Tunisia/ 3.4 International cultural co-operation  

3.4.1 Overview of main structures and trends

Most of international cultural cooperation and cultural diplomacy pass by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs based on adopted protocols and conventions. Multilateral or bilateral cultural cooperation takes place through several mechanisms that include conventions, protocols, contracts, co-production agreements (movies, music), and cultural exchange mechanisms for artists and cultural events.

Until 2010, prior authorization of the ministry of culture was required to perform an international cultural activity or program. This practice has changed since 2011, as numerous initiatives of international cultural cooperation events took place without intervention from to the ministry (especially NGOs or artists’ initiatives), though support and assistance from the ministry was demanded to facilitate implementation. It must be noted that the centralized policy applied to the international cultural cooperation before the democratic transition period was subjected to criticism from several representatives of international organizations as the prevailing situation inhibited the participation of civil society[1]

Since independence, Tunisia had sought to establish a thriving international cultural exchange with its neighbors. In the first phase, the trend consisted of openness to other cultures and human resources capacity-building (training and scientific exchange). The first geographical focus of international cultural cooperation policy of Tunisia was the Maghreb, followed by the Western world. This was the result of the historical circumstances and political agenda at that time, as President Bourguiba actively worked for the creation of the Maghreb Union and reaffirmed the independent nature of historical and cultural identity of Tunisia. It should be noted that the text of the preface in the Tunisian Constitution of 1959 imposed on behalf of the people of Tunisia the commitment toward the unity of “Great Maghreb”. Accordingly, this trend was rooted at the cultural level by the ratification of several bilateral agreements with countries of the Maghreb and the Arab region. The creation of the “Arab Book House" between Tunisia and Libya (Law 69-87 of 3 August 1987 on the creation of the Libyan-Tunisian company for publishing, printing and distribution under the name " Arab book House ") presented a concrete example for the promotion of Maghreb region cultural cooperation and it contributed during its first years to the support of several Tunisian and Libyan authors, and to the promotion shared Arab culture.

The Western world presented the second geographic focus to the Tunisian bilateral cultural cooperation, particularly with France[2] and was mainly formulated on technical cooperation (training and education in culture field). Tunisia is a founding member of the International Organization of the Francophone[3](OIF), where the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Development and International Cooperation participate in cultural cooperation with OIF through the Tunisian Agency for Technical Cooperation. The cultural cooperation with OIF mostly targeted the development and support of Tunisian festivals, cultural conferences, and international artistic competitions in the country or abroad. For example, OIF has supported the initiation of Music Festival in 1964, the Carthage Film Festival in 1979 and the Carthage Theatre Festival in 1983.

Tunisia was among the first developing countries to cooperate with international cultural organizations and bodies, whether governmental or non-governmental. Tunisia was also among the first countries to join UNESCO[4] in 1956, as well as the ratification of several conventions of UNESCO, in particular the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage[5], adopted by UNESCO in 1972 and the International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions[6] adopted by UNESCO in 2005. In addition, Tunisia played an active role in creating the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization[7] (ALECSO), which is currently based in Tunis. Tunisia is member of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO)[8] since 1982 and joined several specialized international organizations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the International Council on monuments and sites (International Non-governmental Organization (INGO) ), the International Music Council (INGO) and joined in 2011 the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies[9] (IFACCA) (INGO).

While the new Government continues the efforts to promote Tunisian culture globally,  a new set of goals were identified including the focus on the export of cultural industries, the integration of information and communication technologies in cultural fields, and the support of international mobility for Tunisian artists and Tunisian events abroad.

The creative component in Tunisian international cultural cooperation policy, which was set in the 1990s, is the particular attention to provide Tunisian culture to Tunisian immigrants. Policy-makers have stressed on the importance of keeping Tunisian immigrants and Tunisian youth who were born abroad in connection with their roots and their national identity. From this perspective, a network of regional delegations for Tunisians abroad was created in Tunisia and was reinforced by a network of social attachés abroad, under the supervision of "The Office for Tunisians Abroad". The office has among its roles the "Formulation and implementation of cultural programs designed to develop and to promote a sentiment of belonging to Tunisia in Tunisian children who are abroad"[10]. The cultural tasks of the social attachés abroad involve the cultural activities coordination and support for Tunisians living abroad. Moreover, sessions of language courses in Arabic, are offered in Tunisian embassies as well as summer language courses are held in Tunisia. This approach toward Tunisians abroad and support to their cultural needs continued with the governments after 2011.

Among the emerging new topics in the international cultural cooperation policies is the intercultural dialogue and cultural diversity. It was in 1995 that "Carthage Charter on tolerance in the Mediterranean"[11] was adopted in Tunisia as a result of an international conference with UNESCO. Tunisia joined the Universal Declaration of UNESCO on Cultural Diversity (UNESCO, 2001) and became in 2007 a founding member of the International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (UNESCO, 2005).

The emergence of the European Union on the international scene as a major political and economic player has greatly influenced the international cultural cooperation and resulted in the emergence of the Mediterranean as new geographic focus. In addition, it intensified programs within the framework of the Mediterranean and European cultural institutions, such as the Anna-Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures. In the last decade, Tunisia has participated in almost all cultural programs funded by the European Commission in this area.

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership agreement, ratified by Tunisia in 1997, stated the implementation exchange programs between Tunisian and European youth with a view to enhancing mutual understanding and promoting tolerance. Moreover, the Euro med agreement targeted support in several cultural fields such as audiovisual, heritage and the promotion of cultural co-production, as well as the support of Tunisian participation in European cultural programs. Tunisia has consolidated its commitment to the Mediterranean cultural cooperation through establishing specialized institutions such as Arab and Mediterranean Music Centre "Ennejma Ezzahra".

Economic cooperation may stimulate also the strengthening of international cultural cooperation, this was the case for the cultural Protocol “program of Ankara” (2008), which was signed with the Republic of Turkey, as it  became the main investor in a  huge project for the country's infrastructure (construction of the largest airport in Tunisia and in North Africa).

[1]Working document of European Communities  Commission SEC (2008) 401 joint to follow-up report of Tunisia "implementation of  the European Neighbourhood Policy in 2007" (Brussels, 3 April 2008) (in French) (link: http://ec.europa.eu/world/enp/pdf/progress2008/sec08_401_fr.pdf

[2]For more details see: “Article 16 : Preferential Treatment for developing countries ( UNESCO convention 2005) – case of Tunisia "(BilelAboudi – UNESCO, 2008) (in English) (link: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0017/001779/177924E.pdf)

[4]Tunisia submitted a request to join the organization before full-independence, and before joining the United Nations (document ratifying the accession to UNESCO: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0016/001606/160689fb.pdf )

[5]UNESCO World Heritage site : http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/

[6]UNESCO Convention for the protection and the promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/cultural-diversity/diversity-of-cultural-expressions/the-convention/

[8]ISESCO portal : http://www.isesco.org.ma

[9]IFACCA portal : http://www.ifacca.org/

[10]Office of Tunisians Abroad website : http://www.ote.nat.tn

[11] UNESCO report on regional symposia on the occasion of the celebration of the international year for tolerance, 1995 (in French) at : http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0011/001117/111769fo.pdf

Chapter published: 05-05-2015