Print this Page
Print this Page

Ethics and Rights Issues in Cultural Policy in Europe

February 2010, by John A. Foote (Université du Québec à  Trois-Rivières)

Recognition of the fundamental role of ethics and rights regarding culture and cultural policy is perennially a hot topic. Ethics provide the perspective, motivation and values to help ensure democratic and equitable participation in cultural development, diversity and dialogue. Rights serve as the fundamental underpinning and inspiration of cultural creativity and participation and provide the jurisprudence regarding violations of binding conventions and of other no less important instruments. Rights adhered to by European states also serve to facilitate the political mandate of political action and support in respect to culture and are inextricably linked to the democratic system and ethos and to the rule of law. Not accidently, these three interdependent elements comprise precisely the Council of Europe's mandate and overall mission.

For more than 60 years, human rights have been at the top of Europe's legal agenda and accomplishments. The codification and ratification of human rights are a fully legitimate response to the tragic consequences of World War II which deprived millions of fundamental rights and freedoms and life, itself.  The most important and influential document beginning the codification of human rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted and proclaimed in 1948 by all Member States of the newly formed United Nations.  Shortly thereafter, in 1949, the Member States of the also newly born Council of Europe agreed unanimously to adopt and ratify the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), a binding legal instrument of the highest order which would help secure and expand European unity over the course of the next 60 years and hopefully, for many years to come. In 1966, European and many other states around the world in the UN adopted two International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, respectively. The Covenants entered into force ten years later, in 1976. These grand achievements in regard to rights were inspired by values, principles and ethics which were carefully crafted to ensure congruity between the rights prescribed and the reasons or factors underlying their application.

Enhancement of freedom of expression and creativity, identity and diversity, and access and participation: Patrice Meyer-Bisch (2002) has written, "Cultural governance is assessed on the basis of the realization of cultural rights...It is necessary that this governance takes into account other sectors of social life since cultural rights are only realizable in the context of the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights." Human and cultural rights issues and existing legal instruments remain a constant frame of reference for their application to the rationale, development and implementation of cultural policies and programmes that complement and help to implement universal and targeted rights and ethics.  The protection of human and cultural rights in Europe has followed a steady trajectory starting with the codification of fundamental freedoms in the late 1940s and 1950s including basic principles with a close everyday life relationship with culture such as freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 9 of the Convention), expression (Article 10), assembly and association (Article 11) and the prohibition of discrimination (Article 14).  Additional rights have been incorporated in the ECHR including, for example, the right to education {Protocol 1 (2)} and the right to movement {Protocol 4 (2)}.

In regard to the recognition and protection of cultural rights which are identified with Article 15 of the ESC Covenant, the universal right to take part in cultural life (cultural participation) and to benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from the author's scientific, literary or artistic production (copyright) are among the most important. One of the more interesting works on the right to participate in cultural life was published in 1994 as Human Rights and Cultural Policies in a Changing Europe, a Report of the European Round Table held in Helsinki the previous year and organised by the Cultural Information and Research Centres Liaison in Europe (CIRCLE) and the International Movement of RIGHTS AND HUMANITY in co-operation with the Council of Europe. Incidentally, of the four co-editors of this Report, two are familiar as Authors in the Compendium today, Ritva Mitchell and Rod Fisher.

The recognition and protection of cultural rights join together the cultural values, principles and ethics underlying such rights with the fundamental freedoms and associated rights of particular, often disadvantaged groups including aliens, refugees, the stateless, migrant workers, and other minorities.  These groups are targeted by two Council of Europe instruments: the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (entered into force 1992) and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (entered into force 1998). In the United Nations, other groups also receive targeted rights attention including women {through the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (entered into force 1981) and persons with disabilities, the latter through the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (entered into force 2008). Children have also received significant rights attention through the UN Convention on the Child (entered into force 1990) and associated Protocols and the European Convention on the Exercise of Children's Rights (entered into force 2000).  

