We work hard to give an innovative image of our country in showcasing the creativity of French artists in the field of digital art, video games and virtual reality, comic books, animated films, street art and art in the public space. Our aim is to reach new audiences, with a particular attention to youth.
We had the pleasure of talking to Mr. Guillaume Colin, Director of the French Cultural Institute in Croatia and a cooperation and cultural affairs advisor at the French Embassy in Zagreb.
Since 2004, Croatia has been an observing member of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), an organization that has 84 member states and governments (58 members and 26 observers), which together represent over one-third of the United Nations’ member states and account for a population of over 900 million people, including 274 million French speakers.
But what does Francophonie actually mean for Croatia? About 10.000 learners from kindergarten to university; 250 teachers of French languages; 5 Alliances Françaises (Dubrovnik, Osijek, Rijeka, Split et Zagreb) and 3 Cercles Français (Koprivnica, Varazdin et Zadar); and more than 700,00 French-speaking tourists visiting Croatia annually.
Apart from the incredible wealth and diversity of cultural resources provided by the French Institute at its premises in Zagreb, membership in the French Institute or in one of the 5 Alliances Françaises provides access to a number of actual online cultural resources – newspapers, magazines, comics, latest books edited in France, music… – via the portal http://www.culturetheque.com.
You have been present in Croatia for a quarter of a century. What would you single out as the Institute’s key contributions to the promotion of French culture and language in Croatia, as well as the promotion of science and higher education during this period?
Actually, it is a much longer story than that… We celebrated the 120 anniversary of the Alliance Française of Osijek last year in February. Now, there are five dynamic French Alliances in Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, Dubrovnik and of course, the one in Osijek!
The story of the French Institute itself in Croatia began in 1922, when the first French lecturer, sent by France, founded the first French library located at today’s Marulić Square. In 1935, the French Institute settled in 40, Preradovićeva Street where it stayed until 2004. Furthermore, in 1946, the French reading room was founded at 5, Preradovićeva Street. This reading room was completely renovated in 2001 and was subsequently merged with the library to become the new venue of the French Institute in Croatia. Over these nine decades, the French Institute has of course participated in the cultural life not only of Zagreb, but also of whole Croatia. Our cultural exchanges have been recently enriched with the two cultural seasons that took place in 2012 and 2015 – “Croatie, la voici”, which presented Croatia in France, and “Rendez-vous”, the festival of France in Croatia. Both of them were a huge success and helped boost and update the interest for our cultural heritage.
Our main goal is definitely to promote cultural and human exchanges between Croatian and French people in order to strengthen our European partnership.
Which cultural content proved to be the most popular among audiences?
Generally speaking, we can see a big interest in French culture among Croatian audiences and this is true for all artistic disciplines. Of course, when people think of French culture, they have in mind French songs or masters of fine arts as Rodin or Picasso, whose exhibitions were a big hit in Zagreb, or writers. France is also associated with fashion and gastronomy.
But what is important to us is also to promote lesser known artists and new ways of expression. We work to give an innovative image of our country in showcasing the creativity of French artists in the field of digital art, video games and virtual reality, comic books, animated films, street art and art in the public space, etc. We aim to reach new audiences, with a particular attention to youth, and to show that, to this day, France remains a very active and exciting country in the field of culture. Come and visit the French Library in downtown Zagreb to discover our new virtual reality device.
How much does the contemporary French theatre, dance, film and literature production correspond to the views and aspirations of the Croatian art scene and the sensibility of the Croatian audience?
It is amazing to observe how the Croatian art scene is aware of the French contemporary production. Each month, there are new French films in cinemas and new books from French authors in bookshops.
