By: CHRIS GRAEME
THE BRITISH COUNCIL celebrated its 70th anniversary in Portugal last week, at the same site where it was inaugurated in 1938.
To mark the start of the commemorations, the international organisation for the dissemination of British culture and language held an official ceremony at Lisbon’s Academy of Sciences.
At the same time, a book, A Small but Crucial Push, recounting the story of the British Council in Portugal by British journalist and BBC correspondent Alison Roberts, was launched.
The British Council was founded at a time when war clouds were gathering in Europe and the British government was keen to counteract the efforts of Nazi German propaganda as Europe, 1including Spain, Portugal and Italy also became dominated by right-wing, conservative nationalist-totalitarian governments.
With a foreword written by former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, A Small but Crucial Push traces how the British Council came to be implanted in Portugal, the organisation’s cultural evolution, the historic importance of the institution and those linked to its founding.
Today, the British Council has six centres in Portugal, located in Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra, and has been responsible for teaching a high level of English to hundreds of thousands of students over the years.
The institution has also been instrumental in the education and training of Portuguese men and women of standing thanks to its grants and scholarships, including João Carlos Espada, the founder and director of the Institute of Political Studies at Lisbon’s Catholic University, who was recently nominated Advisor to Portuguese President Aníbal Cavaco Silva.
Other key Portuguese personalities helped by the British Council include Teresa Pinto Coelho, Professor of Lisbon’s Universidade Nova University and Director of the Portuguese Studies Centre at Oxford University and Rui Semedo, former Director of Barclays Bank Portugal, as well as João Rendeiro, founder and President of the Banco Privado Português.
More than just an English language school, the British Council has maintained its key role in promoting cultural and scientific links between the two countries in the fields of music, art and science.
“The vast majority of people think of us as an English language institution but our work is a lot more than just language teaching,” said Rosemary Hillhorst, the director of the British Council, Portugal.
“The organisation has been involved in projects as diverse as arts, science, literature, culture and education as well as the environment, European migration, higher education research, business studies, tourism and sustainable business and development,” she added.
Rosemary Hillhorst, who in June 2003 received the OBE for her Connecting Futures project, says that the British Council’s vision is to work together with partners in Portugal as well as other countries to “create a new generation in Europe”.
The Connecting Futures project arose as a reply to the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and is one in which the British Council has created a vast number of partnerships aimed at promoting dialogue and understanding between young Muslims and Non-Muslims in the United Kingdom and other countries.
Today, the British Council has 100 branches worldwide but its origins started in 1934, one year after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany.
The British Committee for Relations with Other Countries was set up that year by parliamentary bill and changed its name to the British Council in 1936.
At that time, the non-profit organisation was crucial in the battle for the hearts and minds of Europeans against Nazi propaganda as well as the protection and dissemination of British language, art, science and cultural traditions.
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