Street in front of the building, and these celebrations will continue until the end of the year. This important jubilee provided the occasion for us to interview Manuel Bouard, counsellor for cooperation and culture at the French Embassy in Belgrade and director of the French Institute in Serbia, to discuss some of the latest activities at the institute that he heads.

Considering that every anniversary provides an occasion to summarise results achieved and recall beautiful memories, what would you highlight in particular?

Our great satisfaction? Our Pride? The uninterrupted cultural exchanges between our two countries since the birth of the French institute in 1951? Many prominent French thinkers or artists have been to Serbia. Among them we could mention Gérard Philippe, Jean-Paul Sartre, Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, Catherine Deneuve and Sophie Marceau, but also Alain Robbe-Grillet, Andrei Makine and Jacques Derrida.

Some Serbian artists also travelled to France and settled in Paris to work and to live. Vladimir Velickovic and Goran Paskaljevic are two of the most significant symbols of these strong links between our two artistic scenes that have been built stronger year-on-year.

However, the French institute is also working with talented contemporary artists and thinkers. I would like to mention Mila Turajlic, a great filmmaker who represents the future of Serbian creative cinema, and Nemaja Radulovic, who became a world-famous violinist before he turned 40. They are Serbs, but they’ve been adopted by French society.

Commemorations of this jubilee began with the literary event Molière Days, which is one of the trademark manifestations of the French Institute. The programme was once again diverse, current and interesting. What sort of criteria do you take into consideration when forming a programme? Do you adapt to the interests and needs of the local audience, or do you endeavour to reveal to them values with which they’re not sufficiently acquainted?

Manuel Bouard

We have to target both goals simultaneously! In order to be relevant to the local audience and stimulate curiosity, we have to play the role of discoverers of new gifted writers, French ones, but also francophone ones, because the French language is rich with several cultures.

Our second mission is to promote classical or well-established authors, and to help editors translate their works from French to Serbian. Literature matters; it is part of the French soul and culture, as everybody knows. It is also necessary to develop a good knowledge of French philosophers. Philosophers help to think about our current world and the high stakes.

Everybody is concerned by themes like global warming, identity, discrimination, history or education. We want to build the possibility for debates linked with our common world!

One of the more remarkable programmes of the Molière Days event was the debate with an extremely inspiring title – On the obsolescence of modernity. Does the concept of modernity burden us in our everyday life, perhaps also limiting our thinking about the future?

Wallonie Bruxelles international, one of our best foreign partners in Serbia, held this debate. This a testimony to the importance of sharing ideas in French, together with other countries. The question of modernity is deeply fixed in European consciousness. This is probably the reason you find this title inspiring! There is a direct link with our global questioning as far as the place of Europe in a changing world is concerned.

The “Caravan for Climate” was held recently, having been launched by the French Institute. Awareness of environmental protection has been more evident in Serbia in recent years, yet almost every day we hear of the discovery of a new river swimming with waste or a forest with trees felled illegally. How can we fight against unscrupulous people?

To my mind, the major imperative is for us to raise awareness of the dangers of climate change and global warming among the population, and to do so as fast as possible. If a majority of people feel concerned, it will be more difficult to bypass the law. The more we inform citizens, the more the government will have to act tangibly to combat illegal or destructive behaviour. This is the aim of the “Caravan for Climate”, held with the help of different local and international partners who are fully engaged in this cause.

It’s not easy to define what culture is in just a few words! For the French Institute, it is a means to express ideas and a means to fully be a citizen of the current world

The main attraction of this year’s Nitrate Film Festival, held at the Yugoslav Film Archives Cinematheque, was a five-hour screening of the 1934 film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables, directed by Raymond Bernard. One of the topics of Les Misérables is philanthropy. In your opinion, what impact does culture have on people’s consciousness?

It’s not easy to define what culture is in just a few words! For the French Institute, it is a means to express ideas and a means to fully be a citizen of the current world. Clearly, artists, thinkers and philosophers help us to understand the world and other human groups and human beings, their differences, but also the commonalities that we share with them. The impact of culture is huge in this way.

The French Institute was in Novi Pazar in late May, under the auspices of the project “Meet your representatives. You (are) asking/asked!” What were the impressions like?

The impressions were completely positive. As everybody knows, Novi Pazar is Serbia’s youngest city. It is important to involve the youth in local life, for economic reasons, but also to develop a feeling of full citizenship among the population that will build the future of the area.

The partnership with Koms and RYCO is also greatly satisfying, because local institutions are completely involved in implementing specific activities with young people in Novi Pazar.

The French Institute recently posted the ’One week – One word’ format on its Instagram account. You started with the word “Voilà”. What kinds of reactions did you receive?

This new initiative is a symbol of our commitment to the Eurovision Song Contest! The choice of the word “Voilà” was no accident… And Serbian people gave many likes… for Barbara Pravi!

Local media here in Serbia wrote about her almost as much as they wrote about “Hurricanes”, Serbia’s own representatives, because she stated that her origins make her feel like a Serbian lady. Who did you support? Are you considering possibly bringing Barbara Pravi to Serbia?

When the French Institute and the French Embassy in Belgrade learned that the French entry was partly of Serbian origin, we decided to spread the information around us. Instagram was a tool. Moreover, Serbian viewers were clearly aware of that. I don’t know if that’s due to our commitment, but we are satisfied with the result!

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