Diplomacy is a way to pass messages and to understand each other. Culture is a good way of explaining how to proceed and how to present one. Culture has a lot to say about who you are. Having a look at the culture of others is the best way to understand who they are.
This is how a recent interview with Franck Gellet, Ambassador of France to Qatar, could be summed up in his own words. The interview fore mostly focuses on the Qatar-France 2020 Year of Culture and its significance as a means of cultural diplomacy and enhancing bilateral ties.
Each year since 2012, Qatar Museums has collaborated with a country to produce a specially curated ‘Year of Culture,’ promoting mutual understanding across borders while providing opportunities for the people of each nation to converge and appreciate one another’s creativity. In this ninth annual programme, the Qatar-France 2020 Year of Culture builds on strong, substantial, already existing ties between the two nations to produce a series of experiences of note.
Ambassador Franck has served in Qatar for just over one-and-a half years. He has however, long been associated with the Middle East. “Previously, I was special envoy for Syria. I have been coming to Qatar for the last 10 years. I have also served as ambassador in Yemen. I can say that I have witnessed unbelievable changes in Qatar in this period. Each time I came to the country, I would see something new here. There aren’t a lot many countries which have seen such major changes in a very short period of time.
“I am originally a historian. I have studied Political Science in Paris. Initially, I had no plans to join the ministry. I entered the field by chance. Since I joined, I have not had enough time to do something else. I have been in this profession since 1988 and have mostly served in the North Africa and Middle East regions.”
In response to a question about how cultural diplomacy helps in improving ties, the ambassador said: “Diplomacy is a way to pass messages and to understand each other. Culture is a good way of explaining how to proceed and how to present yourself. Culture has a lot to say about who you are. Having a look at the culture of others is the best way to understand who they are.
“In diplomacy, you need to know and understand your interlocutor before you start talking. That is why diplomacy has to be exercised on the spot. It cannot be done from far away through phone etc. You need to know the people. You need to know how they think and what they aim at. You need to know their culture.
“It is very smart on the part of Qatar to proceed this way. It helps them understand others and, at the same time, others can learn more about Qatar. The best way is to bring people together and let them understand each other. It is a good aid to diplomacy.”
Commenting on cultural ties between the two nations in a historical context, Ambassador Franck said: “There is a lot of attention, consideration, and appreciation for French culture here. For us, it is moving. We established diplomatic ties with Qatar obviously after the country’s independence. However, there is one field in which France has historical connection with Qatar and that is pearl collection. For ages, Qatar has been one of the most important producers of pearls. French jewellers used to have somebody permanently present in Qatar all year around to make sure that no beautiful pearl escaped their eyes. That was actually a cultural relationship. Some of the creations by French jewellers with pearl from Qatar are on display in National Museum. In Qatar National Library, you can find books from France that were printed in the early 18th century. The books feature maps highlighting the places where someone can dive for pearls. It is unbelievable. That was some 300 years ago. The maps are very precise. When we talk about globalisation, actually the world was globalised much ahead of our period.”
Responding to a question about how the Year of Culture will bring the two countries closer, he said: “The Year of Culture will definitely add much more to the existing strong ties. I can see a lot of interest by the Qatari people in French culture. I can also say that there will be much more interest from the French public in the Qatari culture through the activities of the Year of Culture. Definitely that will bring the two peoples closer. When you become closer; you talk in a more convenient way and share more things together. In the end, what we are aiming at is bringing our two countries much closer.”
When asked to comment on the role of some 200,000 French speaking people living in Qatar, the ambassador said: “The activities under the Year of Culture are not meant for the French speaking only. They are also for Qataris. The cultural year is for all residents. Culture is of universal interest. I see different expatriate communities taking interest in each other’s cultural activities. It is for everybody. I find it very interesting that the interest in French language is increasing in Qatar. I receive numerous requests about learning the language.”
The ambassador said that all the information related to the Year of Culture activities is to be found on the website of the French embassy, the website of French Cultural Institute, and the website of Qatar Museums, in addition to our official Twitter line.
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