Dagfinn Høybråten: ”I believe that culture will become an increasingly important part of the Nordic cooperation”


Photo: Emilia Koivunen

Dagfinn Høybråten, the secretary general for the Nordic Council of Ministers, believes that Nordic values and the usage of new channels and arenas are essential for the Nordic cultural cooperation.

I met Høybråten in Greenland’s capital Nuuk, in connection with the Nuuk Nordic Culture Festival. One of the main organizers of the festival is the Nordic Institute of Greenland (NAPA), which, like the Nordic Culture Point, is a cultural institution under the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Høybråten tells us that locating the institutions in geographically peripheral areas is a strategic choice. They serve as Nordic windows and venues in their own areas. The cultural institutions also work closely together, creating ties between the different peripheral regions.

– NAPA has, for example, a central role on the cultural scene of Greenland. We also know that many Greenlanders want more Nordic cooperation. NAPA’s visibility in Greenland may well be a contributing factor to that.

Culture has a central role

The budget for the Nordic cultural cooperation in 2017 is 23 million euros. Most of the sum is awarded in the form of grants for art and culture projects via the Council of Ministers’ grant programs. The rest is used to fund the Nordic cultural institutions and the Nordic Council’s annual prizes for culture.

I asked why culture has such a central place in Nordic cooperation. Høybråten reminded me that the Nordic cooperation is value-centred, and that the current cooperation between the Nordic governments started with cultural cooperation.

– Culture is a natural starting point, because it brings people together and is in many ways the driving force of society. There would be no Nordic cooperation without the cultural community.

He states that, naturally, the geographical proximity within the region would be there in any case, but that the relationship between the neighboring countries could have been expressed in confrontation instead.

– Cultural cooperation also touches us humans in a completely different way than many political processes do.

Culture’s own value

Today, many arrive in the Nordic region from the rest of the world. The Nordic Council of Ministers wants to do its part by facilitating the integration of newcomers into society. That’s why cultural cooperation as a means of integration is currently being invested in.

When I asked more about the subject, Høybråten first emphasized the intrinsic value of culture. Culture is always important in its own right, and the instrumental value always comes second. He then continues on the topic of integration by explaining that the reason why the Nordic Council of Ministers invest in culture as a tool for integration is because culture offers opportunities for human meetings and togetherness.

– One of the most important Nordic values is the equality of all people. This in in theory quite obvious, but in practice this value is being tested daily, as we encounter differences among our fellow human beings.

People are different, and our interests in – and interpretations of – culture vary. Nevertheless, culture basically speaks to us in the same way.

– This is the integrating power of culture. It works in the community, in associations and the like, but also within nations and between nations. That’s what cultural exchange and cooperation are all about. I think that is the main reason why Norway, holding the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2017, has included culture and integration as a strong theme in their programme.

The Nordic region sparks international interest

Høybråten believes that culture will become an increasingly important part of the Nordic cooperation in the future.

– The interest in the Nordic region from the rest of the world has a lot to do with cultural expressions such as literature, films and TV shows. This is evident when looking at the great Nordic joint ventures of “Nordic Cool” in Washington D.C. in 2013 and all the things that are going on at “Nordic Matters” at the Southbank Center in London.

Promoting Nordic culture and art goes hand in hand with talking about our social models and values, Høybråten believes.

– All the different ways of profiling and positioning the Nordic region internationally are important. Therefore, I believe that even those who are not particularly interested in culture have realised the importance of cultural cooperation.

Finland’s role in the Nordic cooperation

The Nordic Council of Ministers’ Session and Prize Gala will this year be organized in Helsinki in early November. As a Finn, I am interested in how my interviewee views Finland’s importance in the Nordic region and within the Nordic cooperation. Finland stands out in the Nordic countries in terms of language.

Høybråten regards Finland as a very important part of the Nordic region. He also thinks that Finns perceive themselves as an important part of the Nordic family.

– Finland represents the diversity of the Nordic countries, both culturally and linguistically. It is a challenge, but even more of an opportunity as the Nordic cooperation presents Finland with many opportunities.

Høybråten explains that during the year he has had two good reasons for delving deeper into the history of Finland: the Nordic Council Session and the 100th Anniversary of Finland.

– I have learned that many of the forces that started the Nordic cooperation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were the same as those working for Finland’s independence a hundred years ago. One could even say that modern Finland and the modern Nordic cooperation share the same roots.

Text: Emilia Koivunen

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