Europe Day 2017: Scotland’s cultural relationships with Europe

May 9, 2017 by No Comments | Category Culture, Europe

Today is Europe Day, marking what is widely believed to be the birth of the European Union on 9 May 1950, when Robert Schuman, a French foreign minister, made the Schuman Declaration.

It proposed that France and West Germany, alongside Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium, should pool coal and steel production. As Europe was still recovering from the devastation of the Second World War, Schuman deemed pooling production would – in the words of the declaration – make war between France and Germany “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”.

Schuman’s prophecy rang true, preventing anything of the scale of the First and Second World Wars in Europe thereafter. What he perhaps didn’t envisage, was the scale of what was to follow – a membership of countries enjoying collaboration at all conceivable levels.

As Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Secretary, I never tire of championing Scotland’s outlook as a welcoming and progressive nation. This is particularly demonstrated in the arts. Indeed, several years before the Schuman Declaration, in 1947, the Edinburgh International Festival boldly invited artists from across Europe to perform in the capital. 70 years on, we’re revered as a festival nation that highlights and celebrates our international cultural links and welcomes performers and audiences from every corner of the globe. This year’s EIF programme will feature over 2000 artists from 40 nations – many European.

1947 also marks the birth of the Edinburgh Fringe, when artists arrived uninvited to perform at the International Festival and subsequently did their own thing. The Edinburgh Fringe has since inspired artists around the world – with at least 200 festivals using the Fringe’s open-access model taking place in every continent but Antarctica. And this year’s Edinburgh International Children’s Festival welcomes productions from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Wales, the Netherlands and Norway.

We are, of course, continuing to take our art to the world. Rachel MacLean, now based in Glasgow, has been selected to represent Scotland at this year’s Venice Biennale, the world’s largest and most prestigious visual arts festival, which starts this Saturday. Rachel has had great success exhibiting her work across a range of mediums and it’s great to see someone of such high calibre representing Scotland.

In a couple of weeks, I will be in Paris to speak at the launch of the Festival Interceltique de Lorient, one of the biggest folk festivals in Europe. Held in Brittany every August, it attracts more than 750,000 music-lovers from around the world. I am proud to say Scotland has been selected as Guest Country of Honour this year.

France and Scotland enjoy deep cultural ties and have a mutual ‘Cultural Statement of Intent’, which I signed in 2013. We share a rich Celtic history of storytelling and traditional music and a great love of piping. Around 200 of our finest musicians are performing at this year’s festival – representing emerging young talent and firmly established acts.

There’s also an unprecedented spotlight on Scotland at the Rudolstadt Festival in Germany in July. Our relationship with Germany dates back to 1297, when William Wallace wrote to the mayors of Lübeck and Hamburg declaring Scotland open for business. To this day, we remain major trading partners. We also share a love of traditional music and storytelling that goes back centuries.

This year’s Rudolstadt Festival showcases our pipers, storytellers and traditional musicians, and our beloved bard will take centre stage with A Man for A’ That – A World Music Tribute to Robert Burns. International artists will perform Burns’ poetry in their native languages, and there will be a collaborative performance by musicians from Ethiopia, Germany, Georgia, India, Israel, Jamaica, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sápmi (Lapland) and Scotland, produced by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Burns scholar, Fred Freeman.

Our national performing companies feature some of the very best talent from Scotland and across Europe. More than a fifth of the musicians in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, ten per cent of those who make up the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and more than a third of Scottish Ballet’s dancers are EU nationals.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra took their performances of Mozart, Haydn and Dvořák on a European tour earlier this year, playing in Toulouse, Luxembourg, Rotterdam, Salzburg and Paris, among others.

Tomorrow kicks off the fourth annual IberoDocs Film Festival at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse – a documentary film festival run entirely by volunteers from overseas who live and work in Scotland. Throughout the festival, they will bring their own film culture from Spain, Portugal and Latin America to Scottish audiences.

This is exactly the kind of cultural collaboration that was spawned in Edinburgh in 1947 and continues to this day. Scotland has long appreciated the importance of multiculturalism, openness and dialogue and this is clearly being recognised throughout Europe as our music, storytelling and heritage takes centre stage in 2017. Long may these exciting relationships last.

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