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A controversy over the chief editorship of a state-owned cultural weekly triggered a wider discussion over the independence of arm's length bodies and the downfall of the Minister of Culture.

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Estonia/ 4. Current issues in cultural policy development and debate  

4.3 Other relevant issues and debates

Public debate on cultural policy has widened and grown considerably over the past years, involving representatives of different generations and different positions. Cultural policy often figured as an issue of debate in Estonian newspapers also in 2014.

Whereas the budget cuts appeared in public discussion often through scandals, more recently debate has taken a more constructive turn, partly due to the Ministry of Culture's willingness to enter into discussion and open the starting points for reform initiatives. Recently the document outlining policy directions for 2014-2020 has generated much debate both within disciplines such as arts and film, but also across disciplinary boundaries.

The most visible controversy over cultural politics during 2013 was concerned with the editorial staff of the cultural weekly Sirp. The magazine is published by a state-owned foundation which has its own governing board. Following a failed competition for a new editor-in-chief in 2013, the board invited the writer Kaur Kender to take up the position. As an outcome of this leadership change, six well-known members of the editorial staff were either fired or left their positions. Thus politics became a target of wide-scale public resistance pointing to what was seen as a lack of democratic decision-making and neglect of professional associations in the process. Following these controversies, Kender stepped down from the position. The process did, however, also bring to the limelight the way in which the Minister of Culture, Rein Lang (Reform Party), had intervened politically in the decision making of the theoretically independent board. On 20 November professional cultural associations expressed their distrust of the Minister of Culture. Eventually, Lang resigned his position. A new minister, Urve Tiidus from the Reform Party was appointed on 4 December 2013.

Active public discussion in the cultural field has been raised by a preparation of the so-called Percent Law by the Ministry of Culture that was adopted in 2010, and came into force in January 2011. The Law was actively lobbied by the local intelligentsia and members of the Estonian Artists' Association in the local media as well as internationally, calling it a "way out from the highway of mediocracy" and "the law of saving art". The Law (actually an amendment to the Law on Public Tenders) regulates the design of spaces in and around public buildings and aims to engage artists in these activities through competitions that public bodies will organize. According to it, one per cent of investments made for new public buildings should be earmarked for objects of art or interior design (the maximum cost is regulated by the law at 65 000 EUR).

According to a recent tradition, the Ministry of Culture organises thematic years dedicated to particular fields in the arts. The year 2010 was the National Year of Reading aimed at promoting reading and valuing Estonian literature. The Year of Reading was celebrated in Estonia and outside Estonia. A wider aim of prioritising literature is to introduce and mediate Estonian literature through supporting participating at international book fairs, organising national literature festivals and translating Estonian literature into foreign languages. In 2011, the cultural offering throughout different fields of culture remained focused on the European Cultural Capital and no specific thematic year was announced. 2012 was announced the Year of Cinematography, with a special focus on local film production. In autumn 2012 the Film Museum was opened as part of the Estonian History Museum, and the Baltic Media and Film College acquired a new building at the University of Tallinn. A digital database of Estonian Film ( was launched at the end of the year. 2013 was announced as the Year of Cultural Heritage by the Ministry, 2014 is the Year of Sports, and 2015 has been announced as the Year of Music.

Chapter published: 13-10-2014

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