O. Crisis and Cultural Policies
A few thoughts on culture in the current
ENCATC Interview on June 16
Q and A-s
The interview was made for ENCATC video wall:
1- Is Europe a cultural project?
• Europe? Of course. (Though one would have to be much more precise: Culture means a lot, and not always something innocent...)
• Yet the question is whether the EU is a cultural project. I am fervently advocating for making it a vibrant cultural project, a democratic project without culturalisation of difference, but right now it looks grim .. What we need is a anti-cyclic cultural Keynesianism...
• That doesn’t necessarily mean money only, though it is needed; it means a campaign WE NEED MORE: MORE EUROPE, not less. WE DON’T NEED A PROGRAMME and a budget ONLY. We need conviction, responsibility, faces; the Commission has to win back the support of artists and intellectuals again, and they need to own – re-own – their (trans-national, democratic) project ….
• Thus the campaign of Culture Action Europe and others would benefit from being rephrased, redefined, updated, amended - by the most important priority of today: prevent ‘The We’ from getting so small that it finally disappears.
In other words: Can we prevent people from being clannish?
2- What do you define as the deep crisis of capitalism, and how does culture become more relevant/ more important in this context?
• We have allowed the finance markets to strip off all limits and boundaries, the profits have been ‘consumed’ by the tiny minority of big capital owners, and the risks and costs had to be ‘socialised’ to an important extent. And it is those who had never any decision to make that now have to bear the costs, e.g. through the national debts and the cutting exercises of states, lowering of social and other (also cultural) standards, etc. (Arts suffer greatly in parts of Europe, in many cities and regions…)
• Extremely costly saving of the system probably may have been necessary, but it wasn’t fair, or just. It hasn’t been totally successful either, and we have not yet reached the comfort zone.
• Equality has been sacrificed more an more – within societies and between societies; disparities have become aggravated (with a few exceptions like in Scandinavian countries)
• Middle classes are afraid of losing their status. What we can observe is not only extreme populism at the margins, but a new middle class extremism (Heinz Bude). That produces a new role for status differences, like those gained through education and culture. Exclusion by cultural distinction almost becomes a last resort against fear, which makes our cultural battles not exactly easier…
• Of course it is now all about trust in our own abilities to ‘get it right’ again; to produce a better political culture; to lead the collective conversations that Tony Judt described… To get engaged, and a cultural campaign becomes more and more a political, or better: a societal campaign, with partners across the board, from human rights to education, social campaigns to development agencies.
3 - Can public cultural policies be developed beyond the European level, at the global level?
• I guess we can only speculate. A few points:
• Of course: the UNESCO Convention is an important step. Yet, at the same time it has strengthened states, no matter what kind of states we are confronted with. And the vast majority is at least pre-democratic.
• Indeed, we need trans-national cultural policies. Yet, they are not even really strong in the EU. Not to mention e.g. complex international relations, e.g. between the EU and China, when it comes to hard matters beyond wonderful exhibitions like the current one about enlightenment in Beijing.
• What dominates globally is the market. This is not necessarily or exclusively a bad thing; it also enables people to open up gates of access.
• Our EU’s neighbourhood policy has not come very far in the cultural realm (I am afraid it is not the only area of slow progress).
Take Belarus: Artists and intellectuals have warned the ‘West’, and the EU in particular, that the ENP strengthened the ‘bandit’, as they called Lukashenka. Nobody in the West wanted to listen. In winter 2010/11 he hit again, and civil society leaders are in jail, families are oppressed, artists have to go.
In the case of the Arab countries, it needs to be seen whether the European institutions are able and quick enough to really support the new movements, culturally, and otherwise.
• EU’s external relations and culture: another cumbersome process, slow and tricky, in between all chairs (EEAS and DG EaC), not seen as a priority, of course, one is tempted to say, and left to the member states’ (open) coordination mechanisms, and the network of cultural institutes, not yet famous for its innovative speed. Another missed opportunity so far.
4- How should European politics and European cultures interact?
• Win back the trust of the almost natural allies of the trans-national project, the artists, intellectuals and many young people.
• Risk openness in addressing the challenges, using a frank language, and risk controversy. Invite all to take part in a European debate that moves people.
• Don’t reduce culture to industry or tourism. It is the artistic passion of the ages before us which we enjoy and ‘sell’ today – what are we going to pass to the next generations if we instrumentalise arts at the very beginning of the policy process? It is fine, and legitimate, to build hope on the creative industries; but Europe stands for freedom and the radicalism of the thinkers and creators, and a complex project like Europe needs them utterly urgent.
• Stay open, or better: open up to the unexpected; for example: there is an excellent idea to award Sarajevo the title of a European Cultural Capital in 2014, in addition to those chosen in a regular manner. The EP has endorsed it, reflecting the symbolic importance and the need to go the final steps to a ‘solution’ in BiH. Don’t kill the idea just because there is no legal basis for it; its 20 years since the outbreak of the wars in SEE; make the impossible possible.
5 – How can cultural diversity be a basis for a European society which shares with each other a kind of common democratic utopia?
• We have to better discover how we can complement – not replace - sameness as the glue by diversity as the glue.
• A lot can be done by supporting even more young people who think cosmopolitan – and artists whose profession has a lot to do with difference and freedom.
• A lot should be done together with journalists, and editors of European media, to engage with them in debates.
• It is critical how we deal with ‘new diversity’ in society, and citizens who have been mobile, or had to be mobile. The so-called debate on integration has fallen victim to the renaissance of ‘nationalism without powerful nation states’, the ghost of nationalism, and fear.
• Cultural institutions have a lot to learn with respect to the ‘new communities’, and have to change (audience development, decision making, representation). It all goes much too slow, and not coherently reflected upon and done.
6 - Which role does culture play in developing an actual trans-national Europe?
• If it goes wrong: cultural distinction instead of diversity; culturalisation of difference; exclusion due to cultural projections; popular stereotypes about others will accompany the process of erosion of the ‘WE’, starting with questioning Schengen and totally restrictive migration politics, and ending up with implosion of the common market and political agenda, in the worst case.
• Knowing about the dangers is not enough. Building a new political culture is the responsibility of all of us, and of enlightened democratic leadership. Many artists and cultural actors are potentially allies; they can be approached, if there is a clear and credible agenda.
• I am afraid the institutions at European level are not yet prepared for new cultural policies for a new political culture; nor are many (nation-) states. Nor are we in the cultural networks, in production, dissemination and management, really. We tend to cling to our ‘classic concerns’, and are not yet sufficiently questioning our own old logic.
Gottfried Wagner (expressing his own views exclusively)