Culture / Nation Identity

Spain: a shining example of cultural diplomacy

Spanish DancersGrowing up with a Spanish mother in the UK, it has always been difficult for me to place where my national identity lies. Born and raised in England, I am technically and officially a citizen of the United Kingdom, and those who know me would argue that I am inherently British. Perhaps I am, but a part of me is very Spanish, and cultural aspects such as the food, music and language that come from the area my family are from (Figueras, Catalonia), are very much imbedded into my personality. I may have been born and raised in England, but a large part of my childhood was spent in Spain, so I would insist I was raised in Spain too. I wouldn’t be me without having grown up around ‘caganers’, ‘turrón’ and ‘corridas’. I have spent more time in the UK than Spain, but perhaps it is this infrequency that makes me cherish these small Spanish traditions more than British ones. I can distinguish Spanish-ness in a blink of an eye, but being British is something that comes so naturally to me that it is hard for me to explain exactly what it is.

Spain has been “universally acknowledged to be the crown jewels in the recent annals of nation branding” wrote Jon Cook in 2007. Spain first transformed itself from a facist dictatorship to a low-rent vacation spot for the British and German working classes, and then from that to a cutting edge cultural destination. However, can Spain ever be entirely free from it’s dark history? As Lorca once said, “In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world”. Whether it can or not, Spain is certainly putting its best foot forward when it comes to not only the preservation of its identity, but also the sharing of culture beyond its borders.

The Carolina foundation, set up in 2000, promotes cultural relations through grants, research and visitor programmes, and the State Society for Cultural Actioncentrally manages the promotion of Spanish culture abroad and organises international exhibitions. This society results from the merger of three public entities: the State Corporation for International Exhibitions, the State Society for Cultural Commemorations and the Corporation for Spanish Cultural Action Abroad. Even Spain’s autonomous governments have invested in cultural diplomacy over the years. The Valencian community has been one of the most active in artistic promotion. Andalusia emphasises cultural cooperation with its southern neighbour, Morocco. In 1992, the government of Catalonia set up the Catalan Consortium of External Promotion of Culture, today part of the Institute of Creative Industries, to promote a Catalan presence in foreign markets. Despite cultural divides within the country itself, Spain, as a whole and as separate entities, is reaching out to the rest of the world.

People do not always realise this however, forgetting how far Spain has come since Franco’s demise. The general perception of Spain (by Brits anyway) is that it is a summer holiday destination, with beaches galore, scorching weather and delightful cuisine. But it is so much more than that. Birth place to Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Joan Miro, some of the greatest artists of all time. Not forgetting notable writers, such as Lorca and Cervantes. Spain’s history is rich with culture and talent, despite the political turbulence that runs throughout it.

If Spain continues on this path of openness, it will be considered a pioneer in the field of cultural diplomacy, even more so than it already has been. Although it dropped four places down the list of the 2010 Nation Brands Index from the year before, this is surely mainly due to the Eurocrisis context. I believe that Spain’s tumultuous past is more of a help than a hindrance in this respect, as it seems to be the drive behind Spain’s will to become more culturally communicative. One can only hope that as Spain moves further and further away from that period of it’s past, the motivation to break down cultural barriers will not diminish.


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