Memo October 2013

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A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in October 2013

A PS follows soon, just like last time.

Problematic factors

What are the most problematic factors for culture in your country? This was the question of our pilot survey and you had to choose from 25 answers. Here are the most frequent choices based on responses from 27 countries and a few international organisations in Europe:

  1. Lack of cultural policy vision
  2. Inefficient cultural education
  3. Outmoded structure of cultural institutions
  4. Excessive political influence in cultural matters
  5. Hegemonic influence of commercial media and events

One correspondent, who apparently thinks about European cultural conditions in the most representative way, selected exactly these five assertions (although in a different order).

The survey has demonstrated that the (inverted) culture policy patterns differ considerably between west and east, the so called new democracies: 

Western views emphasise issues connected to financing: there are four such choices (in green) among their top ten. The eastern top ten, however, contains four grievances connected to politics (in orange).

All findings and explanations about the survey will be sent to you as a PS within a few days.

National reviews

Until 2012 twenty-eight national cultural policy reviews had been carried out in the frame of the long standing programme of the Council of Europe, beginning with France (1988) and Sweden (1990). Two brave undertakings followed this year: Turkey and Russia.

The established scenario expects the national authorities to prepare a report. As usual, the Turkish one is another textual monument. It is doubtful though that the careful reader can get a health certificate like the two graphs above from the 190 pages, about 100 000 words, many charts and tables. The independent experts’ report, on the other hand, enables, what’s more: prompts the reader to do so. (The relationship reminds BO of the difference between Europeana and Google Art.) From the latter readers learn about more positive efforts (including official), but also worse examples of policy inertia than would suppose from the outside. It is a pity, but a sad truth, that cultural policy analysis is so much laden with issues of media freedom and human rights.

Innovative review

Preparing a national review usually takes two-three years, sometimes more. During such a timespan fundamental changes can occur, especially since Europe has been living in crisis. The search for a lighter and more dynamic procedure contributed, among others, to the rise of the Compendium (which by now also yearns to becoming lighter and more dynamic).

One novelty that was supposed to serve the watchdog function better combines the national report with the independent experts’ one. The latest Russian review exemplifies this innovatory approach. The heaviness of the official cant has been avoided, but so has the relaxed analysis of the independent report. A real improvement, however, is the focus on regions (this time Mari El, Omsk, Ulyanovsk). Original is the concept, too, of deducting the examination from two overarching “revolutionary changes”: advances in info-communication and increased mobility and migration. The process claims to have followed an inductive path as well, arriving at seven broad strategic policy principles (on page 9) that the Russian and foreign experts have identified during their field exploration.  

BO wonders, however, how an independent review would handle the identity aspirations of the Mari if this record is true, at least partly?

Silent majority

The Russian review reveals (p.78) that in the Omsk oblast (the largest of the three regions) there are 1104 culture houses and clubs, more than all other kinds of culture institutions (libraries, cinemas, museums etc.) together. That is the reality in eastern and east-central Europe.

BO lamented once again, in the contribution to the conference organised in the frame of the Lithuanian EU presidency, that this reality is neglected in European culture policy discourse. (Except for the top league of the institution.)

Coming back on the Vilnius event, browse among the presentations for familiar names or appealing themes!

Checking impacts

As the 113th party to the Unesco convention on the diversity of cultural expressions, the Czech Republic was eager to learn about the impact of this move, and about the chances the convention offers to the arts.

It is not easy to answer, since most of the obligations stipulated by the convention are established practices in most places in Europe. Countries must report each four years how they “implement” the Unesco convention. You can see a few examples from our region and will wonder to what extent they were really kindled by the convention – except maybe the two Slovenian cases.

Colleagues from Germany and Austria have nevertheless proved that the convention is an excellent leverage for civic initiatives – provided there are such. (This and this nevertheless shows the impact of the convention on one particular issue in one country in our region.) 

Instead of reporting every positive development to the address of Unesco, I would see more sense in monitoring where a country falls short of conforming to the principles of the convention. Cultural policy health certificates like the ones above serve just for such purposes. Excuse the diabolic disposition of BO.

Drop of tear

No band from our part of the world among the winners. All come from Europe’s solid upper house.