For decades, in our part of the “Western” world, the idea that promoting cultural exchanges between countries is a way to increase relations and, consequently, to reduce the possibility of conflict, has found more and more support.
This has led many political decision-makers to believe that culture was one of the numerous instruments of “diplomatic relations” between different countries, especially following the affirmation of soft-power. These hypotheses, today, must be profoundly revised, or rather, they must be understood in their most articulated complexity. Because if it is true, and it is, that culture and cultural exchange undoubtedly create “relationships”, it is not equally true that culture can be used as a deterrent tool for crises and conflicts.
One of the first to have deepened the relationship between economy and culture, known as Fernando Pessoa, identified commercial exchanges as the main lever for creating relationships between peoples, observing how these commercial exchanges then created opportunities for cultural hybridizations. Another scholar, known as Arnold Hauser , hinted at this same perspective when he spoke of the first mixes of artistic and decorative styles in the classical world.
Then perhaps it is good to reiterate it: what brings people together is not culture. What brings people together is trade. And there is no need to bother great thinkers: the proof is right under our eyes. And what is happening between Europe and Russia, with the former declaring that it wants to cut off any type of relationship while not being able to give up commercial relations. This does not mean that culture is “superfluous” or that the role of cultural exchanges has been overestimated. Rather, it means that this role has simply been misunderstood.
Culture doesn’t come close. Culture can “consolidate”. This evidence, which the images, gestures and communications of these days demonstrate with extreme concreteness, cannot leave those who deal with culture indifferent. Because the belief that culture brings people together is one of the numerous ideologies that for almost half a century have guided not only the actions of professionals, but also of political decision-makers.
Perhaps the time has come to do some sort of spending review of our beliefs, and evaluate which of these to reduce, or eliminate. We must somehow understand that, for decades, we have “idealized” culture, as we do with an adolescent love and that we must instead love culture for what it is, with its limitations, and its opportunities.
The list of ideological positions linked to culture, especially in our country, is consistent as one of those dusty mega-folders that we never open for fear of having to manage a lot of “things to deal with” that we do not have time or desire to adjust.
And just like in one of those mega-folders, however, there are things that we can leave out without too much delay, but there are also themes that sooner or later will return, and for which, sooner or later, we will have to pay the bill. Because although the world is there to repeat itself, terrified by our history of the twentieth century, that ideologies are now dead, many of them resist in our life, and whether we like it or not, they involve concrete actions.
Let’s take an example.
As mentioned, for years we have believed that to bring two peoples closer together, culture could be a decisive factor. Consequently, countries, institutions and other civil society organizations have invested time, economic resources and energy for the organization of meetings, round tables, conferences, red-carpet, on issues that could bring together the different sensitivities of the elites of the respective countries.
If instead we had kept as the north of our compass the awareness that it is exchanges that make nations mutually interdependent, and that in such exchanges culture plays a role of further consolidation, rather than non-profit initiatives aimed at mutual aristocracies, we would probably have conveyed the efforts of countries, institutions and other civil society organizations towards the construction of cultural and creative enterprises with shared capital, to the realization of economic projects organized jointly by private subjects of the nations involved.
By doing so, we would probably have saved something on the buffets, and we would have created not only small economies, but also a stronger cultural relationship, because mutual interests are an element that also binds people who do not like each other at all. But that’s just one example. An example that, however, must serve us to reflect on what we take for granted.
Because culture, after all, is used for this, to better understand the world around us, and to recognize when life proves us that we were wrong.

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