Frédéric Rauser, Director of the French Institute of Budapest and Cultural Counsellor to the French Embassy, gave an interview to Daily News Hungary in the imposing building of the Institut with the fantastic view of the Chain Bridge. The talk reveals the role this institution plays in Budapest, discusses the cooperation between French and Hungarian universities and shed light on the activities of the French Institute as regards French language and culture.
Can you describe your role as Director of the French Institute?
The institute promotes the French language and culture. My role as director consists of leading, organising and supervising the operations and ensure the proper functioning of the institute, including managing the team of 42 persons. When I arrived in Hungary in the summer of 2017, we laid down the basis of a 5-year long strategic plan with priorities and main objectives of what we want to achieve in Hungary. Therefore, as you can see, my role is double: I am both the Cultural Counsellor to the French Embassy in Budapest and at the same time the Director of the French Institute.
How does the process of becoming a Director pass? Could you choose to come to Hungary as Director?
I chose to come to Hungary, to return to Hungary. I worked in the country before, from 2006 to 2011, and I was glad to come back to Budapest again. The job as an advisor is supervised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in France which has an important cultural network throughout the world. This network involves politics and diplomacy as well and aims to spread the culture and the language of France worldwide. For that reason, to become a director, there is a selection process in Paris involving interviews with the candidates for the vacant positions. I applied for the position in Hungary when I was a Cultural Counsellor in Ireland and got selected. Thus, when my term ended in Dublin, I came to Budapest. I really enjoyed the 1st time when I was living in the country, and I am very pleased to be back and promote the French culture. The cooperation between the two countries makes up the largest part of my work.
Can you tell us about the current academic relations between Hungary and France and how the institutions can help them?
The institute is a cultural establishment that intends to promote the French culture and art along with the French language. For example, we have partnerships with French and Hungarian institutions, and besides the mobility of French students to Hungary, we also give the opportunity to Hungarian students to go to France via a huge program of scholarships. Hence, the cooperation between the two countries in this domain and research as well is an important part of our work.
What do you think the Institute represents for Hungarians?
I believe that the institution stands up for prestige in Hungary. Besides the cultural ties between France and Hungary, we have a common history, although there have been issues in the course of history that separated us. I would say that culture, in particular, is what still connects the two nations.
For example, several Hungarian poets and writers have shown interest in France, like Attila József or Endre Ady, just to name a few. Furthermore, Petőfi was also inspired by the French Revolution.
During the 60s and from the 20th century onwards, France and Hungary have been very much connected through poetry and of course, through music too. For example, Ferenc Liszt wrote all his letters in French and spent some time during his adolescence in France. Hungarian musicians are very much appreciated in France and both countries regularly invite orchestras from one another. Therefore, the cultural connection is obvious between the two nations. Moreover, through the Institute, the French presence has become more visible. In 1946, the Institute was only a small office, while during the 70s, the building in Szegfű Street gave a home to it. In 1992, the present building on the bank of the Danube was constructed, a place that symbolises liberty for Hungarians.
Who would you like to address with your programmes?
Our audience is very diverse, although youngsters are in the majority. At the Institute, we offer films for adults, animated films for children between 4-10 years, and many comedies for everyone interested. Subtitles are provided for the films because we do not want to exclude those who are not fluent French speakers. Furthermore, we organise programmes that attract academics and scientific experts, or the civil society and journalists. The greater number of the audience are Hungarians. During lectures and conferences, headphones are provided to the audience and interpreters also assist with translation from French to Hungarian. We have all the necessary equipment to ensure the mediation between the two cultures and languages.
What do you think about the situation of the French language in Hungary?
Hungary has never been a French-speaking country, and it has no French-speaking neighbours either. The closest country where French is spoken is Switzerland, then comes Belgium and France. The 1st language learnt in Hungarian schools is English or German, because Austria and Germany are geographically much closer to the country and for obvious historical reasons as well.
Nevertheless, the number of people learning French in Hungary is very stable, and what is surprising is the high level of the language spoken despite the issues just mentioned.
In bilingual schools, for instance, students have an extraordinary command of the French language, and as far as the quality of education is concerned, this is a good opportunity for a country with no French-speaking neighbours. Moreover, the number of students coming to the Institute also shows that there is a growing interest in our language – as you might know, French along with English are the only two languages spoken on the five continents. In 2017, the number of students at the institute grew by 20% compared to the previous year.
How can Hungarian students improve their French knowledge and how can the French Institute help this?
They can improve their knowledge with cultural immersion by watching films with subtitles for example, but the most important is, of course, language courses. Moreover, the Institute assists and supports the education of French teachers and bilingual schools. The Hungarian-French Youth Foundation, a bilingual program in Hungarian and French, recruits around 20 French lectors every year who come and help the work of Hungarian teachers. Thanks to them, Hungarians can improve their skills with native speakers.
Could you give us a foretaste of the programmes during the Francophone Film Days and Festival this year?
We will have a very diverse programme that we are looking forward to presenting to the Hungarian audience. The 27th of February, MUPA will host an amazing concert: “Les Indes Galantes” by Rameau. The Alain Laboile photo exhibition entitled “The Family” will be launched on the 13th of March at Szépharom Galéria. For fans of the theatre, a French play called “Monológok bilógok, trilógok” by Jean-Michel Ribes will be presented in the RS9 Színház. On the 19th of March, you can experience a Moroccan gastronomic event. During the renowned Francophone Film Festival, there will be two movies with the presence of French directors: Serge Bozon director of “Madame Hyde” (with Isabelle Huppert) and Xavier Legrand director of “Jusqu’à la Garde” (with Léa Drucker in the principal role).
In total, 26 movies will be screened during the festival.
We also invite the French linguist Bernard Cerquiglini who works with TV5 where he has his own television programme. Like on TV, he is going to talk about the origin of French words in his own very entertaining way. This is just to mention a few events from the very vast programme.
What do you think about Hungary, more precisely about Budapest? What are some positive aspects of the city and those requiring some improvement?
I am very impressed by this city. From 2011 to 2017, I visited Budapest once a year. The Pearl of the Danube is a very beautiful city, what I find worth noting is the importance of culture in the life of the Hungarians. They are passionate about art and language and are very interested in theatre and music. I believe that culture was a way of escape for people before the Fall of the Wall, in some way a possibility to experience the freedom of speech through arts. It is a great pleasure for me to work in Budapest because it is exciting to promote the French culture and language and reach the people. In fact, Budapest has changed a lot as far as transportation and public places are concerned. The only problem I can think of – and which not only affects Budapest but other capitals as well – is pollution that needs time to be solved.
Featured image: franciaintezet.hu