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Critical Review of “Report on Foreign Cultural Policy 2005/2006” by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany

by on May 6, 2012

Originally available in German as „Bericht zur Auswärtigen Kulturpolitik 2005/2006“ by Auswärtiges Amt

The report under review was published by the German Federal Foreign Office (FFO) in mid-2006 in order to review the developments, projects and events undertaken by the FFO and its partners with regard to foreign cultural relations in the past two years.[1] In its three parts, the report (1) presents the aims and foundations of German cultural diplomacy, (2) reviews the different fields of activity giving many diverse real-world examples and (3) introduces partner organizations the FFO works with and supports, such as the Goethe Institute.

Considering the vagueness sometimes attached to the label of cultural diplomacy, due to its conceptual weakness associated with the lack of clear boundaries between ‘normal’ cultural activities and cultural activities with a clear diplomatic aim, the report tries to tackle this issue by making the label conditional on the activities’ contribution to a threefold set of aims: the creation of reliable partners and networks abroad, the improvement of Germany’s competitiveness by attracting professionals or researchers from abroad and the projection of a timely image of Germany as a nation with a multifaceted and internationally renowned cultural scene, ready to tackle its past in a credible way.[2]

Further, for a nation lacking a word for this very activity, Germany seems to have taken on board some of the lessons of the ‘new public diplomacy’,[3] by emphasizing the importance of listening and exchange, believing that an open cultural dialogue will be able to address the conflict potential arising from the clash of different cultural values.[4] Making direct reference to the negative impact of the Mohammed cartoons, the report examines the new effort to engage with the Islamic world, praising the approach to counter misunderstandings through concrete joint efforts in the cultural realm. A theatre project in Iran in which German and Iranian actors collaborated to put on a critical play in Teheran, followed by a world tour, is exemplary of the attempt to address problems by creatively engaging with them together.[5]

Images from the joint German-Iranian Theatre Play

Moreover, the concept of a cultural “Year of Germany” as a prime way of creating a positive German image is introduced, designed to offer a comprehensive impression of German culture, economy, research and education. Two recent initiatives in Japan and Poland saw the organization of over 1000 events in each country, including the promotion of German goods and lifestyle by young volunteers, concerts by German bands and joint artistic competitions,[6] and have thus exhibited a strong focus on personal interactions. Germany thus seems to have taken on board a second lesson: government voices do not necessarily carry the same legitimacy as personal interactions with citizens.

Images from the 'Year of Germany' in Japan and Poland

Images from the ‘Year of Germany’ in Japan and Poland

The report further establishes the efforts to promote the German language[7], through the support of German schools and action kits to improve existing German classes, as exemplified by the Transatlantic-Outreach-Program targeting the US and Canada;[8] highlights the important contribution of the German Broadcasting service Deutsche Welle;[9] and notes the need to rely more and more on local non-state actors and established partner organisations in order toreact more flexibly to demand on the ground.[10]

Given this very broad and insightful review of activities undertaken, it is somewhat disappointing that the report does not make any reference to a theoretical underpinning of its activities and shows no awareness of the existing discourse on public diplomacy. Further, it establishes no connection between the advancement of the stated aims of cultural diplomacy and the outcomes of the various activities. While every activity is attributed to a specific aim, there is no critical, measurable evaluation of their impact. In order to prove the efficacy of different approaches and to allocate funds to those that work best, it would be necessary, for example, to observe a change in the pattern of immigration of the desired bright individuals into Germany after a promotional display, or to conduct an opinion poll amongst Japanese and Polish citizens before and after the ‘Year of Germany.’ Lastly, the report allocates but some ten lines to the use of modern media, after having spent pages discussing print and audio.[11] With the link to its own cultural diplomacy homepage being outdated, this shows a regrettable negligence with regard to modern tools of communication which can be a major asset for states trying to promote a modern image aboard.

To come to a conclusion, this report is a valuable source of information for anyone interested in the practice of German cultural diplomacy and it provides a detailed overview of existing projects and motivations. However, it is lacking in analytical rigour and neglects the importance of modern communication efforts. While the former can be excused by the nature of the report, which is indeed not a critical evaluation, but a government document designed to inform rather than to analyse, the latter issue needs to be addressed, especially in the light of Germany’s desire to project a modern and timely image.

For an interesting short video about Germany’s take on P2P diplomacy (with English subtitles):


[1] p.4 – all references are to pages within the report, unless otherwise specified.

In German, there is no word for either public diplomacy or cultural diplomacy. Yet, in a recent publication in English, the FFO establishes that if it refers to cultural relations or foreign cultural policy in German, it does so in the sense of cultural diplomacy:

[2] p.5 and p.6

[3] Cull, Nicholas J., ‘Public Diplomacy: Seven Lessons for its Future from its Past’, Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 6.1 (2010) 11–17

[4] p.7

[5] p.26

[6] p.6

[7] p.22

[8] p.3

[9] p.29

[10] p.9

[11] p.3


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One Comment
  1. snowlion98 permalink

    Interesting insight into German’s cultural diplomacy initiatives. In terms of your critic about the lack of critical evaluation for assessing impact I suggest you can have a look into this report entitled Evaluating and Measuring the impact of Citizen diplomacy: Current status and Future Directions (

    The report provides an overview of the current landscape of evaluating Citizen diplomacy programs, taking a look at the methodology and findings of evaluations of numerous such initiatives in the United States. The goal of the report was to take stock of what can be learned through these evaluations, and to identify next steps and recommendations for futures studies of citizen diplomacy programs. Based on the review of different review of evaluations of different type of citizen diplomacy programs, the report finds that while some efforts have been made to evaluate the range of citizen diplomacy programs, comprehensive assessments of such program continue to pose a challenge as the associated outcomes and impacts are often intangible, not immediate, and qualitative rather than quantitative.
    Further, lack of standardized measurement methods presents another challenge as it is argued that different programs have different mission. As such most of the evaluations is seen to continue relying on self reports and participants perceptions of a programs’ impact. While such type of qualitative data is important, it is seen to rely on participant’s memories and doesn’t allow for an unbiased assessment of program impact. So, one could see the difficulty in assessing the impacts of such program and lack of theoretical underpinning but I definitely share you concern for their absence as such.

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