In single cradle of European culture
[b]Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to France, H.E. Mr. Pavel Latushko, tells us about the development of bilateral relations of the two countries in history and modern time[/b][b][i]Mr. Latushko, it’s known that co-operation between Belarus and France was launched in January 1992 when diplomatic relations were established between the two states. However, few know that Belarusian-French ties in various spheres were established many centuries ago. Actually, collaboration between the two nations is based on a powerful foundation of universal ideas of the Enlightenment which have been developed in parallel with the pan-European process, as well as on the basis of the common cultural field, including theatre, literature and architecture. Moreover, the French trace of each of these arts can be found in Belarus everywhere… Paris and Minsk are located far closer to each other, if we look on the spiritual, rather than geographical map of Europe. Let’s start our conversation with well-known historical facts of cultural mutual penetration which may become a revelation for many of our readers from other countries.[/b][/i]
Mr. Latushko, it’s known that co-operation between Belarus and France was launched in January 1992 when diplomatic relations were established between the two states. However, few know that Belarusian-French ties in various spheres were established many centuries ago. Actually, collaboration between the two nations is based on a powerful foundation of universal ideas of the Enlightenment which have been developed in parallel with the pan-European process, as well as on the basis of the common cultural field, including theatre, literature and architecture. Moreover, the French trace of each of these arts can be found in Belarus everywhere… Paris and Minsk are located far closer to each other, if we look on the spiritual, rather than geographical map of Europe. Let’s start our conversation with well-known historical facts of cultural mutual penetration which may become a revelation for many of our readers from other countries.
The history of Belarus is a history of a European state. Although we aren’t a EU member our country is located in Europe and is a constituent part of European space. Belarus is connected with many European countries and nations through history and culture.
Belarus’ geopolitical location on the border of East and West promoted the development of relations with countries of the Eastern and Western Europe, including France. Actually, we can find many facts in the history of Belarusian-French relations which prove that our relationships boast a century-long history.
Universal ideas of the Enlightenment which were spread all over Europe also came to the Belarusian lands. Our people admired French philosophy, theatre, literature and architecture, too. The French culture has always allured and made a great influence on the Belarusian culture, art and architecture.
Many architectural monuments in Belarus from 15th-16th century bear the traces of influence of the French architecture. In Nesvizh, out of three palaces the larger one stands out (cour d’honneur), being built in traditions of late Renaissance. Meanwhile, it was constructed during the time of Mikolaj Krzysztof Radziwill ‘Sierotka’ who was greatly influenced by Louvre and Fontainebleau, seen by him in 1574 when he took part in the attraction of Henry of Valois — the would-be King of France Henry IV — to the Polish throne. Nesvizh, as well as the Mir Castle, had furniture made by French masters and boasted the works by French painters. It’s not accidentally that Radziwills called Nesvizh a ‘small Paris’.
Moreover, Albertin (near Slonim), Nesvizh, Bocheiko and other estates had elements of French park with dйcor and sculptural compositions. The palace, constructed by Anthony Tyzengauz in Grodno in the 18th century, resembles a residence of the French magnate. For the first time in Belarus, a botanical garden appeared near this palace, created by French botanist from Lyon Jean-Emmanuel Gilibert, to whom a monument was unveiled in Grodno. This Tyzengauz organised 24 royal manufactures in Grodno by inviting masters from the largest weaving centre — Lyon.
The visit to Paris by Kazimierz Radziwill ‘Rybeńko’ in 1722 resulted in the creation of a courtyard theatre in 1740 which staged plays by Moliere and Voltaire, including in the French language.
In the same 18th century French choreographers Louis Duprй, who worked in Slonim and Nesvizh, and Franзois Le Du, who worked in Grodno and Postavy, staged ballet performances on Belarusian stages. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ‘Rural Magician’ was successfully staged at the Pruzhany theatre of Polotsk Voivode Kazimierz Sapieha.
