in 2022, the French Institute (‘Institut français’) in Budapest will celebrate its 75th anniversary. As in the past, its current activities are also aimed at presenting French culture, the French language and European values. Diplomacy&Trade presented the institute in the December 2021 French Focus.
When asked what he would consider as the Institute's greatest success over these decades, Cultural Attaché at the French Institute in Budapest, Florent Héridel admits to Diplomacy&Trade that “this is a difficult question… The French Institute in Hungary was established in 1947. It is one of the oldest foreign cultural centers in Budapest. It has lived through many events in Hungarian history, has organized numerous events and collaborations, and has also moved several times, perhaps losing some of its archives in the process. In the immediate post-war period, when France first created its cultural institute in Hungary, the establishment of our presence here was part of the diplomatic era, aimed at promoting peace and a greater mutual understanding between nations. Despite the Soviet presence, a relative tolerance meant that Hungarian culture could be open to Western influences, and an ambitious international cultural policy was developed, encouraged by the enthusiasm of Hungarian artists for France.”
In 1959, an exhibition of French books was held at the Műcsarnok (‘Art Hall’) in Budapest. By the end of the two-week exhibition, most of the books had been stolen by visitors. Many of these ‘thieves’ were artists studying at the Academy of Fine Arts, as well as university students of the History of Art and the Humanities. They would go on to become prominent representatives of their professions in decades to come… “Since that time, there have been many other events we can feel proud of and could talk about for hours. However, this exhibition was a fine example of how our work encouraged networking between French and Hungarian artists and intellectuals. At the end of the day, what is important to the French Institute is not so much the success of an individual event itself, but rather the creation of intercultural dialog.”
The attaché says that speaking of the construction of Europe, Jean Monnet would have said: "If I had to do it all over again, I would start with culture." By supporting the movement of artists between France and Hungary and being as close as possible to French artists in Hungary as well as Hungarian artists in France, the French Institute plays a modest role in responding to his regret by building bridges between our two countries,” he adds.
As for the main areas of presenting French culture to the Hungarian public themes and methods presented, Florent Héridel highlights that “our field is the cultural sector, in its broadest sense. We work as much on artistic themes as on educational subjects – for example, the promotion of the French language, the training of French teachers; the university sphere, including academic partnerships; the promotion of French higher education and scientific research, as well as scientific exchange between research teams.”
The French Institute is encouraging cooperation and organizing events in several fields from performing arts to design. The attaché reminds that both Hungary and France have made significant contributions to the common cultural history of Europe. He stresses the importance of Franco-Hungarian artistic relations in the field of music, literature or applied arts with many artists of Hungarian origin having lived in France in the 19th and 20th centuries. He believes it is important to promote this common heritage and the French Institute does its best to create visibility of contemporary French culture in Hungary and encourages cooperation between Hungarian and French cultural professionals, artists and intellectuals, including those of the new, young generation.
This November, the French Institute centered on the theme of sustainability and environmental protection. “November is traditionally Environment Month at the French Institute. For one month, the French Institute and its partners organize conferences, round table events, film screenings and VR experiences around the issues of climate, environment and sustainable development. This year's program covers the theme of water: water governance, the role of agriculture in water management, etc. The current ecological transition and the fight against global warming is a priority, and a cultural center such as ours can bring together Hungarian and French professionals, academics, researchers and artists working towards the emergence of a new culture of ecology,” Florent Héridel explains.
Not just in Budapest
The French Institute in Hungary works throughout the country with various partners (notably the Alliances françaises, as well as school and university networks). “Although we are probably less visible outside of Budapest than in the Hungarian capital itself, we do strive to be present. This is done both through major events such as our film festival, which takes place in 15 Hungarian cities, or tours by theater companies, as well as through our online presence (we have a digital media library, and also offer streaming of films and meetings on social networks).
In 2023, the city of Veszprém will be the European Capital of Culture, and we are already working with the team in charge of the program to ensure the presence of French artists on site as well as building common programs,” the attaché says.
Support for the promotion of the French language
He stresses that at a time when globalization poses the risk of a standardization of cultures, the French Institute wishes to commit itself to the flourishing of the French language and to plurilingualism. “For this reason, we seek to cooperate with Hungarian educational authorities on any theme related to education, to promote the French language, to participate in the continuing education of teachers of French as well as non-linguistic disciplines in French, to support French-speaking educational networks in Hungary and to encourage teacher mobility. It is a meticulous program, centered around partnerships with local authorities and establishments within the school system, but also in connection with our own language center.”
The Institut Français actively cooperates with other such centers in the Hungarian capital. “We work a lot with other foreign cultural institutes, whether it be our European partners, our French-speaking partners, or other partners to put forward their own program. The network of European cultural centers with which we work organizes every year different events around European literature, cinema and debate. In this framework, we also engage in dialogue with the Goethe Institute, and there are one or two operations every year carried out by this Franco-German couple. The objective is really to work around European values, living together and diversity. The European Union is not only a market, it is also a political project. We also work with diplomatic representations and French-speaking cultural centers, especially in March, during the month of 'Francophonie'.”
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