Jack Lang on Asharq Al-Awsat: Saudi Arabia is experiencing an unprecedented cultural revolution

The president of the Arab World Institute says working with Mitterrand was the possibility of his life

Jack Lang is considered one of the most important figures of the French cultural scene, who served as Minister of Culture from 1981 to 1986, then from 1988 to 1993 and in the same period also held the post of Minister of Education. from 1992 to 1993., then from 2000 to 2002. He contributed to the enrichment of the cultural scene. By establishing a large number of major cultural projects such as the Louvre Museum, the National Library and the Institute of the Arab World, he also organized distinct cultural and artistic festivals and events in France and abroad, while talking about the “Langissim” trend, which puts the intellectual at the center of the cultural revolution. Since 2013, Jack Lang is president of the Arab World Institute.

He received us in his office in Paris and the following dialogue was:

> During the period in which you took over the ministry there was great interest in supporting culture and financing major projects. Why this interest? Have conditions changed?

– In terms of interest in culture, it is self-evident and the opposite can be what raises eyebrows. We have plenty of evidence that cultural projects have benefited societies, and here I am not just talking about the financial aspect; Rather, it is based on the vast amount of happiness, beauty, and intellectual radiance enjoyed by societies caring for their cultural institutions. Ignoring culture or cutting its budget is not just a measure against beauty and the common good; It is also against the future and I will not exaggerate when I say that it is a “criminal offense”. For example, the achievements made during the reign of the late President François Mitterrand brought great benefits to France, in terms of intellectual radiation and contribution to the preservation of world heritage, in leadership in the field of art and culture, until we were distinguished from the so-called ” cultural exclusion ”. It is the same challenge that the Gulf states decided to face and are now reaping the fruits. I remember how the opening of a branch of the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi was the object of a major attack here in France, so much so that I decided to defend Sheikh Zayed’s ambitious and wonderful project, through the pages of the Liberation newspaper. and today we are witnessing the success of this proud project.

> The “Corona” pandemic that the world has experienced has caused great damage, especially in the cultural sector. To cope with the crisis, they offered President Macron, in an open letter, the creation of a “New Deal” or “New Deal” to revive the cultural sector and revitalize its institutions … What happened next?

– I wrote to President Emmanuel Macron; Because we were in a difficult situation, anxiety, feelings of loss, and heartbreak tormented the men and women of culture and art. Many of them have become very pessimistic about the future. The whole sector has drowned, which has negatively affected the economic sector, as the weight of the cultural industry in it is significant. I wrote: “We must act, turn this crisis into an opportunity to change the situation.” She cited the example of the “New Deal” program the United States experienced in its thirties, during the rule of President Roosevelt, which came after a period of great depression. What some people do not know is that the economic assistance program coincided with a cultural assistance program and for the first time in the history of the United States there were strong measures to support this area; Theaters, museums, galleries, visual artists, and writers were encouraged and supported, and these actions were the seeds that laid the foundations for the great recovery the United States experienced in the 1950s and 1960s; Especially New York City, which has become an important artistic and intellectual destination. On this basis I presented this proposal as an invitation to receive inspiration from these successful historical experiences. Because good ideas arise from crises.

> We can survive the health crisis, but what can we do to deal with giants like Amazon swallowing publishers and bookstore owners, or broadcasting platforms that are further weakening the film and theater sector?

We must first stop crying and shivering like a letter. Network giants must face courage If we really want to save writers and cinema, we must act to find solutions. The first thing to do is to intensify the presence of all forms of art and culture in schools. We need to include it in curricula permanently, as we do with language and math, if we want to provide our children with enough weapons to resist the digital degradation to which they are exposed every day through the media. We sow the seeds of motivation and create desire and enthusiasm early on. There is literacy in the sense of learning, and there is what I call “cultural education” that needs to be strongly supported. We should also encourage all initiatives that show resistance to network giants. They are currently few but promising and deserve support and encouragement. In the Arab world – for example – there is a platform “Filmsin” of young Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch, and other models in Turkey, all of which are resisting the dominance of major American productions.

> In the book “Cultural Revolution: words and writings”, which marks your achievements at the helm of the Ministry of Culture, you have published samples of messages that have been exchanged with the late President Francois Mitterrand. What was the nature of your relationship with the late President Mitterrand?

Working with President Mitterrand has been the opportunity of my life (big smile) to the point that I sometimes wonder if it was a dream from which I would wake up! Our paths crossed when President Mitterrand came to visit the theater festival for which I was in charge of Nancy City, and he showed interest in my activities to support culture, and when he ran for election, he asked me to join his team and support. him. President Mitterrand had a strong presence and charisma, treated everyone with humanism, and excelled in a broad culture. Our relationship was strong and built on mutual respect; Given that our vision and philosophy for creating a vibrant cultural scene has been one, this does not mean that we have not had different opinions. The audiovisual sector privatization dossier, for example, was the subject of disagreement between us; But he gave me his trust and friendship all the time we worked together; But also his love.

> In the book “Arabic, a treasure for France”, you talked about learning Arabic in France. What is your assessment of the current situation?

Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world. Despite its strong presence in France through close relations with the Arab world and generations of emigrants, the teaching of this language is still poor: one in a thousand learn Arabic at the elementary level and two in a thousand learn it at the intermediate level, despite the fact that the demand for it is constantly growing. The reason is due to controversy over this issue, which has been used by some political parties to distort the image of this beautiful language. When I was a minister, I wanted to intensify his presence in schools and set up a competition for the Tabriz certificate in Arabic to hire professors. The Institute of the Arab World proposes the Sima certificate, which is considered an international certificate of Arabic and is recognized in worldwide. The first thing I intend to do after the appointment of the new Minister of Education is to invite him to discuss ways to develop Arabic language education in French schools.

> What do you think about the Saudi cultural scene now?

– I am very impressed by all the changes that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has undergone in recent years. Personally, I consider it an unprecedented cultural, intellectual and social revolution and find that our Saudi friends are humbled by the achievements achieved in their country, whether in the field of theater, cinema, music, heritage protection, literature or support for Arabic language. These are giant steps that I have seen with my own eyes. Not just in major cities like Riyadh and Jeddah; but also in other cities.

> You have been in charge of the Arab World Institute since 2013. Are there any big projects you dream of realizing?

– There are many projects I would like to complete before completing my assignment at the institute, the most important of which is a major exhibition on the impact of Arab civilization in Southern Europe, in Andalusia, Lisbon and Sicily, through architectural heritage. . , language and arts and everything that would show the greatness of Arab civilization and its extent to the world. It is an ambitious project; But it requires considerable organization and funding. I also hope to organize an exhibition honoring the dean of plastic art, the Algerian creative artist Abdelkader El Houamel. One of our next projects is also the export of the Arab World Institute to all over the world. We thought of New York City as our first destination, but also an Arab country. The idea is up for discussion and we have already started talking to officials to activate this magnificent project.

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