«Artistic freedom is the essence of democracy»

«Artistic freedom is the essence of democracy»

2023-09-22 18:01:28

When the Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature, her country’s Minister of Culture was uncomfortable. Of course it was important to him that a Pole win the Nobel, but not that Polish woman… A feminist, she had spoken out against the reactionary drift that the far-right Law and Justice party (Pis) was leading. “Unfortunately, I have problems with these awards, and it is not something new,” said the head of Culture. «Do you want us to talk about Mrs. Tokarczuk’s books? Well, I’ve tried, but I’ve never finished. Four years later, on the eve of parliamentary elections, far from improving, the situation has gotten worse.

“Poland is following the path of Hungary,” warns the Hungarian writer Ferenc Czinki, president of a writers’ association. «They want to remain in power and have understood that controlling artistic creation is a powerful tool. In Hungary they have limited the different platforms on which one can express oneself freely. They buy media groups, then try to silence opposition parties and financially suffocate associations like the one I chair. And this is happening in the name of democracy and capitalism. My question is: is it a democracy in which the Government puts its trusted people in all possible positions and invades the media?

Czinki belongs to the European Alliance of Academies (European Alliance of Academies), which brings together seventy associations from all over Europe, including the Círculo de Bellas Artes, the only Spanish one. Representatives of the Alliance have met in Krakow this week to learn first-hand about the situation of artistic creation in Poland, because, in the words of Jeanine Meerapfel, promoter of this initiative, some European countries are implementing cultural policies that increasingly limit creative freedom: «The independence of artistic institutions from political, national and religious prescriptions is the essence of democracy. “The autonomy of many academies, museums and cultural institutions is being endangered.”

“Is a democracy one in which the Government places its trusted people in all possible positions and invades the media?”

The ‘Rights and freedom of culture’ meeting in Krakow follows others held since 2020 in Berlin, Budapest, Madrid, Amsterdam and Cambridge. And on this occasion they have had an exceptional guest, the UN special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, the Greek Alexandra Xanthaki, who within a month will present a report on the situation of cultural rights in the world. «Artistic freedom and cultural rights also include the right to have a voice, to express their opinions through art and artistic expressions. It is the right to adopt or reject certain cultural or religious practices, as well as to review existing traditions and values. No society remains static.

All this has been in question in Poland, as the members of the Alliance were informed, for almost a decade, when the Law and Justice party came to power and proposed to “repair Poland” from the post-communist stage, with traditionalist measures in the social and cultural. That ‘cultural war’ that is now being talked about in Spain began much earlier in Poland. That is, public institutions promote practices aimed at the ‘pollination’ of the country, with a return to nationalist myths, especially the resistance of the Second World War and anti-communism.

Ferenc Czinki, Hungarian writer ABC

To carry out these policies, strict control has been practiced since 2015: the Government has changed the orientation of fifty cultural institutions and has appointed new directors, something that the regions controlled by the populist right have also done. In Krakow, the cultural capital of Poland, the director of the Teatro Juliusz Slowacki It has been in a very delicate situation for years, pointed out directly by the Executive and without financial margin because Culture has stopped financing it. Something similar happens to Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakowdependent on the (left-wing) mayor’s office, but for two years it has not been able to buy new work because the ministry does not provide a budget.

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According to the deputy mayor of Krakow, Robert Piaskowski, “cities are becoming increasingly important islands for freedom of expression and freedom of culture.” Krakow has emerged as the resistance against regression. «When I see ordinary people protesting in front of theaters, I know that this is a systematic culture war. And culture is often a cover to divert attention from other important issues, such as state collapse, war, irregularities or political ineptitude. Culture, deprived of the freedom to create, becomes a tool in the hands of the system,” warns Piaskowski. “Krakow supports freedom of culture.”

Krakow has emerged as the resistance against the regression of creative freedom in Poland

The members of the European Alliance of Academies present in the Polish city spoke with some cultural agents from Krakow and also shared the risks in their countries of origin. Valerio Rocco, director of the Círculo de Bellas Artes, recalled cases of censorship such as the kidnapping of the book ‘Fariña’, by Nacho Carretero, or the controversy that occurred in some cities during the last elections. «There were protests, civil society rose up against censorship. “It was a serious warning and I think politics has understood it.”

The French writer Cécile Wajjsbrot, for its part, warned of the growing media concentration and the risk that this poses to information plurality. «Things do not arise from nothing. Building media empires takes time, just like building a dictatorship. Controlling the media is part of it. “It is the first step,” he warned. It starts slowly, with whispers. Then the voices get louder, the words clearer and one morning you wake up, listen to the radio and find out what is happening. And you think: how was it possible, so suddenly? But it wasn’t that sudden. “What is going to happen has already happened.”

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