Protecting artistic freedom as a European value

May 8, 2020, 12:08 pm

The world of arts and culture has become the battlefield of ideas and ideologies in an increasingly populist and polarised world. This is a global trend and Europe is unfortunately no exception. The term “culture wars” is already in use both in the European debate as well as in several member states.

What was unthinkable just a decade ago is now a solid reality. And it is not a local or national phenomena limited to a handful of regions or member states. It is happening all over the EU. Art is used as a means in political propaganda to discredit minorities, political nominations are used for ideological control of artistic spaces, commissioning public art with taxpayers’ money is subjected to ideological criteria and publicly funded art institutions are forced into self-censorship just to mention some examples.

In a recent report, our partner Freemuse provided for a number of well-documented examples of how artistic freedom is contested in a number of member states. It is striking how politically and ideologically motivated measures to limit the freedom of individual artists or artistic spaces are becoming a European reality. Just a decade ago some of these measures would normally be associated with countries with considerable deficit in rule of law and respect for human rights.

The most striking tendency in reported examples is the use of law in contesting artistic freedom. Artists risk facing criminal prosecution and fines or even imprisonment if their artistic work is perceived as unlawful in terms of legislation that is meant to regulate domains other than arts and freedom of expression. In other words, there seems to be a tendency of artistic work being evaluated in terms of exclusively non-artistic criteria. Political and ideological preferences seem to become the main criteria for what the world of arts is allowed or not allowed to do.

While we would expect the rule of law to protect the freedom of artistic expression, we see legal provisions becoming a tool for contesting that same artistic expression. There is little doubt, if any, that this tendency needs to be paid adequate and acute attention by the EU.

Read the full paper by Yamam Al-Zubaidi, developed in the framework of Culture Action Europe’s Working Group on Freedom of Artistic Expression. 

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