Tiffany Jenkins (Perspective, March) observes that cultural relations cannot replace foreign policy and points to the contradiction between the launch of the UK-Russia Year of Culture and Russian troops massing ominously on Ukraine’s borders.
I think Ms Jenkins misses two crucial features about cultural exchange. First, culture is not synonymous with the arts. It embraces language, education, science and technology and thus leads to common endeavours and solutions to global challenges.
And second, it operates over the long term. It is a resilient endeavour that gradually builds trust between people and friendship among nations; one that can bounce back from the short-term shocks and stresses – misunderstandings and arguments – which happen along the way. Scotland has a history of being at the forefront of this cultural exchange.
Two years after the end of the Second World War, Edinburgh established its International Festival, and invited musicians, artists and actors from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to perform.
It was about overcoming a tendency towards post-war isolationism and rebuilding friendship across Europe through the shared pleasure and enjoyment of high quality arts. It worked.
For the British Council, which helped establish the festival, building trust and understanding between people and nations is essential if we are to provide a more secure and prosperous world for future generations.
There will be setbacks, as we are seeing right now in Ukraine, but that doesn’t negate the need to encourage a conversation between open-minded people around the world.
As experience shows, a mix of soft and harder power pays greater dividends in the quest for resolutions to complex international disputes.
British Council Scotland