"We Point out Ways to Overcome Differences"

The Franco-German Cultural Center in Ramallah was founded one year ago. In an interview with Frederick Richter, the two directors take stock of the progress made thus far

Looking back at one year French-German cultural centre in Ramallah, what have you achieved so far?

The French-German cultural centre in Ramallah
The age of the nation-state seems to be over - at least in cultural affairs: The French-German cultural centre in Ramallah

​​Fareed C. Majari: I think we did the right thing. Some things are complicated in organization and administration, there are differences between German and French administration. But overall I think we can cater to our target group the Palestinian society way better than before, we can now do programs and projects which previously we could not do.

Gilles Kraemer: I should say that if this had been only a French centre, I would not have been interested in the position, but I accepted it because it is a French-German cultural centre. It's not easy in the daily work: We have two different kinds of administration, with two different kinds of logics, and we're using four different languages. But this is the true direction for cosmopolitan and multicultural places.

How difficult is it to do cultural work in a place like Ramallah where people are more preoccupied with the security situation, politics and their economic situation?

Majari: I was astounded by the amount of culture you find here. Ramallah is a place where you can go to the theatre every day. Sometimes it is difficult to do things that are not connected to the situation here, in our work we are very much pre-occupied with the Palestinian situation, the occupation of the country which is still prevailing and also with Middle Eastern culture. This is very hard for us, and I understand this, it is not a reproach. Otherwise I think it's a very, very interested audience.

But how do reach out to other Palestinian cities, such as Hebron, Jenin or Gaza?

Majari: That's one of the problems. Ramallah is a city of a size a little less then Nancy, it has the size of Gießen in Germany. Given this size there is a lot of culture, but as soon as you move to the major cities in terms of population, which are Khalil in the West Bank, Nablus and of course Gaza, there is much less culture and that is deplorable, it is really sad, everything is concentrated here. In these other places, people are not used to perceive our work of arts, very often it's complicated, very often there are taboos, so it's a totally different thing.

Which experiences has the French side made with its network of centres in the Palestinian territories?

Kraemer: My colleague in Nablus has managed to get along with a population which is much more conservative then here. In Gaza it's still different, but they are getting along too. Their program is very much oriented towards the youth, they are dealing with young people in the refugee camps, using clowns and doing hip-hop dancing. There is almost nothing in Gaza, so when there is an event a lot of people come.

Sometimes the Israeli occupation is a problem when we send French dancers there who have Arabic names, they do not get into Gaza at times. A lot of the things are not possible elsewhere. If you move to Ramallah there is no one-dimensional vision of the world. Here are people from a lot of different countries, there are Muslims and Christians, and all that means that it is a liberal society here. And the presence of Bir Zeit University also makes things easier.

Here in Ramallah everything is possible, but you have to take care a bit. When we organized the Fête de la Musique on 21st of June, the question was if making music in the street would be accepted by everyone. A lot of people would, others would not, be saying that under occupation there should not be music or dancing in the streets. But we are in connection with the debate inside the Palestinian society.

Which informational channels do you have in order to follow this debate?

Kraemer: There are several means. We are in connection with other directors of cultural centres. The Goethe Institute organized many debates on questions such as media and identity.

Majari: We are trying to be part of the debate, and I think the centre is one of the main players here in Ramallah at least. And it's not only these events, it's behind the curtains with long-term, sustainable projects like training programmes.

One of the things we identify as very rewarding here is TV, improving skills of film-makers. The other one is dance, because it is one of the forms of expression that goes without language. There are very rich traditions of dance here in Palestine; that is something we can build on.

How is it perceived here in Ramallah that two countries with quiet a bit of war in their history are working together today? Does your audience understand that?

Majari: There was a discussion about this in the Goethe Institute with some people saying that Palestinians want something German and not something European. I would say this is not the case, I bet that just as everywhere else, people are interested in alternatives, in ideas from outside, stimulus from outside and this is not necessarily French or German, but European. It is even richer if you combine French and German, and maybe even convey differences that exist in Europe and show in which way we overcome differences. This is also something we wanted to show.

We are proud of peacefully solving conflicts with very democratic means although we must say that our conflicts are so small in comparison to what's going on here, so that it's not really comparable. But I think the Palestinians have proven that we are right, that we are richer as a French-German centre then as a German or a French centre alone. We combine more than one culture, we combine little differences that exist but also ways of overcoming those differences. The age of the nation-state seems to be over anyways, at least in cultural affairs. Why should we stick to an out-dated model?

But is this model outdated here where the nation is still decisive in determining people's identity, and the Palestinians don't even have a nation-state?

Kraemer: My perception is that most of the people who are coming here just don't care so much about what French and German together means, because most of them have no idea about our history with the last world war.

Which role does the conflict play in your work?

Majari: The conflict plays an important role. Some Germans are a bit naïve about this, but the Palestinians' only goal is to have their own nation-state and Israeli artists are not always welcome for cooperation. On the other hand, Israelis outside intellectual circles show too little interest in Palestinian life and culture.

Kraemer: It also affects us in our daily work. One of our employees was arrested for three weeks, so we had to reorganize things at the centre and take care of his wife. And it is difficult to transport materials here, so the conflict also makes things more difficult in our day-to-day work.

Interview: Frederick Richter

© Qantara.de 2005


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