Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

Culture as public diplomacy tool

26 Feb 2014

Culture is regularly used as a public diplomacy tool. For it is in its cultural activities that a nation’s idea of itself is often best represented. That’s also why Dutch embassies promote cultural exchanges with other countries. A positive association with the country of origin is what we are looking for.

So I was pleased to learn that the world famous Royal Concert Gebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam will play on the first of September 1 at the closing of the Ljubljana Festival. The Embassy is happy to be a supporter, but more corporate sponsors are still welcome to lend a hand! For the orchestra, it will be a very different experience from the Kings inauguration in Amsterdam where they performed outside on stage the Bolero together with DJ Armin van Buuren, mixing classical and dance rhythms. You can still view that extraordinary duo-performance online.

It is a good illustration of how the Netherlands in its nation branding tries to show where it excels, in a mixture of the modern and the classical. The successful mix of old and new is one of the reasons why Dutch design is such a well-known brand, combining functional and artistic qualities in many products. So I was not surprised to find out at the kick-off event at the Ljubljana Museum of Architecture and Design MAO that quite a number of well-known Dutch designers, architects and other creative minds from Holland are enthusiastically involved in the Ljubljana Design Biennale, BIO 50. The Flemish curator Jan Boelen, a lecturer on social design at the Eindhoven Design Academy, will go beyond the showing of traditional products, like chairs, into design related developments: affordable living, knowing food, public water space, the fashion system to mention a few. He succeeded in freeing up quite a lot of positive energy.

There are also many festivals here where a Dutch focus has been applied. Last year’s Maribor Drama festival was a showcase of contemporary Dutch theatre and drama. A number of scripts for plays were published in translation to mark the event. Movie festivals often feature recent and much talked about Dutch movies, as was the case at the Ljubljana movie festival for adults. Dutch children’s movies are popular too. Another area where there are surprisingly many contacts and exchanges is literature and poetry. I remember the Ptuj festival of poetry and wine late summer – a tempting formula that made me visit – where I met young Dutch poet Esther Naomi Perquin. Her work has now been translated into Slovenian as well. It joins a long list of Dutch books, for children and adults which have been translated. One example is a recent book by popular author Frank Westerman about the story behind the breeding of Lippizaner horses titled “Brother Mendel’s Perfect Horse”. It was launched at last year’s Ljubljana book fair. ‘When you touch a Lippizaner,’ Frank Westerman was told as a child, ‘you are touching history.’ It’s an engrossing fusion of history and travel writing, in which the turbulent tale of the pure blood horse helps to illustrate man’s own shortcomings, before, during and after the 2nd world war. A documentary movie based on this book is now being filmed on location. For next year, I am already looking forward to the Beletrina’s Fabula Literary Festival, to see if Dutch writers might take part in the next year’s edition.

At the moment the Embassy is also preparing the way to include Ljubljana in the European Citybooks project of the Dutch-Flemish House deBuren. If you want to find out about this, surf to To give you an idea, the project is a digital exchange of writers, poets, and photographers from different European cities that are each cultural centers in their own right. The guiding idea is that Europe is about more than just its member states, and as such the continent’s cities have the future. So the aim is to establish a cultural network of European cities, rather than nations, and to make the resulting citybook stories, -essays or poems digitally accessible to everybody by podcast (audiobook) via iTunes, website, and e-books, whatever form works best. For each city a photographer makes a series of 24 photographs and a City One Minute video project too. I hope that Ljubljana City and the Ministry of Culture will be supportive in realizing the project and finding sponsoring to help the city take part.

Finally, there are many international academic links as well. First of all there is the European Erasmus scholarship program. The Netherlands is a popular destination. It helps too that Ljubljana University as part of its Germanic section, offers the possibility of a bachelor and master program to study Dutch, which is gradually increasing the number of Dutch speakers in Slovenia. The Dutch/Flemish Language Union offers the best students summer scholarships in Zeist or Gent. As the number of exchange students and postgraduates is still growing, it might even be an idea to set up an alumni association, a network to stay in touch with the Dutch. Should you be interested, feel free to get in touch with the embassy! (

Public diplomacy implies that as an ambassador, you make yourself available for the media. After arrival I was asked to talk about Holland and to introduce Dutch songs on the Slovenian International Sunday radio program called “Come away with me“. There is nothing wrong with human interest and proven traditional Holland Branding. In fact I rather enjoyed being live on air!

I do hope that writing these blogs and making good use of the social media helps to reach out to a wider audience, helping you to understand what the Dutch embassy is trying to accomplish nowadays. If so, you can continue to follow me on twitter @NLinSlovenia or check out the Dutch Embassy’s Facebook page: DutchEmbassySlovenia.

This blog was posted earlier in RTV SLO Diplomat’s blog.

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  • 26 Feb 2014, 9:00
  • Posted in Embassy

About the author

Pieter Langenberg
Written by Pieter Langenberg

Dutch Ambassador in Riga

Education 1973 Gymnasium 1979 University of Utrecht – Faculty of History

Career 1979 – 1992 Ministry of Foreign Affairs (different assignments in Budapest, Washington, Canberra, UN Disarmament Department);

1992 – 1995 Head of Division, Department of European Integration;

1995 – 1999 Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Ireland;

1999 – 2005 Head of Department, Permanent Mission of the Netherlands to the European Union, Brussels (Belgium);

2005 – 2009 Consul General in Antwerp (Belgium);

2009-2013 Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Georgia and Armenia

2013-2015 Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Republic of Slovenia

Current position: Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Latvia