During the 19th century, the Institut Français was more than ever an oasis of Francophone culture, and a symbol of freedom in a pandemic. We are using this wonderful summer to renew old connections with the general public, and establish new ones, through various events. And we invite them to visit us and take advantage of our resources
For two long years, there was almost no travel. But admirers of the Institut Français were able to travel virtually to France during that time and mix with French culture.
“It was a period when the French Institute was more than ever an oasis of Francophone culture, a symbol of freedom in a pandemic. We were one of the first cultural institutions that, aware of the need to support all cultural actors, creators, performers, writers and their fans, moved their activities to the virtual sphere and continued to work even more intensively to promote Francophonie and French”. This was how our conversation began with Stanislas Pierret, Counselor for Cooperation and Culture of the French Embassy and Director of the Institut Français in Serbia. “We managed to organise our traditional events virtually, but also many debates related to current world topics. We switched to online language classes, which, thanks to our dynamic teachers, not only maintained the quality of teaching, but also attracted an even larger number of interested people throughout Serbia.”
Recently, during the French Presidency of the European Union, we had the opportunity to host a major academic conference on the future of regional cooperation in the Balkans and European integration. In light of the current moment, which conference messages would you highlight?
– We organised the conference with the valuable help of Serbian experts, but the idea was to give it a regional character, so we included lecturers from other countries, with the great support of European organisations. Particularly during this period of Russian aggression against Ukraine, it is important to discuss European issues and the Balkan countries for which the issue of reconciliation is crucial on the road to the EU. I would like to emphasise the speech on reconciliation given by Turkish lecturer Ahmet Insel, who spoke about the importance of trying to improve Turkey’s relations with Armenia and Cyprus. Reconciliation is an essential European value. It is important to learn from the past, as Germany has. Germany and France, former enemies, have taken a big step and built the EU on the basis of their reconciliation. This conference provided an opportunity to hear the opinions of experts, and one of the important goals of its organisation during the French Presidency of the Council of the EU was to arouse young people’s interest in cultural diplomacy and any other form of diplomacy.
At the time of this conversation, the French Film Festival is taking place in the open air. Have you gone back to the pre-Covid era with all your activities?
– Yes, we wanted to use this wonderful summer to renew old connections with the general public, and establish new ones, through this event. Screenings of these exceptional French films in Kosančićev Venac and Silosi give a new, qualitative dimension to these spaces, contributing to giving a new shine to these unique venues of Belgrade’s cultural life.
During the past two years, we have started the renovation of our media library in Belgrade, the first works were recently completed and we got a new, more attractive entrance to its premises. In addition, our French Institute in Novi Sad will soon open at a new site. We believe that these changes will encourage even more fans of Francophonie to come, use our rich content and follow our activities. Our branch in Niš is also actively working to promote the French language and contemporary French culture.
How popular is learning French today in Serbia? Is French still the language of love today or the language that students from Serbia want to master to achieve their professional or business aims?
– Although today French is taught relatively less in schools than before (especially if we compare it with the time, for example, between the two world wars), that does not disturb the beauty of the Francophone image in Serbia, because those who start learning French in Serbia reach incredibly high levels. Writers Pierre Assouline and Tahar Ben Jelloun, who recently visited the Molière Days and attended the final meeting of French language students for ‘Serbian Students’ Choice of Goncourt (an award given by students to one of four books from the last selection for the French Goncourt last year), were delighted by their critical spirit and sophistication of expression in French, which they have rarely met on their many literary tours around the world.
Through our new project Study in France, Work in Serbia, we want to encourage scholarship holders and students who went to study on their own to return and work in Serbia after their stay and experience in France
High schools where bilingual French-Serbian teaching has been introduced, and the French school in Belgrade, are nurseries of Francophonie in Serbia. Yes, French remains the language of culture, love, art, but it is also increasingly the language of careers. There are many French companies in Serbia that give preference when hiring to those who know our language.
The Campus France Serbie branch in Belgrade was closed for a long time due to the pandemic. What news do you have for all those who want to continue their higher education in France?
– Student mobility in both directions is very important for France. In our institute, students and their parents can come to the Campus France office, which will soon receive a more modern makeover, and receive all the necessary information and valuable help, with various tips on procedures and enrolment if they want to study in France. For a while, students could not physically visit us, due to the pandemic measures, but we always kept in touch with them by email, phone or online. This year, several important French educational institutions participated together with us in student fairs, and our intention is for as many French universities and renowned schools as possible to visit Serbia, meet partner universities and promote their study programmes with students. University cooperation is also realised through joint Erasmus projects, and we want to connect as many higher education institutions as possible in this way, especially since the Western Balkan region is one of France’s priorities in this field.
Every year, we set aside about 270,000 euros for scholarships and award around 30 scholarships from the Government of France for master 2 levels or co-mentored doctorates. At the end of last year, our new project Study in France, Work in Serbia started, with which we want to encourage scholarship holders and students who went to study on their own to return and work in Serbia after their stay and experience in France. Through the programme of short scientific residencies in France “It makes s(ci)ense”, we want to strengthen cooperation between the scientific institutions of both countries and enable researchers from Serbia to go to France for 15 days and visit their partners for joint projects.
In April this year, we organised the Serbian-French Innovation Forum, the goal of which is to establish cooperation between Serbian and French start-ups.
There is also a call for applications for projects for the bilateral scientific cooperation program Pavle Savić, which has been connecting French and Serbian laboratories for many years. Under this programme, the French and Serbian sides have since 2003 jointly funded more than 150 projects, which have been the starting point for developing more intensive co-operation through competition for various European projects.
How successful have you been in maintaining a dynamic university collaboration despite the challenges of the pandemic?
– I hope the pandemic is behind us. We have been very careful, but now we are starting activities again. The fact that students were allowed to enter France all the time, regardless of pandemic measures and strict isolation, shows how important students are to us. For researchers, the trip was more demanding, but thanks to new technology, contact was maintained and everyone is looking forward to renewed activities.
How many young people a year gain the opportunity to expand their knowledge through competitions and scholarships?
– Every year, about 650 students decide to continue their higher education in France. Our institution awards about 30 scholarships for long stays, but there are other scholarships, such as those from higher education institutions, companies, French regions and municipalities. I would like to single out the ‘Dositej’ Scholarship of the Fund for Young Talents of the Ministry of Youth and Sports of the Republic of Serbia. Students who choose to study in France can also use this scholarship. If they receive it, they can count on it as an additional scholarship that can cover the costs of college enrolment and social insurance.
Particularly during this period of Russian aggression against Ukraine, it is important to discuss European issues and the Balkan countries, for which the issue of reconciliation is crucial on the road to the European Union
Our digital library enables everyone in Serbia to always be in contact with French culture, providing them with a wealth of French press, recordings of lectures and plays
Our intention is for as many French universities and renowned schools as possible to visit Serbia, meet partner universities and promote their study programmes with students