Euroculture Report

Crossing the Language And Cultural Bridges in Istanbul

Ioannis Ntountoumis │ ioannis_doudou@hotmail.com

“¿Cómo te llamas? Wo wohnst du? Vad talar du? Quel âge as-tu? Tι κάνεις;”
“Mi chiamo Yannis, I live in Istanbul, eu vorbesc greacă, je mi 27 let en Ik ben goed!”

Istanbul constitutes a case in itself. It is a unique metropolis which offers, more than any other city, different symbolisms and diversities, lying across two continents, bridging somehow the cultural and religious gap between the West and East.

At a time when the cultural, political and financial gap is getting bigger and bigger in Europe, as a result of the deep crisis the European Union is facing, the initiative of the Greek Consulate General in Istanbul to organise and host the celebration of European Day of Languages, for the third year in a row at the Sismanogleion Megaron, had this year even more of its own symbolism.

yannis greek consulate 1

The day, an initiative of the Council of Europe, has been celebrated since 2001 and offers people the chance to discover linguistic diversity through cultural activities.

The host, Greek Consul Victor Maligkoudis, said: “Learning a new language is a door to understanding a different culture”. And this was the exact purpose of this celebration, which might sound like a common cultural event but which turned out to be a cultural and linguistic party for people of different nationalities, race, gender and age.

The event took place on 29 September, in Sismanogleion Megaron, the Greek Cultural Centre in Istiklal, the most crowded pedestrian area of Istanbul. The fact that it took place on a Saturday helped the success of the event, in conjunction with the active participation of important institutes such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Goethe and the Cervantes Institutes, the Sismanogleion Megaron, the British Council, the Consulate Generals of Sweden and Czech Republic, the Wildenberg Dutch Cultural Centre, the Institut Francais, the Italian Institute of Culture, the Dimitrie Cantemir Romanian Cultural Institute and the TOMER Institute of the University of Ankara.

yannis greek consulate 2As far as the event is concerned, the participants had prepared a series of entertaining activities. One could, every thirty minutes, attend a language class in which basic knowledge of different European languages was provided, learn traditional and modern dances, or watch a short movie selected by each one of the participant institutes focusing on several cultural matters. The language classes gave an opportunity to guests to learn the alphabet, and easy and commonly-used vocabulary. Visitors were excited with the idea of learning, so quickly, useful expressions of languages from several countries, and the participation in the courses was more than broad. For a lot of them, it was a chance to discover their interest in learning a particular language, to ascertain how easy it seems to them, and to find out how many common characteristics it might have with their own mother-tongue.

The short movies offered the visitors some relaxing time and another perspective on different matters and cultural issues. Chosen by the participant institutes, they aimed to present a variety of current social problems such as discrimination, prejudice and misconception.

One of the highlights of the event was hosted on the first floor. There, the participants had the chance to try their dancing skills in traditional and contemporary European dances. The hall yannis greek consulate dancewas transformed to a dance stage where guests learned how to dance syrtaki, rumba, the Austrian Waltz and othera. However, activities were taking place in the basement of the building as well, where the institutes had set up information desks for guests, and employees of the Sismanogleion Megaron were assigned to prepare funny games for the children who came with their parents who, meanwhile, enjoyed the activities mentioned above. Moreover, the most active participants took part in a ‘treasure hunt’ at the institutes located in Istiklal, the winner of which received a free language course.

The experience was unique. Music, sounds, images, colour, faces were combined harmoniously to create a mosaic of creativeness, fantasy and communication. People from so many different backgrounds spent time together, discovering through language and dance the majestic of other cultures. Separation and stereotypes gave way to multiculturalism, pluralism, and intercultural understanding contributing to a totally successful project.

Within six hours, almost seven hundred people had visited the Sismanogleion Megaron and had participated in the activities of the European Day of Language. The success of the event was certain and its closing with the documentary entitled “Krisis” was symbolic and meaningful. It referred to the current financial, political and social crisis in Greece from different perspectives, presenting the reasons for the crisis and promoted a positive and optimistic message at the end. And optimism is the outcome of an event such as the one organised by the Sismanogleion Megaron.

yannis greek consulateThe immediate evaluation of the celebration by well-known Turkish newspapers and online journals such as Today’s Zaman, Hurriyet, Sabah and others, was as important as the main impact of the project on the European, non-European, and Turkish participants and guests. This was the promotion and encouragement of language learning and the belief that, no matter what the circumstances are, there are bridges which can cover our cultural differences and gaps. The main need for Europe and European citizens is the harmonic co-existence, communication and cooperation and it is by this way only that we will be able to reach the ultimate target of the European Community: solidarity and cohesion between its states, members and citizens.

yannisIoannis Ntountoumis, Istanbul Correspondent
Ioannis was born in Athens and studied Political Science and History at Panteion University. He is studying MA Euroculture at the University of Goettingen in Germany and Uppsala University in Sweden, andis currently doing an internship at the Greek Consulate in Istanbul. He is interested in International Relations, European Affairs, the History of Politics and Peace and Conflict Resolution. He loves sports, travelling and does not believe strictly in one dogma or ideology in order to leave space in his mind for new ideas and thoughts.

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