"The cultural influence of France is not a given"

Eva Nguyen Binh, June 15, 2022, at the French Institute, in Paris.

Appointed President of the Institut français on 1er July 2021, Eva Nguyen Binh, former French ambassador to Cambodia, intends to give new impetus to this institution which works to promote French culture abroad, as it celebrates its 100e anniversary.

What is your view of France's cultural diplomacy?

France's influence is not a given. It is called into question, questioned, undermined in a certain number of countries, particularly in Africa. At the same time, this cultural policy is desirable. I meet a lot of people, ministers of foreign countries who say to me: “But how do you do it, how are you organized? »

How does this mistrust change your action?

We are in a time of challenges, where the Institut français, in all its components and all its relays, must be extremely open to others and speak to everyone. In the history of our house, there have been times when we talked a lot to local authorities and artists. Today, we are talking to all the components of a society, that is to say also NGOs, entrepreneurs, representatives of civil societies, etc. The debate of ideas now takes an essential place. The proof of this is the cycle of forums that we are launching in Africa in October [Notre Futur. Dialogues Afrique-Europe, dès le 7].

How do you approach this type of meeting?

The paradigm shift comes from the fact that we don't organize anything if there are no local partners, if, locally, our interlocutors find that it has no interest. It is no longer a vertical approach. We do not impose anything, on the contrary, we place ourselves in co-construction. This seems important to me as an orientation, because it irrigates everything we are going to do, including in the artistic field.

How does this manifest itself on the ground?

We will support projects led by galleries, incubators, companies, associations. Even if we don't carry the project, but we are in the accompaniment. If you want, we let the project structure itself, flourish. We have projects like that in Cameroon, encouraged by the French Institute there. When we propose concepts like The night of ideas, Digital November or the Africa-Europe Dialogues, it is not an injunction, we are in collaboration. Now, today, The Night of Ideas [créée en 2016], it is in more than one hundred countries, and Digital November, launched in 2017, in seventy countries. And what matters to me are also societal issues which are strong everywhere, and which I consider that the Institut français has not fully grasped.

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