During the Eastern Partnership Culture Congress in Lublin, Eastbook.eu met with people from the sector of culture and asked about the future of the Eastern Partnership. We are presenting an interview with Iryna Magdysh – culturologist, culture manager, organiser of cultural projects and Programme Director of Museum of Ideas in Lviv.
Paweł Lickiewicz: During the opening plenary session you said that the Eastern Partnership is like a beautiful girl. Shapely, nicely dressed with full make-up but barely alive. What would bring the Eastern Partnership to life?
Iryna Magdysh: First, we should reflect on the reasons for which this beautiful idea doesn’t work. Apart from a beautiful initiative, a political will is needed. Unfortunately, the Eastern Partnership project is rather political than cultural in its nature, while in the western countries, such as Germany or France, there is no willingness even to start it. The Eastern Partnership is a kind of apology to the Eastern countries – sadly, you’re not a fit for member countries, so we’ll give you a nice toy instead. The darker side of the coin is that the Union won’t get seriously involved, because it’s afraid of the conflict with Russia, which treats the Partnership as an attempt at barging in its territory of influence.
PL: Is the lack of political will visible only on the Union’s side or on both sides?
IM: Obviously, we’re not perfect and we have many problems in our countries, especially when it comes to democracy. However, all the countries were lumped together. Working with Belarus differs from working with Georgia. It’s like with the European Neighbourhood Policy, when Ukraine was made equal with the Maghreb countries.
PL: Yet, there are some positive changes like dividing the European Neighbourhood Policy into southern and eastern dimension.
IM: Yes, there are. But it would be even more positive if it started working instead of ending in division and differentiation. Everything is about gas and oil – both in the South and in Russia. We have this feeling that there must have been “the second Yalta Conference” and the world has been divided again. The countries we’re talking about were given to Russia and that’s why the Eastern Partnership looks like a facelift rather than aspirations for real changes in the region.
PL: You’ve said that the Eastern Partnership is a political project. And as such, it needs success for further development. We’re having our conversation in Lublin during the Eastern Partnership Culture Congress. Can culture in any way contribute to achieving this success?
IM: Every country in this game perceives success in a different way. To Russia it will be a success when the Eastern Partnership stays in its current position while Russia keeps its influence in the post-Soviet territory. To the Eastern Partnership a success will be the opposite. Culture is crucial for success, since only culture is capable of uniting the societies within the partner countries and uniting the countries themselves. Economically and politically, these countries significantly differ from one another. The level of democracy and mentality are different. Mentality of people in Azerbaijan is not the same as in Ukraine or Belarus. The only thing that can unite these societies is culture. People from the sector of culture are more creative, open and courageous when it comes to change. They are the people that can move the project forward.
PL: Success, then, is not a tangible matter. Is it about a change of mentality, a change within people?
IM: It’s about the change of thinking. If there is no change in people’s heads, no economic or democratic reforms can help them. If there’s only little critical mass of people who want changes, nothing will change. It’s easier to gather and educate this critical mass by the means of culture.