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Poetic diplomacy tool of Algerian envoy

It is no secret that ambassadors have diplomatic immunity, but the Algerian envoy has something else in his bag of tricks: a poetic license to increase cultural ties.

Algeria Ambassador Hocine Sahraoui has written more than 50 poems to date. Alas, they have not yet been published.

“This is my hobby and it is part of my job in a way,” he said. “My wife asks me to publish them but we will see what will happen in the future.”

Sahraoui arrived in Seoul with the mission of not only improving political and economic ties, which he classifies as excellent, but also fostering the young cultural relationship between the two countries.

“For me, cultural ties are very important because they permit people from both countries to know about each other, which will get them closer,” he told The Korea Herald.

Economically, relations between the two countries are healthy and growing.

In 2004, trade was just under $600 million. In the first 11 months of last year, trade between South Korea and Algeria ballooned to over $1.6 billion, according to the Korea International Trade Association.

Politically, leaders, ministers and all facets of government have traveled the long journey to bring this 21-year relationship to the place where it is today.

Yet, cultural ties are still in their infancy.

“I consider the cultural sphere as the cement that bonds economic and political ties and reinforces those two sectors,” he said.
Algeria Ambassador Hocine Sahraoui (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)
Algeria Ambassador Hocine Sahraoui (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)

Sahraoui has several plans to increase cultural links.

Last year he held a photo exhibition showcasing the beauty of Algeria with the hope of encouraging more visits to the Sahara as well as the country’s mountains and beaches.

This year he is taking a different approach by showing the history and culture of Algeria in the form of two movies.

One film is “La Bataille d’Alger (The Battle of Algiers),” which is an account of one of the bloodiest revolutions in modern history.

The 1966 war film is based on events during the Algerian War (1954-1962) against French colonial rule in North Africa.

The film has been critically celebrated and often taken, by insurgent groups and states alike, as an important commentary on urban guerilla warfare. It occupies 120th place on Empire Magazine’s 500 greatest movies of all time.

“I chose this film because I have noticed that Koreans are very sensitive to the question of colonization and I also noticed that there is a common resemblance between Korea and Algeria over the issue of colonization,” Sahraoui explained.

The other film is the historic epic “La Chronique des Annes de Braise (Chronicle of the Years of Fire).”

This film delves into the beginnings of the Algerian Revolution as seen through the eyes of a peasant. It won the Palme d’Or prize at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival.

“This is a much larger film,” he said. “It not only explains the war, but also the history of Algeria during a much longer period.”

The films are currently being subtitled into Korean, though the dates for completion have yet to be announced.

While business and political relations remain firm and cultural ties need to be improved, the ambassador is also looking to increase the number of Korean visitors to Algeria.

Sahraoui explained that he just completed the first phase of his tourism promotion project which is the translation of a 100-page tourism brochure from English into Korean.

Algeria is blessed with 1,200 kilometers of some of the most stunning beaches in the world. Its backdrop, on one side is the awe-inspiring Mediterranean Ocean; on the other are Algeria’s snow-capped mountains and the Sahara desert.

The Sahara desert attracts many tourists wanting to escape the crazy everyday life of an urban jungle.

“There is an old saying in Algeria, that the Sahara is the only place in the world where you hear silence,” he said.

So far the promotion of tourism in Algeria has been through word of mouth perpetrated by businesspeople that fell in love with the country.

“We can’t be content with word of mouth so that’s why we are making more of an effort to incite people to visit,” Sahraoui said.

The backbone of its economy is the export of hydrocarbons, which accounts for roughly 60 percent of its budget revenues, nearly 30 percent of its GDP, and over 97 percent of its export earnings.

The government seeks to diversify the economy by attracting foreign and domestic investment outside the energy sector.

But in 2008 and 2009, Algeria announced several economic policies that would strengthen Algerian government control over foreign investment projects.

Algeria adopted a “complementary finance law” in 2009, which imposed new restrictions on foreign investment, import companies, and domestic consumer credit. The law requires a minimum of 51 percent Algerian partnership in new foreign investments and a 30 percent Algerian partnership in all foreign import companies.

“We are trying to protect ourselves against a worsening of the economic situation (in relation to the economic meltdown) like double-dipping, so we are taking our precautions. This way we won’t be penalized like we were when it hit,” he said.

Sahraoui added that Algeria was not penalizing foreign investments and that foreign investors from Korea, the United States and Europe are still opening up operations in Algeria.

By Yoav Cerralbo (yoav@heraldcorp.com)
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