Legal measures and processes in the European Court of Human Rights are facing a major slow down with increased backlog in cases pending: Among the more important issues and challenges affecting human rights in the COE today is the large backlog of case law review in the European Court on Human Rights in furtherance of its mandate to protect and promote human rights and to adjudicate contested violations of the Convention. Protocol 14, which may finally be coming into force, calls for a streamlining of the work of the Court and a more proactive role of the Committee of Ministers in order to reduce the over 80 000 pending cases on human rights. Although the Court is the world's largest human rights court in the world with 47 judges and over 600 staff in the Registry to process complaints, it was overwhelmed by the large number of active and pending cases. It is not clear whether cultural rights are at stake here since, as in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), there have tended to be relatively small case-loads that address cultural infringements or violations. More information concerning the nature, volume and frequency of cultural complaints before the Court and the ICESCR is required. There are two perspectives in the ongoing debate over rights and ethics in cultural policy. Those people who fear heavy cultural rights litigation believe that it will lead or contribute to major increases in perceived entitlement to public support and protection. Those who favour such entitlement based on ethical reasons may favour a more robust cultural rights presence in the European Court and in the UN as well as in national administrations.

Solidarity vs. competition paradigm for culture: The competition paradigm for culture, or the survival of the fittest, is often softened or complemented by principles of solidarity and cooperation which contribute to a fair and sustainable society through enhanced mobility, economic and social development (North/South dimension) and the cultivation of mutual understanding and respect between and among communities and cultures. The role played by human and cultural rights instruments in conditioning and influencing ethical cultural policies is intended to help build and maintain solidarity within Europe. Culture requires and receives domestic and international support to ensure that ethics- and rights-based policies are put into effect. The importance of ensuring solidarity on human and cultural rights in Europe is also furthered by the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in observing elections and examining freedom of the press and electronic media issues. The ethical protection of the human and cultural rights of disadvantaged groups, minorities and communities provides a necessary counter-balance to the proponents of competition which has its natural place in efficient markets.

Fair Culture? (2007) by Hannele Koivunen and Leena Marsio and published by the Ministry of Education in Finland has raised the ethical dimension of cultural policy beyond the earlier emphasis on cultural rights. The development and application of the concept of fairness provides strong arguments for solidarity based on desirable enhanced ethical dimensions in cultural policy.  The authors note that fair culture encompasses access to mankind's and one's own cultural tradition, physical, regional and cultural accessibility and availability, diversity of cultural supply matching with demand, participation in cultural supply, and opportunities for inclusion in and capability for cultural self-expression and signification. These values and norms are clearly supportive of solidarity.  In some respects, where the professional codes and rights obligations of the cultural sector work well together, both market-based and ethics-based cultural initiatives can survive together.

Cultural canons vs. diversity-driven approaches: Issues raised include ethics, role for governments, public sector institutions, laws and regulations, and industry/professional standards and codes of financial and other conduct. Denmark's Compendium author, Peter Duelund has written about this issue in a paper presented at the International Conference on Cultural Policy Research (ICCPR) in Istanbul in 2008 and in the October 2009 Hot Topic on the Compendium website. Duelund notes that national cultural canons (Denmark, the Netherlands, and Latvia) are being introduced as a cultural policy response to globalisation, immigration, multiculturalism, cultural relativism and as a means to revitalise national identity and social cohesion. The canons have in common the development of a collection and presentation of "the greatest, most important works" of cultural heritage for the purported purpose of nation-building and national identity reinforcement. What is somewhat dangerous is the prospect that some cultural canons might be constructed and used to choose works according to criteria based on a subjective and exclusive assessment of what is good or bad, correct or incorrect. In 2006, the Dutch Service for International Cultural Activities (SICA) and the European Network of National Cultural Institutes (EUNIC) organised a discussion around the idea of creating a European cultural canon. The key question raised is whether or not the cultural canons with their uniquely traditional cultural representations constitute or could constitute a threat to cultural diversity and inclusion. Should, however, the Canons celebrate the historical and current contributions of artists to national themes and include appropriate works of "new" citizen and immigrant artists, among other minorities, it may become less of a threat. Should this not occur, however, it would be wise to put together a pan-European cultural canon which would counter-balance the overtly nationalistic and exclusivist approach with one that celebrates the cultural works of all people, everywhere.   

Privatization vs the public good approach to culture: Rights and ethics are a key ingredient in creating or maintaining a balance between privitisation as a market-based instrument that often risks concentration of ownership in the private sector and the drive for a limited but strategic role of governments and international institutions in setting the stage for both private and public investment in culture. Rights have contributed significantly to the European cultural ‘acquis', especially that of the Council of Europe, in laying out a strong foundation for progressive improvement, democratization and inclusion of cultural policies and programmes, especially in regard to their contribution to economic growth and social cohesion, as well as to the creative potential of everyone, not just the few. Member states of the COE deploy human and cultural rights in the exercise of their legitimate authority to protect and enhance the vital role of culture as both a public and private good and a just and efficient rule of law. This more balanced approach features some degree of privitisation where market diversity allows and the sustained benefits to diversity that culture brings as a public good which might not be provided otherwise, failing government intervention.  A mixed cultural economy is fully consistent with and dependent upon the effective translation of rights and ethics to cultural policy initiatives and objectives. 

