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Council of Europe

Culturelink review, no.29/November 1999 - contents - imprint - archive

The Annual General Assembly of the Forum of European Cultural Networks

Palmela, September 1999

The Annual General Assembly of the Forum of European Cultural Networks was held at Palmela, Portugal, 17-19 September 1999. The general theme of the Assembly was Conflict, Identity and Culture, with a focus on the region of South-East Europe. The overall objective was to consider projects that might promote cooperation and cultural interaction in South-East Europe, especially in areas of conflict.

The main question in the very lively presentations and discussions was the role of cultural networks in conflict areas. The last fifteen years or so have seen the appearance of numerous cultural networks in Europe. Equally, the end of the present century is marked by a planetary movement towards intercultural communication, in which networks feature very prominently. The nineties have actually seen the emergence of a new concept - networking of culture. However, running in parallel with the processes of opening and linkage on the global scale, there are opposite processes at work, particularly in the countries in transition, where we see a strong tendency to return to individual cultures, traditions and values. Questions concerning the relation between cultural universalism and national (particularly revived ethnic) identity have been brought very much to the fore by the emergence of new states in Europe. Networks involve both of these processes, and their greatest value is the fact that they make possible intercultural dialogue in which each culture can preserve its specific individuality, that is, its identity. Networks ensure cultural pluralism and facilitate interaction, through which cultures express their differences, but also their tolerance towards other cultures. Does this approach work in the Balkan crisis area, where communications have been severed and where - as Mr. Raymond Weber noted in his introductory presentation - a new dialogue is required and new cooperation?

Conflict and tolerance of cultural identities represent a constant cultural dilemma, since each culture contains within it elements of both tolerance and conflict. Stressing one's own cultural identity while at the same time remaining intolerant, disrespectful and prejudiced in relation to other cultures inevitably ends in conflict and violence. At the same time, cultural diversity is not at the root of conflict, nor does it threaten the peace and stability of any country. Quite the contrary, Europe's cultural identity finds its best expression in its multiculturalism, or - in Saint-Exupéry's words - 'your difference enriches me'.

Culture and identity in the Southeastern European context was discussed from three aspects: (a) Cultural roots or consequences of conflict? (focusing on the need to change attitudes and mentalities as a long-term process); (b) Bosnia and Kosovo, culture victims (stressing the need to open new prospects for young people in the area, among other things through cultural action); (c) Culture in peace-keeping and relief operations (stressing the interaction between culture and security, democracy and civil rights).

It is in this context that we must view the role of networks in conflict regions, such as South-East Europe. Of course, networks cannot solve conflicts, but they can influence the way that conflicts are interpreted. Since the interpretation of past conflicts is often at the core of new ones, that is not a negligible role (Fintan O'Toole). Intercultural communication through networks means in the first place the exchange of information about different cultural values and the development of an awareness of the multicultural character of the region.

Representatives of different (West) European networks presented their intercultural projects, already realized or currently under way, with their partners in South-East European countries in areas such as theatre, dance, publishing (Interarts, EFAH, IETM, TransEuropeHalles, Transeurop‚ennes). It was noted that the Kosovo crises had shown that artists and cultural workers generally still had little influence on important decisions facing contemporary societies. What is needed is the identification of the areas in which cooperation is likely to be most fruitful and of the projects that, though they may not produce immediate results, will have beneficial long-term effects on the overall social climate. The importance of new technologies for cultural linkage and cooperation was also stressed. The European Union was invited to change its attitude and give more support to partnerships with South-East European countries in the domain of culture in the interest of democracy, peace and stability in the Balkans.

B.C.

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Cultures, Identities and the Prevention of Conflicts

Summary of the address to the meeting of the Forum of European Cultural Networks at Palmela (Portugal), 18-19 September 1999

by Raymond Weber
Director of Education, Culture and Sport, Council of Europe

The Kosovo crisis and the Stability Pact

Just as Europe underwent a dramatic change after the events of 1989, so it can also be said that our continent changed radically after the Kosovo crisis.

Once again the international community failed to reconcile the two principles that were defined as inviolable after the second world war: national sovereignty and the right of peoples to self-determination. The 'duty to intervene' was invoked too late and, when exercised, it swelled the flood of refugees and fuelled the atrocities committed by the Serb militias.

Today Kosovo and its neighbouring countries are disaster areas that have to be 'stabilized' and reconstructed as soon as possible. What is at stake is European stability and the credibility of the European project.

But Southeastern Europe is not only sick from war, material destruction, collapsed economies and failing public structures; it is also disoriented about what values it should respect and what objectives it should set itself on the long road of transition from the ruins of communism to a liberal democracy, slow in showing its first positive effects and in opening the door of the 'Eldorado' that is the European Union.

