Upon the invitation of the Council of Europe in the framework of its CultureWatchEurope initiative and the International Cultural Centre, Krakow, 50 researchers, practitioners and administrators in culture from 22 countries came together to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first free parliamentary elections in postwar Poland and the collapse of Communism, which evoked the beginning of a series of historical changes that created an entirely new environment – among others – for culture. The conference, which enjoyed the patronage of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage of Poland and of the Mayor of Krakow, reviewed and discussed the developments of the past twenty years, and identified the major achievements in culture in countries which were within the communist bloc; acknowledged the common features and also the differences and divisions of circumstances.
There was a broad agreement that in spite of the momentous progress, large differences and imbalances remain. It was strongly voiced that culture and cultural policies must be used more systematically in the efforts to overcome the gaps in development and inequalities between the various regions of Europe.
Based on a detailed analysis of weaknesses and challenges, which served as a working document for the deliberations, the participants reflected upon what is necessary to stimulate progress, with due regard to the important differences and diversities of the various countries in Europe.
Participants discussed and agreed on the following key principles:
1. Culture must be given a more central position in the policy and development strategies on every level: national, regional and local authorities
2. The ongoing development of cultural policies requires new guidelines and orientations, firmly based on the European principles of human rights, and drawing on independent research expertise and mechanisms
3. The cultural needs, conditions of access and participation of all groups of citizens should be monitored and the findings used to determine cultural policy goals
4. The processes of planning and implementing cultural policy decisions require a broad alliance of different sectors of society, ranging from artists and other cultural professionals as important agents of change and innovation, through other public sectors, the media, the business community and civil society organisations
5. Ways should be explored to ensure that global influences are used positively and constructively to enhance cultural policies and ensure their relevance
6. It is key for cultural operators and political bodies to recognise the importance of mobility and integration - in all directions across and beyond Europe
7. The implementation of cultural policy requires improved professional skills, in particular with regard to governance at all levels, and ensuring maximum transparency in decision-making
8. Investment in excellence is a key principle that requires special attention and actions
These principles are addressed to all stakeholders, including cultural operators in all sectors: public, civic or private, and above all to public authorities at various levels, national, regional, local, and also international. They may function as points of reference in the activities of the CultureWatchEurope initiative of the Council of Europe. Towards achieving progress, the following topics were identified as warranting particular and timely action by the multiple stakeholders identified above:
• Introducing and applying preferential visa policies and regulations
• Widespread provision of arts and heritage education
• Increased attention to and shared responsibility for the common tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the nation, region or municipality
• Enhancing the convergence of action between public, independent and private bodies
• Monitoring cultural achievement in all sectors
• Dissemination of success stories in innovative cultural policies
The brief final statement is a condense expression of the main bias of the deliberations in the conference, including the session meetings. (The agreed principles were put into an even more condense form, too: 1 Culture is core, 2 Policy does evolve, 3 Citizens matter, 4 Alliances work, 5 Think globally, 6 Mobility is key, 7 Working better, 8 Promote the best.)
The recommendations represent important conceptual and practical variations to the introductory documents of the conference (the 161 statements and the draft proposals contained in the background paper). The course of discussion demonstrated an even greater determination about the timeliness of change in the institutional setup of culture. It was established that transition is not over yet: twenty years after 1989, the imprinting of the previous regime is still detectable in the minds, and even more in the institutional structures in the cultural sector. Citizens of eastern Europe have benefited more of the transition as individuals than as communities – also with regard to culture. Fuller adaptation to, and integration into the conditions of democracy, capitalism, and globalisation is still on the agenda. The emerging general crisis is no pretext to postpone reform – on the contrary, it underlines the urgency.
Change, however, will not take place unless all groups of stakeholders of culture are convinced about its necessities. It was repeatedly voiced that reforms can not be expected solely from culture politicians. The authorities are not the only ones to blame for the insufficiency of transformations, which is a task for a broader range of actors. Cultural policies and their architects nevertheless play a key role. Policy makers must achieve a more central position for culture. Instead of auxiliary means in attaining political, commercial and social goals, culture’s own potentials must be better acknowledged in advancing major aims like economic success, local development, or quality of life. This requires more creativity in culture policies, a deeper understanding of new concepts – other than superficial imitation of trends, or relying on past routine. Instead of seeing progress in cultural policies, tendencies of regression into communist mentality worry many of the experts.
From the major tensions that characterise the cultural sector in the two dozens of countries focussed by the conference, the complex relationship between public authorities and independent, non-governmental or civic cultural organisations and operators received the greatest attention (which included the creative-minded cultural workers in public institutions, too). The pioneer significance of the prominent mention of civil society in the UNESCO convention on the diversity of cultural expressions was underlined. More autonomy and less politics was the recurrent plea; analogies of the professional integrity of judges or higher education institutions were evoked in this context. Nevertheless, warnings were voiced about the assimilating effects of state support to independent cultural organisations, and about the hazards of the “audit society” on cultural animation.
While acknowledging the significance of the joint historic legacy of communism in east and central Europe, the great variety of conditions between groups of the affected countries was emphasised all along. Also, that transition from totalitarian to democratic political setup is just one of many decisive changes that have been taking place in Europe, taking into account the fundamental transformations in values, identities, technologies, communication, working and leisure habits etc. A glance at cultural policies in 24 countries allowed the conference to reflect on bridging disparities between all regions in Europe; on turning the usual east-integrates-into-west into a more balanced relationship; and on expanding from the focus of attention on the European Union towards encompassing a broader European cultural space.
The general direction of the debate, and the many concrete remarks and suggestions that occurred in the course of deliberations, represent valuable guidance for the activities to be taken in the frames of CultureWatchEurope, of which the conference Culture and Development 20 Years After the Fall of Communism in Europe was the first major manifestation.