Tadeusz Kościuszko studied in Paris while one of his companions-in-arms and diplomat Michal Kleofas Oginski worked in Paris. The latter wrote an opera dedicated to Louis Bonaparte whom he knew. Another our fellow countryman — a poet, composer and playwright Michal Kazimierz Oginski — knew humanitarian philosopher Denis Diderot.
Prominent painter whom we discovered only in the 20th century — Napoleon Orda — left his homeland in 1831 and moved to Paris. His musical talent was noticed in the French capital and he was offered an honorary position — director of Italian opera.
Another great fellow countryman used to live and created in Paris for many years — Adam Mickiewicz. It’s important to mention that Adam Mickiewicz wrote one of the greatest works — ‘Pan Tadeusz’ — in Paris in 1834 and it was first published in Paris the same year; next year we’re celebrating its 180th anniversary.
We should also mention ‘artistic emigration’ from Belarus in late 19th — early 20th century. Young painters, who were born in Belarus, studied in legendary Parisian La Ruche: Marc Chagall, Chaim Soutine, Ossip Zadkine and many others. Moreover, three painters out of four mentioned on the memorable sign, installed in Paris on the La Ruche building on behalf of the French public for significant contribution into the world art, were born in Belarus while monuments were unveiled to two of these — Chaim Soutine and Ossip Zadkine.
I’d also like to mention the ties of Lev Bakst and Valenty Vankovich with France.
Of course, as part of one interview it’s impossible to remember all of whom Belarus and France can be proud of and all prominent personalities through whom we, Belarusians, are connected with the world culture.
Mr. Ambassador, you’ve called the names which are well known all over the globe. These are Belarusians who’ve enriched the French and world civilised treasury. Any state of the world, boasting such stars of the world scale, undoubtedly uses them in promoting the image of their country to make it recognisable. This task is very acute for Belarus whose statehood is still very young. Tell us, please, how the Embassy manages to bring Belarus’ positive image to the French public and which means and reserves it uses for this?
Despite more than twenty-year history of Belarus’ contemporary independence and active work of our diplomats in France through these years, unfortunately, French have little idea where Belarus is situated. If we want to change something we need to show that we’re a part of European family. Belarus isn’t a EU member and today it doesn’t put such foreign political task. However, the life in European family isn’t determined exclusively by political borders.
In my opinion, speaking about the promotion of Belarus’ positive image in France, it’s correct to do this through the above mentioned personalities. It’s necessary to remember people who were born in Belarus and are famous all over the world. However, when we tell the French that the Belarusian land is a cradle for Chagall, Soutine and Mickiewicz, Dostoevsky family and many other outstanding people, we often face that this information isn’t almost known in France.
Marc Chagall is the most recognisable personality if we speak about Belarus-France ties. However, they don’t associate him with our country. Yes, these talents belong to the world culture but they were born here, on the Belarusian land, and we have no right to refuse from them. The next step is to show that Belarus has always been a part of European history and representatives of Belarusian nobility further formed royal dynasties while the Grand Duchy of Lithuania played an important role in Europe’s political life.
To form the country’s positive image it’s vital to conduct large cultural events. We have big plans for this and next years, dealing with presentation of the Belarusian culture in France, as well as in the UNESCO Headquarters. I hope that the Days of Belarusian Culture, which are scheduled for 2014 in France, will be another step on the way towards acquaintance of the French with our state.
Nevertheless, the image of the state is primarily determined by its competitiveness. It seems to me that in this context the following event is very important: the French side informed on its interest to open in autumn 2013 a representative office of the UBIFRANCE (French Agency for International Business Development). Can we assess this fact as a testimony of the growing interest towards the Belarusian economy? What caused this interest?
After last year’s elections the new French Government determined economic diplomacy as a priority task. As you know, this priority was determined for our country back a decade ago. Each country is interested to sell its goods and attract investments to its territory in order to create new jobs. I’m convinced that we can find on this crossroads of interests that grain which would generate new mutually beneficial fruit of collaboration.
Last year, our trade turnover with the EU totalled $27bn. Unfortunately, France is ranked only 18th here among Belarus’ trade partners, though it’s EU’s second largest economy.
