March 2021 : Bertrand Buchwalter, Director of the French Institute for the United Kingdom (l’Institut Français du Royaume-Uni)

La photo de Bertrand Buchwalter

We had the pleasure of meeting (online) Bertrand Buchwalter, who has just been appointed Director of the French Institute for the UK (Directeur de l’Institut Français du Royaume-Uni). This was an opportunity to find out more about his career path, the challenges that await him and his ambitions for the Institute.

Q. Can you tell us more about your career in diplomacy / in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

A. I joined the Quai d’Orsay nearly twenty years ago and have successively worked in Ankara, Washington, Brussels, Istanbul and “en centrale” as they say. I have held very different positions, but with a European major and a marked tropism for our near abroad.

Q. When did you arrive in th United Kingdom? Why did you decide to come live here?

A. I arrived in London last September but only took up my post as Cultural Advisor/Director of the French Institute for the UK on February 1rst. For a long time, I had wanted to try to experience London and the United Kingdom because I feel, like many French people, a curiosity and a fixed passion for this country which is another “near abroad”. The UK is both our double and our negative portrait, with whom we sometimes quarrel but with whom we agree for the most important.  “Je t’aime moi non plus”, you know Gainsbourg’s famous song… The challenge seemed all the more exciting to me in this pivotal year, when there are many things to try to redraw and reinvent in the Franco-British relationship.

Q. What was your previous posititon? How did it prepare you for your new role?

A. I was General Consul of France in Istanbul from 2016 to 2020. It is also a wonderful position, at the crossroads of many issues. I was very involved in education and culture because they represented a valuable line of dialogue and life in an otherwise rather tormented context. And this made me want to take up a fully-fledged cultural position because these dimensions are at the heart of French diplomacy, and every year time passes a little bit more. I was also very happy to be in contact with our compatriots abroad and with all their associations. I will also be very happy to do so in my new role, in relation with all your members.

Q. What are your aspirations and desires for your new position?

A. With the great team at the Institute, I want us to continue to be the bridge and fulcrum for French language and culture in the UK. Our ambition is to continue to seize and create every possible opportunity to connect the British and French.

Q. Is there a project that is particularly close to your heart?

A. The Institute has not lacked structuring projects in recent years, with the precious and unfailing support of our trust: renovation of the salons, opening of a new cinema. During the pandemic, we continued to invest in a project to modernise our foyer and create a space dedicated to our activities for school audiences. That project is nearing completion and another is about to begin, the renovation of our language centre, which will be one of my priorities for the next few years. I am also keen to continue to make all the voices that embody today’s France, which is more than ever called diversity, resonate in the United Kingdom.

Q. What are the main challenges you will face?

A. In the immediate future, we must address the issue of emerging from the pandemic, which has been a complicated ordeal for the Institute as much as anyone. As soon as conditions permit, we will reopen and resume our face-to-face activities. In the meantime, we continue to work actively, continuing our activities and online programming and preparing for the future!

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