Culture and Citizenship debates:  How important are cultural representations and participation to good and active democratic citizenship? The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) contains a number of provisions based on fundamental human rights and freedoms that have profound cultural implications: free expression, thought, conscience and religion, the right to hold opinions without interference, peaceful assembly, the inherent right to life, the right to liberty and security of person, the right to mobility, and the right of persons belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities to enjoy their own culture, to practice their own religion, or to use their own language (Article 27).  The parallel ESC Covenant sets out political rights including, inter alia, rights to: self-determination, property, equality before the courts and tribunals, to vote, stand for election and take office if elected freely, and to take part in the conduct of public affairs.

Culture and citizenship are closely connected by virtue of rights and ethical considerations of fairness. However, culture and cultural rights and responsibilities are often ignored as a necessary and useful contribution to the effective integration of immigrants in their host countries. The term, "cultural citizenship" which has been coined to refer to the intersection of culture and citizenship does not imply a hierarchy between the two concepts. It refers instead to cultural activities that serve political or public interest purposes. As one article published by Metropolis in Canada recently stated, "Within the cultural policy circles of particular countries, {cultural citizenship} often defined in terms of the nation-state, but outside of these, it increasingly signifies complex, cosmopolitan forms of cultural identity shaped by diasporic and global networks. Clearly, human and cultural rights form an indispensable resource for democratic cultural citizenship.

Conclusion:  Human and cultural rights and ethics are very likely to remain hot topics because they often inspire heated debate between proponents and opponents of enhanced support to and monitoring of human and cultural rights in Europe.

Related poll:





Added: Friday, 12 March, 2010 12:08 GMT+2

In Turkey we need to determine the terms "culture" and "art" again. Most academics' and politicians' understanding of CULTURE is nationalistic and ART is understood mainly as an occupation, not as a philosophy. Because of that reason it is hard to discuss cultural policies properly. I am the president of Turkish State Theatre Opera and Ballet Members Foundation (TOBAV) and a well known actor and director. We are a 29 years old NGO and accredited in Nairobi at the United Nations DPI/NGO. The above misunderstanding contributes to the impossibility to understand each other in our own country and with regard to relations with the EU. TOBAV plans seminars, workshops, festivals, encounters leading to a better understanding of culture and tries to foster comparative research and analyses between the EU and Turkey. For example, we want to stage a meeting in Ankara, where we would like to discuss how cultural democracy could be enhanced through children street games. Can we find partners for this via the Compendium? Best regards, Tamer Levent President of TOBAV. Tunalı Hilmi Cad. 72/6 Kavaklıdere/Ankara Turkey Tel:00 90 312 427 85 88 Fax:00 90 312 427 89 09 (Note: In order to avoid spamming, the mail address of T.L. can be provided by contacting info [email-sign]

Tamer Levent, Ankara/Turkey

Added: Monday, 08 March, 2010 11:43 GMT+2

This approach links in my opinion too much 'ethics' to Rights i.e. something which gives you the Right to participate. Especially with regards to entering a creative process as is presumed to be the case in the arts, 'ethics' pre-exist and the more truthfully touched upon, resonates so to speak by becoming more creative. As this means a release of energy on a canvas or in a composition of music, it is like a guidance to be on a path which upholds life. Consequently ethical reflections do attempt to show what makes a difference when it comes to respect life. By not everything being possible, things become possible. That experience is can be reflected upon in many ways. Another topic in need of being reflected upon should be the ethical underpinning of the European Union. More and more this ethical dimension is being replaced by ownership, claims thereof. In the strategy paper for 2020 there is even talk of Europe to be brought into the ownership of its institutions and political leadership. Gone are, therefore, the people, the citizens, as if any ethical dimension can be fulfilled if people are excluded by the decision making process. The recent stereotypical perceptions of Greeks in the financial crisis by German politicians and media underlines another serious matter. Cultural perception linked to European integration would expect that perception of others remains differentiated and fair, but while cultural studies have focused on stereotype perceptions between specific nations e.g. Germany and Poland in the wake of Second World War, too little attention has been given to the need for cultural integration in order to prevent such a return to reduced and even false perception of the others within Europe. That should also become a focus of ethical discussions related to cultural developments in Europe.

Hatto Fischer, Athens / Greece