I believe that both sides can’t be satisfied with the current state of trade-economic and investment co-operation. Only 45 companies with French capital are currently operating in our country, with French investments amounting to just several hundred thousand US Dollars last year. The peak of the trade turnover happened in 2008 when it stood at $650m. We need at least to return to the pre-crisis level of trade-economic collaboration. This is an achievable task, since last year our trade turnover increased by 30 percent and the first six months of this year saw the same growth.
However, in order to reach the worthy level of trade-economic co-operation it’s necessary to take systematic steps, aiming to create instruments of bilateral interaction. Recently, a Belarusian-French Business Club has been registered in Pars while its representative office is soon to appear in Minsk.
In line with the French legislation and according to the established practice, a bilateral chamber of commerce and industry may be set up in future on the club premises. France has similar structures with 77 countries of the world. At least two years of active work are needed to make Belarus appear in this list.
The plans to open this autumn in Minsk a representative office of the International Business Development Agency of France — UBIFRANCE Economic Mission — also fit this algorithm. Such branches function in 60 countries of the world. In my opinion, the work of the representative office and the club may to some extent compensate the absence of the trade advisor service of France in Minsk.
The establishment of the inter-governmental commission on trade-economic co-operation could become in future an important step which would make a significant influence on trade activation between our countries. Similar commissions and groups have proven popular in developing our trade relations with Hungary, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and a range of other EU states.
The next question continues our topic: recently Paris has hosted a presentation of Belarus’ economy and investment opportunities. Tell us, please, how successful it was and which results do you expect?
Our top priorities include organisation of business presentations in France. One of such events was hosted by Paris in June at the Medef International Business Association headquarters. It involved 31 French companies whose aggregate turnover totalled 429bn Euros last year. Of course, we understand that tomorrow these billions won’t flow into the Belarusian economy; however, such events should be conducted on a regular basis, allowing us to rise from the current level of several hundred thousand Euros of French injections.
Negotiations of the Belarusian Minister of Economy Nikolai Snopkov and Minister of Finance Andrey Kharkovets with representatives of 14 French companies showed that French business takes interest towards our country. In total, a wide palette of investment proposals was made: from creation of a chain of public catering facilities to joint use of satellites.
They’ve agreed that in the end of this year and the beginning of the next year we’ll organise a business mission to our country for more detailed negotiations. Although some French companies decided not to wait for the common trip and have already made visits to Belarus in June and July.
The development of foreign trade is a priority for our country. Which are prospects of Belarusian exports on the French market?
Last year, Belarusian exports to France totalled $100m, as a result of which the foreign trade balance with France was negative (curiously, according to the French statistics, France also has a negative foreign trade balance with our country). The major task for us is to expand the range of supplies.
In Soviet times, we sold to France from 2 to 3 thousand tractors annually; however, with the collapse of the USSR this market was lost. Twenty years after, we’re trying to return it. MTZ Production Association has signed a dealership agreement with French Podia, according to which French are to organise the sale of tractors in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain and a range of African states.
First supplies have been already made from Bobruisk Plant of Tractor Parts and Units. It’s planned to open a trade centre selling Belarusian tractors and other goods 100km from Paris, as well as a service centre nearby. Since a range of largest extracting companies are working in France, we’ve initiated negotiations on possible supplies of BelAZ heavy-duty dump trucks. We think that the supplies of Belarusian MAZ buses to the French market are also promising.
Let’s not forget that France traditionally boasts strong economic ties with African countries, which means that collaboration with large French companies may open a way to this region of the planet for our goods.
We also plan to establish supplies of ready-made timber houses manufactured by Shklov’s Newsprint Plant, as well as to create a whole resort settlement of these houses in future.
The government of our country has developed an economic modernisation programme, which contains several proposals for foreign investors. What would you like to advise French companies, which have an interest in European East, taking into account that Belarus is a member of the Customs Union of Russia and Kazakhstan?