Which leads me to my next point: if democratic security of the region is necessary, if economic reconstruction is desirable and if political stabilization is urgent, the cultural and educational dimension of security, reconstruction and of stabilization is central and indispensable.

The Stability Pact has not yet officially integrated the cultural dimension into its measures and projects. (At the inaugural meeting of the South-East European Regional Table of the Stability Pact (Brussels, 16 September 1999), culture made a timid appearance (as the 14th item out of 14) in the 'Working Table' number 1 (democratization and human rights): it speaks about the need to strengthen the cultural dimension in the Stability Pact (preservation and restoration of cultural heritage), including education, professional training, multicultural activities of young people, interethnic and interreligious dialogue as essential elements in the development of a civil society and of mutual respect among different ethnic groups.) But it is evident that political and economic transition cannot be accomplished without a radical change of mentality and behaviour, that is to say, without cultural change.

What can cultural workers do?

The areas of cultural action are wide and require activity in the short, medium and long terms. Its aims should be to:

  • Develop a civil society;
  • Re-establish links of trust and intercultural dialogue between the different communities;
  • Develop programmes of research-action in the domains of peaceful conflict resolution, the culture of peace and education in the media;
  • Develop a balanced approach in the teaching of history and education for democratic citizenship;
  • Promote the teaching of languages, an indispensable prerequisite for better intercultural understanding;
  • Promote education for human rights and democracy;
  • Participate in the reform of the educational system and the development of new curricula and teaching strategies;
  • Develop training programmes for teachers and cultural administrators;
  • Help in implementing amended legislation in the areas of education, higher education and research, cultural heritage, youth, the sports and the media;
  • Renew cultural creativity and develop artistic creativity;
  • Develop a programme of reconstruction and promotion of the cultural heritage, regardless of its links with an ethnic or religious community.

It is through all these actions that we can restore the dignity and hope in a population justly proud of its heritage and culture. In this a central role should be given to artists, researchers and teachers, these beacons of the future, who will enable the citizens of the region to relearn to live together and join forces in facing future challenges.

On the occasion of the recent launching of the Council of Europe's campaign 'Europe, a Common Heritage' (Bucharest/Sibiu, 11-12 September 1999), the Rumanian foreign minister, Andrei Plesu, said:

'The jargon of communist propaganda would have defined the European Union's Acquis as 'the obliteration of differences between the East and the West'. But if some differences have to be eliminated, some others have to be integrated as differences. The EU Acquis is an understanding on imposed resemblances but also on assumed differences, the cultural heritage being one of the latter. Europe has a common and integrated heritage, but that heritage is not monolithic and subject to fixed rules. It is a garden of many colours and different species, in which the only rule is harmony springing from liberty.'

This obliges us, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, to review the content, structure and methods of our co-operation. After Kosovo nothing will ever be the same:

  • First and foremost, we have to listen to the Kosovars and the other peoples of the region: their culture of survival and resistance will certainly have a great deal to say to us, as was suggested to us by Andrei Plesu in Bucharest: 'Give us a chance for the future and we are going to give you a part of your own past. We are a part of your heritage. Recover us;'
  • We should do well to transcend the role of the 'cultural humanitarian', essentially ephemeral, and instead build on structure-enhancing programmes, develop processes;
  • As desirable as a regional approach may be, it would be inappropriate to give in to 'Balkanization' - instead, European and universal dimensions should be developed;
  • The necessary affirmation of our different identities and the need for intercultural dialogue force us to live our conflicts while respecting the existing differences and without resorting to violence;
  • The reason for insisting on the necessary cultural dimension of the stabilization process is our conviction that it will be necessary to start by cultural deconstruction and 'decontamination', notably in the symbolic area, so that reconstruction may be based on universal values and on a concept of culture opening up to democratic security, social cohesion and sustainable development;
  • Last not least, in developing our programmes and actions we should not forget to include Serbian artists, researchers and teachers - the civil society, which is perhaps the main victim of Milosevic's lunacy and which needs to rejoin our networks and framework of co-operation so that democracy in Yugoslavia may succeed.

Some possibilities for action by the Council of Europe and by the cultural networks

From this redefined and reaffirmed political role of culture in the stabilization and reconstruction of Southeastern Europe, it seems evident to me that a 'new' co-operation should be initiated between the governments, the intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, the universities and the cultural networks.

This new alliance must recognize the cultural dimension in the Stability Pact and develop concrete and innovating programmes.

It must also make evident the extraordinary role that cultural networks can - and already do - play. Thanks to these networks, artists and agents of cultural development communicate, ask questions, discuss, co-operate across geographical borders and ideological and religious boundaries.

