EU National Institutes for Culture - EUNIC

Decolonising Cultural Relations - EUNIC Knowledge Sharing Workshop

European colonial and imperial history still impacts modern geopolitics and economic inequalities, while also fostering racist attitudes. Recognising the role that culture can play here, DutchCulture and EUNIC organised a Knowledge Workshop for EUNIC members to address these issues and encourage dialogue among cultural organisations.

On 21 November, 27 colleagues from 16 different EUNIC members participated in the online Knowledge Sharing Workshop on decolonising cultural relations. As part of the wider conversation on Fair Collaboration, EUNIC members were invited to share insights and experiences on cultural relations approaches from a decolonial perspective. The workshop was co-organised by DutchCulture and EUNIC and joined by external speakers Karwan Fatah-Black (Leiden University) and Kathleen Ferrier (Dutch UNESCO Commission).


In preparation for the workshop, DutchCulture took the initiative to explore the relation between decolonisation and cultural relations in more detail, sending out a survey to colleagues in the network working at different levels of their organisation, with the aim to show how colonial dynamics are defined in different contexts and whether and how they are perceived to impact cultural relations practices in tangible ways. Since DutchCulture believes that decolonisation is an “everything problem”, affecting many different layers of the organisations that they work in, a questionnaire and an invitation to the Knowledge Sharing Workshop was sent out to Ministry directors, programme makers, EUNIC Focal Points and local staff active at the Embassies and institutes that help achieve EUNIC’s hybrid, multi-level and global reach. The survey responses helped to shape the structure and programme of the 4-hour Knowledge Sharing Workshop.

Fair Collaboration and Decolonisation

Fair Collaboration is and has been an important topic for EUNIC and its members, resulting, among other things, in several online resources, including Not a Toolkit! Building on this body of work, this Knowledge Sharing Workshop was aimed at diving deeper into the topic of fairness, and its meanings in relation to a decolonial perspective on cultural cooperation. The workshop was designed to give the opportunity to explore our experience as cultural organisations working internationally and engage in dialogue with each other. DutchCulture proposed decolonisation as an urgent topic to address within the EUNIC framework, related to the Netherlands’ historical involvement in colonialism, recent apologies of the Dutch government and King, as well as recent developments in the cultural and policy field involving restitution of artifacts. EUNIC and DutchCulture believe that cultural institutions have an important role to play in redefining cultural relations through a decolonisation lens. That means: re-examining the way we work with our partners in different (post-colonial) contexts, reflecting on power dynamics and representation, and creating space for healing, justice and innovation, working towards new ways and conditions of cooperation.

Practicioners perspectives

To introduce the subject of decolonisation from the organizing country’s perspective, two experts joined the workshop, highlighting key developments in the societal and cultural domain in the Netherlands. Karwan Fatah-Black, a historian and researcher at Leiden University, shared perspectives on recent development including the growing societal awareness of the violent history of European settler colonialism, and a need to dismantle the main narrative that still frames colonialism from a nostalgic point of view. Regarding accountability in the decolonisation process, he elaborated that official apologies such as made by Dutch King Willem-Alexander for the role of the Netherlands in the slave trade, are an important first step, yet they are just the start of a long process.

We are not done. We need to move towards owning up to our history.

Karwan Fatah-Black, Leiden University

Kathleen Ferrier, a global human rights advocate and cross-cultural communicator who is currently chairing the Dutch UNESCO Commission, brought in reflections on the role of culture in times of changing narratives. She outlined the importance of culture for a healing process in decolonisation and the need to proactively build new connections to move beyond colonial structures.

In a colonial worldview there is a strong disconnect between realities. We urgently need to connect at global and national level and it starts by being aware of what is going on.

Kathleen Ferrier, Dutch UNESCO Commission

EUNIC members positionality

In individual breakout groups, EUNIC member colleagues shared practical insights from their organisations regarding education, partnership management, communication as well as cultural policy and strategies. The discussions were an opportunity to reflect on the positionality of cultural institutions and how to continue the dialogue with each other. The workshop discussions and survey highlighted the necessity for EUNIC and its members to acknowledge the enduring influence of European colonialism on present-day global dynamics. It is both a collective and personal responsibility to examine cultural relations through a decolonization lens.


In-depth information on these discussions can now be found in the Knowledge Sharing Workshop report here. It includes an overview of the workshop, summaries from the guest speakers’ perspectives, as well as the main takeaways from each break-out room. It also contains an insight into the questionnaire results, an introduction by DutchCulture Director Kirsten van den Hul and a conclusion by EUNIC Director Andrew Manning. Finally, as the different perspectives provided by the report can act as indirect recommendations, the document aims to be a useful reading to encourage a positive development to the approach and implementation of fair cultural relations between EUNIC organisations but also between any kind of cultural organisation working with international partners.

Co-funded by the European Union Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.