The Belarusian Government has put an ambitious task — to conduct large-scale modernisation of the real sector of the economy. However, we lack internal resources and the task can be solved through attraction of foreign investments and technologies. France can play a key role in this respect being the second largest investor from the EU member states. Last year, France invested 90bn Euros abroad. We’re interested in French investors in the spheres of automobile building, the production of spare parts for automobile industry, power engineering, transport, and agriculture.
If we speak about the arrival of European investors, we need to speak about privatisation. Business wants to have control over its assets. In my opinion, privatisation will promote the creation of more efficient economy, able to ensure further GDP growth. Yes, there’re strategic areas from the point of view of profitability of the state. Nevertheless, even if we speak about industrial flagships, we can attract enough new industrial technologies only through the arrival of foreign injections, what means through corporisation and privatisation.
We plan to conduct a large-scale presentation of the Single Economic Space (SES) and Belarus in this integration association in Paris and Madrid. It’s necessary to widely bring to Western businessmen the thought that the establishment of enterprises in our country gives an opportunity for further unhampered sale of their goods on the large market of three member states of the SES, which counts 170m people.
The solution of foreign political and foreign economic tasks, set before the Government, primarily depends on the atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding, especially among the establishment of the host country. Did your meeting with Vice President of the France-Belarus parliamentary friendship group and deputy of the National Assembly of France Thierry Mariani promote this? How do you assess the reserves of inter-parliamentary interaction between Belarus and France?
Undoubtedly, parliamentarians of both countries can play an important role in the development of multi-lateral relations between the states. I hope that the establishment of co-operation groups in our parliaments will promote the expansion of contacts and greater mutual understanding between our countries. The first (after a three year break) visit by the deputies from the friendship group at the National Assembly of France to Belarus is scheduled for early October.
Moreover, French parliamentarians — members of the France-Belarus friendship group — actively support the creation of the French-Belarusian Business Club and the development of trade-economic interaction between the two states.
I hope that parliamentarians of the two countries won’t stand back from the support dealing with realisation of cultural projects, too.
How do you see the prospects of attracting tourists from France to Belarus? How can the implementation of state programmes aiming to restore cultural and historical sites of Belarus (you were involved in this activity when you were Minister of Culture) help promote this?
The state policy regarding restoration of a considerable number of sites of historical and cultural legacy is strategically vital and is worth to be continued. As part of the ‘Castles of Belarus’ programme, much still needs to be done. However, the opening after the reconstruction of two landmark monuments — the Nesvizh Palace and the Mir Castle — aroused great interest from both Belarusians and foreign citizens. It’s expected that this year alone 500,000 tourists will visit Nesvizh and 250,000 will visit the Mir Castle, with 15 percent of these being foreigners. The restoration and conservation of 38 monuments (until 2018) will promote further increase of tourist attractiveness of our country.
I’m convinced that further liberalisation of visa policy can also help attract more Western European tourists. We understand that countries are guided by the principle of mutuality in this issue — the major one in diplomacy. However, as an Ambassador in three European states, I’m confident that we need to gradually simplify visa formalities.
Our Embassy has adopted a decision to accept visa application documents during the whole working week (against three days a week previously). We note a 25 percent increase in the number of those wishing to visit Belarus as tourists, though it’s currently only hundreds of tourists.
However, systematic step on presentation of Belarus’ tourist opportunities in France haven’t been made yet. In order to change the situation, we plan to first open a national stand at the IFTM TOP-RESA 2013 international exhibition in September in Paris, with the support from the Ministry of Sport and Tourism and the National Tourism Agency. Our stand will present Minsk tourist sites and Belarusian castles, as well as Marc Chagall Museum in Vitebsk. Our task is to search for tourist operators in France who are keen to develop co-operation with our companies.
One of the most important issues, which undoubtedly worries our European partners, deals with the struggle against illegal migration, human trafficking and transnational organised crime. Belarus is known to perform a role of the shield in counteracting these destructive trends on the EU eastern border. Is the legal platform for such co-operation with France sufficient and how is it developing in practical way?
