By Lucy Esther Díaz Rijo, Minister Counsellor, Embassy of the Dominican Republic
To the Kingdom of Sweden
One of the many definitions of cultural diplomacy is that it is “a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity, whether to strengthen relationships, enhance socio-cultural cooperation, promote national interests, and beyond. Cultural diplomacy can be practiced by either the public sector, the private sector or civil society”1. It has been called the "linchpin of public diplomacy" because cultural activities have the possibility to demonstrate the best of a nation2.
Cinema, dance, music, plastic arts, literature, sports, gastronomy, and language are all expressions of a country’s riches and contribute to a deeper understanding of the civilization in question.
Diffusion of national culture abroad is not a trivial subject for the more powerful nations. A proof of this can be seen in the global proliferation of cultural institutions from Western nations like: Alliance Française (France), the current Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (USA), Canadian Arts Coalition and Canada Council for the Arts (Canada), British Council (United Kingdom), Goethe-Institut (Germany), or Instituto Cervantes (Spain); and even Israel is doing it through their Jewish Agency for Israel. The formerly mentioned countries, among many others, consider cultural diplomacy an important tool for their Foreign Affairs management, with implications for National Security at times3.
Having said this, I believe the DR can benefit from a more widespread cultural diplomacy in the Caribbean region. It can start by promoting a more intense dialogue with its neighbours, most importantly with Haiti, with whom it shares the island of Hispaniola and with the other island nations, members of Caricom4 (Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago). Oftentimes the DR is not really embraced by the mentioned Island Nations. There even was a big controversy in 2015, some Member States accused the country of xenophobia due to its complicated relationship with its neighbour, Haiti5. Another underlying reason for which some Caribbean Island nations feel a reluctancy toward the DR is due to the fact that the Dominican economic growth from the past four decades, and the modernization that it has undergone as a result of this, make the country more of a rival that an ally, in terms of competition for FDI, tourism resources, and exports of local products.
Dominican cultural riches is undeniable, the first Spanish settlement in the Americas was founded at La Isabela, in the northern province of Puerto Plata, and the country’s capital, Santo Domingo, is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas. It was the first seat of the Spanish colonial rule, headquarters of their power in the New World and therefore it was a site for diffusion of the Spanish language, culture and religion since its inception. Also, it was the site of many of the first institutions in the Americas, e.g. the first university, cathedral, hospital, monastery, museums and fortresses in the New World. Catholicism started spreading from this island, with the first Mass being celebrated on the 6th of January 14946. The city's Colonial Zone has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO7. In 2010 the Dominican capital was declared as Cultural Capital of the Americas8.
Quisqueya, the name given by the native Taíno people to this part of the island, is the homeland of famous writers, painters, poets, singers, dancers, baseball players, fashion designers, chefs, actors. Its rhythms have reached every corner of the world, and people from every country and religion have been delighted with musical notes of the Merengue and Bachata, both genres having been declared as Cultural Intangible Heritage of Humanity, by UNESCO910. Moreover, the notorious Cocolo dancing theatre in the province of San Pedro de Macorís11 (Guloya and Guloyita) and the Carnival in the province of La Vega12, were also declared “holy” by UNESCO, but all of this has not been enough to fuel an intense cultural exchange that leads to a deeper understanding with the surrounding Caribbean countries mentioned above, and most especially with Haiti.
According to the prominent Prof. Dr. Nicholas J. Cull, “it is surprising to see transnational regions using cultural diplomacy to advance their collective interest, because historically, CD has been so much about “my country is better than your country”, like some sort of “cultural Olympics”. He argues that the Malmö – Copenhagen border region joint Film Festival (Swedish / Danish) has been successfully carried out. We perfectly understand that in the case of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, there is not such an overlap in the two cultures as there is between Sweden and Denmark, with language being the first barrier. Creole and French are the official languages of Haiti, and the French-based Creole the most spoken one. However, that is not a good enough reason not to plan a joint event of various natures, be it sports, music, dance, or theatre related. Another example of good international cooperation can be found on Hispaniola itself, where there are two border region International Markets, which have been active in the last couple of decades without any major incidents13, but of course, this essay is not about economic cooperation. We are talking about anything but a utopia, and more about a project which could be the starting point for a greater cooperation between the two nations, and which hopefully would be mutually profitable.
In conclusion, cultural diplomacy strengthens ties among nations, releases tensions and fosters peace on all levels. Capitalizing its cultural riches is in the best interest of the Dominican Republic, by adopting more incisive strategies for its foreign policy and boosting the cultural exchange in the Caribbean region, in order to improve its image and achieve a better understanding with its neighbouring countries.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Professional Development Institute of the University of Ottawa.