János Can Togay (Director, Collegium Hungaricum Berlin)

31.07.2010 - Interview conducted by Kathleen Vesper

Q1. Do you think that a Nation Branding or presenting itself in a certain light perpetuates national stereotypes and possibly offends some of its own people?

Of course you can brand your country with certain characteristics, and stereotypes present an interesting platform because you can change them, and reposition them, but you have to be aware of them. My work is greater than only branding my nation, but I have to take these stereotypes and give them a new color and a new shape. When I present my operetta, it might be a part of the Hungarian brand or stereotype, but I try and position it so that it opens up knowledge. The classical branding techniques are outdated, and I would like to brand my nation with more attitudes. In terms of offending people, yes when you choose certain characteristics, not every person belonging to that country will identify with the characteristics chosen. From my standpoint, I want to want more dynamic contributions instead of helping just one characteristic.

Q2. A product and, to a certain extent, a service, can easily be defined or categorized. However, ‘defining’ a country is a much more complex task. In your opinion, do you believe countries can be “marketed” or “branded” like products and services can be?

Certainly not like a product because a country brands itself by the role it is ready to play in front of the world.

Q3. Outside of tourism, how can “Nation Branding” help in promoting other cultural and socio-economic initiatives domestically?

Tourism is important, but it’s more important to be part of Europe and to help shape Europe. Nation branding entails political and economical interests and helps shape a country and gives it confidence.

Q4. Europe is a very diverse continent, rich with unique cultures and languages. Do you foresee nation branding as being a difficult task for certain countries within Europe?

It is rather difficult because Europe is a huge continent with very different attitudes. It is nearly impossible to “brand” Europe nations as entities because of the historical background of many of the countries. What will the people from the Catalans or the Corsicas say, or the regions that want to brand themselves? It’s a very difficult task, but branding is not everything.

Q5. Among the European nations, what can Hungary do to differentiate its “brand” comparative to other nations, in order to further its cultural diplomacy efforts?

There are lots of things Hungary can do, but I want to talk about what small nations, not only Hungary. One of the most successful brands during the Cold War was Finland. Helsinki became one of the important cities in Europe because it positioned itself as the mediator between the east and the west. It could position itself like this because it offered a platform for historical European events.