Through its MOSAIC programme and through its programme of legislative reform, the Council of Europe has so far concentrated mostly on technical co-operation. From now on prominence should be given to political co-operation aimed at establishing a 'culture of peace' through cross-border and intercultural relations, cultural mediation and the development of intercultural competences, the training and movement of artists and of agents of cultural development.

In this undertaking we have no models to fall back on: but we have accumulated, both on the intergovernmental and non-governmental side, a host of examples of good practice, which will enable us to develop other structures of co-operation and innovative programmes.

As Johann Galtung says, it is thanks to the triad: empathy, non-violence and creativity that we will be able to 'manage' our conflicts and build a common future.

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Multilateral Seminar on Cultural Policies for Decentralisation

Report from Varna, Bulgaria

The Seminar, which took place in Varna, 24-25 September 1999, was realized within MOSAIC of the Council of Europe. MOSAIC is a plan for cultural policy development over three years (1998 to June 2001) in Central and South Eastern Europe. MOSAIC provides a framework for both national and multilateral activities in seven countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia, and 'The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia'. The project is implemented by the Cultural Policy and Action Division, as part of the programme of activities of the Council of Europe's Culture Committee in partnership with the Ministries of Culture in all seven countries.

The seminar was primarily intended for public arts administrators in need of establishing new strategies for devolving cultural responsibilities and initiatives and presenting them to local and regional authorities. Particular attention was focused on those areas where 'vertical' decentralisation (from the central state to local authorities) combines with 'horizontal' decentralisation (from official cultural policies to civil society-led projects), and was therefore also open to project managers and non-profit arts organizations operating in particular local areas. Mr. Eduard Delgado, Interarts Observatory of Urban and Regional Cultural Policies, Barcelona, Spain, made several observations on culture, territory and globalisation. He stressed that today the globalisation of economic systems and the relative loss of state power favour the emergence of new centralities based on transactional and reticular capabilities rather than on advantages inherited from the past or from geography. On the other hand, regional space is a meeting point for top-down and bottom-up dynamics. It is the point where the dialogue takes place between the needs of the territory interpreted directly by its protagonists and the resources assigned to the community as a whole. However, in the sub-regional space there occur most constructive relations between cultural and environmental dynamics.

The seminar heard national overviews of paths to cultural decentralisation in the MOSAIC countries. All countries presented their reports except Slovenia, which was not represented. Issues which were commonly recognised as similar and important were the following: sustainability of decentralization measures, coordination of cultural development measures within the levels of operating of cultural policy, the need for the intersectorial approach towards cultural and social development, fair interplay of cultural measures and opportunities for public, non-profit and private sectors in culture.

In the sessions which followed, Mr. Peter Inkei, Regional Observatory on Financing Culture in Eastern and Central Europe, Budapest, Hungary, introduced the debate on legal, political and economic aspects of decentralisation in Central and Eastern Europe, while Ms. Cornelial Dümcke, Kultur und Wirtschafts Consulting, Berlin, Germany, spoke on multicultural societies and cultural decentralisation. Mr. Jean-Cédric Delvanquière, Département des études et de la prospective, Ministry of Culture and Communication, Paris, France, elaborated the process of cultural decentralisation in his country. The seminar then discussed some additional issues, such as tourism policies in decentralisation, participation and social cohesiveness policy, creativity and art networking, horizontal decentralization - the role of civil society, and financing of urban and regional cultural policies.

For additional information, please contact: Ms. Caitlin Taylor, Project Manager, MOSAIC, Cultural Policy and Action Division, Directorate of Education, Culture and Sport, Council of Europe, F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex, France, tel.: +33 388 41 28 31; e-mail: caitlin.taylor@coe.int

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Networking culture - The role of European cultural networks

by Gudrun Pehn, Council of Europe Publishing, Strasbourg, 1999, 117 pp., ISBN 92 871 3924 3

Council of Europe has recently published a French and English language edition of Gudrun Pehn's Networking culture - The role of European cultural networks. The work looks at the roots and origins of networks, researching new forms of thinking, new modes of action and new ways of organizing society, transgressing social barriers and reinforcing common values. The freedom of arts as a major instrument to fighting intolerance, racism and exclusion is discussed. G. Pehn concludes that though the creation of cultural networks is no surprising phenomenon as artists and those linked to the field of art have traditionally been the first to break with old structures and regimes, what is new is their willingness to accept official partners from the fields of economy and politics. This is not due to pure necessity of financial support, but rather due to an interest in influencing cultural action at a new level.

To obtain the book, please contact: Council of Europe Publishing, Council of Europe, 67075 Strasbourg Cedex, France, tel.: +33 (0) 388 41 25 81; fax: +33 (0) 388 41 39 10; e-mail: publishing@coe.int; http://book.coe.int