Listen to the silenced: The state of Artistic Freedom in Europe

September 7, 2018, 2:21 pm

On September 4th, 2018, Culture Action Europe (CAE), together with Freemuse and MEP Julie Ward (S&D) organised a debate on the state of artistic freedom in Europe. Held in the European Parliament, the event was based on Freemuse’s The State of Artistic Freedom report, 2018, which exposes how freedom of expression of artists and art communities are being violated in Europe at an alarming scale. Representatives from the arts community and policy and decision makers presented arguments for why and how Europe must do more to protect artistic freedom.

Luca Jahier, President of European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) opened the event, stressing the gravity of the rights infringements in Europe and calling for cooperation to tackle the shrinking of civic space: “the backbone of our democracies”. Referring to the EESC study “The future evolution of civil society in the European Union by 2030”, he mentioned five major tendencies in the weakening of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs): populism, demographic change, economic crisis, the digital revolution and the shrinking of civic space. He also highlighted the importance of a political and legal framework to be put in place to nurture the development of European civil society, as well as adequate funding, the protection of fundamental rights and of the rule of law. Finally, he recalled that Europe is a cultural space, thus the exchange of open and interactive cultural processes and forms of cultural expression will contribute to the strengthening of democratic citizenship.

Mr. Jahier’s key points where followed by a brief presentation of the State of Artistic Freedom Report by Srirak Plipat, the Executive Director of Freemuse, pointing out the concerning number of artists censored in Europe in 2017 and presented the challenges that freedom of artistic expression is facing in Europe today.

A more personal perspective was added to the debate with the intervention of Iris Dressler, curator of “The Beast and the Sovereign”, and Vladan Joler, Social media battlefield, arrests & detentions. Dressler talked about making censorship a taboo itself (“silencing the silencing”) and the power of private financing of public institutions with the example of the MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona) scandal that cancelled an exhibition. Joler, on the other side,  focused on digital censorship on the main social media platforms. He talked about different levels of online censorship from interface to content moderation.

The event included a debate moderated by Sarah Sommer, Network of European Foundation, which incorporated a policy perspective regarding artistic freedom, with a special call for possible solutions on the matter. Yamam Al-Zubaidi, CAE board member, talked about common EU values and mentioned that the arts are becoming the main weapons that we have to fight for the. Dressler stressed the importance of going for the public debate, and Joler insisted on the importance of understanding the digital world.

Julie Ward expressed her concern that culture has become a very disputed and controversial concept. In a political environment, where conservative forces portray culture as a fixed and static object, it’s essential that cultural diversity is promoted and celebrated. According to her adopting a right-based approach to culture, not only in terms of access and participation to culture but also in relations to the freedom of creation and protection and promotion of cultural diversity, would allow a coherent, integrated, evidence-based and goals-driven cultural policy, which would cover the various aspects of the contribution of culture to societies, whilst including mechanisms of monitoring.

Paolo Fontani, Director of Liaison Office in Brussels and Representative to the European Institutions at UNESCO wrapped the debate up with his closing remarks. He highlighted how FreedomofExpression and artisticfreedom are essential elements for the maintenance of liberal and democratic societies. Fontani recommended to take advantage of the time before the next upcoming EP elections to address these issues and mentioned the need of multi-faceted strategies to support artistic freedom. “Cultural actors need direct support, safe spaces for artists must be nurtured”, he said.

To wrap up, Tere Badia, highlighted the importanve of complementarity and collaboration, and finding synergies in order to share, connect and find better solutions.

Reports Júlia Sardá

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