The French Institute is contacted almost every day by organizers of cultural events who are eager to invite French artists and companies. The French Institute is partner of the main cultural events in Croatia. For example, we were recently partners of the Animafest Festival which presented more than 45 films made by French directors or coproduced by France. The Zagreb Dance Week Festival featured an amazing performance called “Pixel” that mixes hip-hop dance and digital art. Very soon, we will participate in the Dubrovnik Summer Festival with a very original performance called Chimères Orchestra that will assemble French and Croatian artists. This cooperation is valuable to us, not only to showcase the French contemporary production, but also to encourage exchanges between French and Croatian artists. The diversity and the variety of French contemporary productions allow us to reach a wide audience. We pay a particular attention not only to Zagreb audience, but also in other cities. For instance, the Rendez-vous au Cinéma Festival takes place each autumn since 2015 and offers a rich programme of French films in more than twenty cities thanks to a strong partnership with the Croatian Audiovisual Centre (HAVC) and the Croatian Independent Cinemas Network (Kino mreža).
What big issues that affect the society are in focus of the meetings, symposia and roundtable discussions that you organize together with your partners? What global topics resonate both with the Croatian and French cultural elites?
The French Institute in Zagreb organizes regular public debates with the aim to promote European values and a better understanding of global issues.
Just like many other European countries, France and Croatia are facing common challenges such as climate change, rise of populism, migrations, gender equality, and protection of minority rights. The French Institute has organized major events together with local and European partners about those issues in line with some strong national initiatives such as the One Planet Summit that took place in Paris last December, or the Gender Equality Tour de France.
How popular is the French language today in Croatia and how satisfied are you with bilingual classes?
French is often seen as a sophisticated and prestigious language. But it is much more than that. Mastering French opens up a world of opportunities in terms of study or professional career. One of our main challenges is to highlight all the opportunities related to speaking French in terms of study or professional career. For Croatians, proficiency in French can be an additional skill which really makes the difference, and not only in the tourist sector.
Today in Croatia, about 10,000 pupils and students learn French in about 200 primary and high schools and universities (including the two departments of the French language in Zadar and Zagreb and the five Alliances Françaises in Dubrovnik, Osijek, Rijeka Split, and Zagreb). One should also mention the two bilingual sections in Zagreb where reinforced teaching of French language is provided and some other subjects are taught in French as well.
Last but not least: the French School in Zagreb (Ecole française de Zagreb). Together with the German school, it is a Eurocampus – pupils from both schools study on the same venue and have some joint courses (English language, P.E., Croatian language) while learning the language of the other. The French School is not only homologated by the French Ministry of Education, but also by the Croatian Ministry and half of the pupils are Croatians.
In this context our role is to support the French language teachers and to help pupils getting their degrees in French: DELF (diplôme d’études en langue française) and DALF (diplôme approfondi de langue française).
What kind of content can fans of the French culture find in the French Institute?
Bright and warm, located in the very heart of Zagreb, the French Institute has always been and is eager to remain the main meeting point for all fans of French and Francophone cultures in all their diversity. It is open to all generations and provides a lot of resources. You have access to press, literature, essays, comics, youth albums, fiction and documentary films, music, travel guides. Over the last years we have paid particular attention to the younger audiences. We have arranged a space dedicated to video games and, since June, to virtual reality. All students can visit a Campus France info point where they can get acquainted with the French higher education system, including admission procedures and scholarship programmes. An educational resource centre is also at your disposal to learn French.
What scientific projects are in focus of the cooperation between Croatian and French universities?
In terms of higher education and science, one of our main achievements is the joint Master’s degree in biochemistry delivered by the Universities of Zagreb and Orléans for ten years. We are confident that other universities will develop this kind of partnership too.
Another area of excellence is archaeology. As you know, the French diplomacy has a long record in supporting archaeological excavations worldwide. Four archaeological projects supported by the French Foreign Ministry are located in Croatia, from Istria to Dalmatia. These excavations are jointly carried out by French and Croatian teams and have yielded tremendous results such as the discovery of an ivory comb in Mirine (the early Christian period) and of a pre-historic sewn boat in Zambratija, the oldest ever found in the Mediterranean Sea.