Another edition of our “Rethinking Leadership” Oxford Seminar Series took place last Thursday. This time we gathered to talk about cultural diplomacy, development of friendly relationships between nations and coming to understand their most inner nature. That was the last Oxford seminar this year.

Sequence of presentations at the seminar has started with a speech of dr Marta de Zuniga, Director of Polish Cultural Institute in London. Our speaker has introduced us to the idea of cultural diplomacy. Although diplomacy is often seen as a subtle way of exercising power, cultural diplomacy provides alternative, more informal and relational dimension to it. Within this phenomenon, understanding and trust are being built between parties that get to know each other. Cultural diplomacy is also more than showcasing – it’s rather a creative and enriching interchange which allows for building partnerships on the foundation of deeper understanding of one another. According to de Zuniga, South Corea serves as a perfect example of a country that was able to utilize rise in popularity of Corean culture in its official policy to conduct a highly effective worldwide campaign in the area of cultural diplomacy.

Julia Griffin, art historian and curator has continued the seminar and told us a captivating story of how Polish culture has been presented to the British in the last years. In order to do so, Polish unfamiliar culture has been displayed with the use of familiar tropes. Especially successful in this regard was a research and exhibition project “Young Poland: An Arts and Crafts Movement” that has been conducted between 2019 and 2022. Despite the pandemic, it was a great success and resulted in dozens of thousands visitors as well as increased interest in Polish culture, especially from Young Poland era. The British viewers could see and understand how even objects used in everyday life were designed to have a symbolic meaning, conveying and cultivating Polish national identity in trying times of partitions.

Dr Janina Ramirez, historian and writer from Harris Manchester College, Oxford, Oxford was the final speaker and has tackled the deep and intriguing question of “the soul of nation”. As a person working in United Kingdom and of partially Irish descent, she has led us into the depths of early medieval history, where the foundations for English and Irish identity were formed. We learned more about Saint Augustine of Canterbury and Saint Columba as spiritual fathers of two nations. We also got to know more about Book of Durrow – an amazing relic of history and the oldest surviving illuminated manuscript in the world.

The speeches were followed by questions from our audience both present in person and watching us online. We further explored the idea of soul of the nation and concluded the meeting with a short summary made by Michał Łuczewski. As he summed things up, it appears that to get to know someone else’s soul, it is necessary for both parties to take off their masks, reveal their commitments and create the inner space for other person to enter. A soul-reaching bond is a foundation of friendship not only between individuals but even nations in international diplomatic relations – hence, the importance of cultural diplomacy in contemporary world.

We would like to thank our invaluable partners – the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building, the Polish Cultural Institute, Oxford Polish Association and the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict. Last but not least, we are grateful for generous support of Polska Fundacja Narodowa (Polish National Foundation).