At present, all competent bodies of Belarus and France are working over the signing of the Convention on co-operation between the Government of Belarus and the Government of France in fighting against illegal migration, human trafficking and transnational organised crime.
It should be mentioned that the approval of the Convention’s text isn’t an easy process. Nevertheless, we can state that our countries have already come to the so called ‘final stage’. In June, we received an answer from our French colleagues for the Belarusian variant of the draft Convention and it’s now being studied by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France has proven its interest in organising a working meeting in Paris with authorised representatives of the Belarusian side for the final approval of the document text.
Despite the absence of adequate legal basis, the Belarusian side promptly reacts to incoming requests from the French police.
Mr. Latushko, you also head the Permanent Representation of Belarus to UNESCO. Which contribution does our country make into cultural and scientific dialogue of the nations?
The election of Belarus into the UNESCO Executive Board for the fourth time illustrates the authority of our country in this international organisation.
Belarus-UNESCO collaboration opens up opportunities for educational, scientific and cultural institutions of our country to take part in international intellectual exchanges. These aim to attract international experience, alongside expert and technical assistance. Moreover, UNESCO normative documents are a good basis for preparation of draft legislative acts and a guiding mark during the formation of the national policy in corresponding spheres. At the same time, Belarus also receives an opportunity to share and spread its experience in areas of activity which are a priority for us.
Continuing to speak about priorities, the expansion of presence in UNESCO’s most authoritative lists is very important for us. At present, the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List contains four Belarusian sites: Belovezhskaya Pushcha, the Mir Castle, the Palace and Park Estate in Nesvizh and Struve Geodetic Arc.
Belarus is presented by only one object in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List — the ‘Kolyady Tsars’ custom while ‘a traditional craft and the unique jargon of the Belarusian felt-makers’ is in the stage of preparation. The Memory of the World programme which is a register of documentary heritage sites — also has only one site — the Nesvizh collection of archive and librarian materials of the Radziwill family.
I’m convinced that Belarus has potential to expand our presence on UNESCO lists. We’ve applied the Government with a proposal to activate our work in this area in the nearest time, enabling us to officially submit our nominees into the UNESCO Secretariat within 2-3 years.
Moreover, in various years the UNESCO Memorable Dates Calendar registered the jubilees of Frantsisk Skorina, Ignaty Domeiko, Napoleon Orda, Wincenty Dunin-Marcinkiewicz, Ivan Khrutsky, and 600th anniversary of the Belarusian Pushcha, as well as 1150th anniversary of Polotsk. This also recognises the fact that Belarus is a home to personalities who are outstanding for the world culture and a place where important historical events took place. For the forthcoming two-year period, Belarus has made a proposal to attract world attention to the following jubilees: 250th years since the birth of Michal Kleofas Oginski and 200th anniversary of the birth of Iosif Goshkevich. The UNESCO Executive Board has already approved these dates for the inclusion into the agenda of the UNESCO General Conference.
As far as science is concerned, seven UNESCO chairs are operating in Belarus and active work is being conducted by the Belarusian National Committee for the Man and the Biosphere UNESCO programme. In 2011, Belarus was elected into the Intergovernmental Council of the Man and the Biosphere UNESCO Programme (MAB).
Serious research works are being conducted at the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve, the West Polesie and Belovezhskaya Pushcha, alongside international projects, including educational programmes in the sphere of environmental protection.
In 2011, the work (covering many years) finished on the creation of the trans-boundary trilateral biosphere reserve — West Polesie — uniting Belarus, Poland and Ukraine. In 2012, West Polesie was registered onto the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and became Europe’s second and world’s third trilateral reserve, established via to the UNESCO project.
Belarus is also actively developing the topic of bioethics, with the National Committee on Bioethics being set up and authoritative experts working in this area.
Next year, Belarus will be celebrating 60th anniversary of its membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
The jubilee will be a good reason to sum up the results of Belarus’ membership in the authoritative international organisation and determine tasks for the future.
Thank you for interview!
By Nina Romanova