Réunion informelle des Ministres de la culture: «Le nouveau rôle et les nouvelles responsabilités des ministres de la culture pour initier le dialogue interculturel» - Strasbourg, les 17 et 18 février 2003 

(version anglaise seulement)

Intervention du Dr Petra Smolikova, Vice-Ministre – Ministère de la Culture de la République Tchèque

I. in relation to the working session 3: International and cross-sectoral co-operation, subsidiarity

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, let me thank the Council of Europe for inviting us and creating the conditions for our meeting.

The Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic realizes that the support to be provided to the cross-cultural dialogue in the future can be secured only by means of substantial co-operation developed among sectors on national as well as international levels.

The principles determined by the Czech cultural policy conception focus mainly on the area of cultural identity, the right to cultural heritage, the relationship between culture and society, and cultural diversity within a civil society while using methods and knowledge generated by anthropology, sociology, ethnography, and ethnology.

The Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and other involved state administration bodies realize that concrete cross-sectoral co-operation is necessary to create favourable financial and legislative conditions for the development of culture and cross-cultural dialogue on all levels. Culture is the first ambassador representing its state, it is a tool utilized for practical support provided inter alia to the United Nations Charter, especially as far as mutual understanding among nations is concerned. Such an understanding is not possible without knowing one another, and this knowledge can be mediated - besides other channels - through cultural values interchange.

The Czech Ministry of Culture strives to deepen international, and especially multilateral co-operation in cultural area while focusing on the following goals: to strengthen democratic values and human rights, to build up self-confidence and mutual respect of national cultures, to promote the cultural community of the new Europe and its diversity while maintaining national identities.

By this we first of all mean that one of the basic shares invested by every country is its own specific culture. The international co-operation means on the one hand the process of opening to the world which will enable to gain many new, enriching pieces of knowledge and information, on the other hand the ever-growing process of globalisation may represent kind of a peril menacing European cultural identity and rich diversity of individual cultures, and so endangering this shared wealth by its generalization.

The Czech Ministry of Culture therefore supports activities aimed at preserving the rich and multifaceted European cultural tradition. We are aware of the fact that international exchange of cultural values is nowhere near being realised only through state administration organizations, neither it is necessary to base it solely on international agreements. Therefore, we are going to support cultural values interchange by means of subsidies steered to various directions through diversified subsidy programmes.

The Ministry of Culture realizes that cultural institutions function as tools creating and maintaining the nation’s culture, which is in this globalised world not only a token of peculiarity, but first of all the basic instrument enabling mutual understanding. In this way it has been establishing preconditions necessary for good international co-operation developed in other fields (politics, economy, research etc.). The state support provided to ethnic minorities is also an expression of this approach to identities and traditions. Development, preservation and presentation of minority cultures is one of the priorities promoted by the Ministry of Culture.

We believe that culture of every ethnic minority living on the territory of a particular state is a contribution enriching its common cultural heritage treasury. For that purpose there is a separate subsidy programme announced for all sectors of culture as they are developed by ethnic minorities.

When applying the factors that can influence cross-sectoral co-operation, we perceive as the most difficult part of this process the possibility to influence the business sector and the so-called tertiary sector represented by civic associations, foundations etc. We understand the moral responsibility of ministers of culture, but we see a contradiction between the tendency to hold culture as a space of absolute freedom on the one hand and on the other hand the tendency to use the controlling influence to prevent culture from extensive commercialisation and to solve conflict situations. The ambiguity of the tendencies to preserve the freedom of cultural expression and to exercise influence upon conflict prevention and co-operation development is a difficult task to be fulfilled by ministers of culture in the future.

The ministers should be first of all interested in the possibility to gain positions enabling them to preserve cultural traditions and the weight of culture as a factor of individual and as well as collective capital. The issues of subsidiarity in the area of culture promoting independence and responsibility of every citizen living in the current society are related to this approach.

Culture should not be abused as a weapon utilized by individual groups for their mutual fights. It should not forget its basic goal – to be what it really is to be. I think that the task of the ministers of culture is to support creative activities in all areas, to preserve national cultural heritage, and help to preserve cultural traditions for future generations. The main task of culture is to mediate dialogue and mutual understanding, and so we cannot let it become in its major part a tool used by power groups.

Thank you for your attention.

II. in relation to the working session 4:
Preparation of the draft of Declaration titled “Intercultural Dialogue and Conflict Prevention” (revision of the Declaration draft and its conclusions)

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me first of all say that the Czech Republic welcomes the possibility to participate in drawing up a document, which has an ambition to promote a dialogue among various cultures and in this way prevent conflicts in the current world. Many times was it mentioned that culture generally has the power to establish contacts and built bridges between nations. On the other hand, we have witnessed the situation when different cultural traditions of the current world work contrariwise creating barriers and conflicts.

We understand the draft of the document as an effort to create a base for discussion and an opportunity for all the ethnic, religious and social groups in Europe today to express their common interest. We also perceive this document as a tool strengthening the responsibility of ministers of culture in relation to future development, and helping them to define their goals. We realize that on the one hand cultural diversity and strengthening of national identity means preserving national cultural heritage, but on the other hand this approach may give raise to many conflicts. Cultural diversity and preservation of national identity should not be understood as an aggressive approach; it should become a symbol of co-operation in the future. We all know that the standpoints resulting from any given social and cultural traditions are often the reason for conflicts penetrating all spheres of life.

The draft of the Declaration is based on these facts. The ministers of culture who will sign it will claim their responsibility for an uneasy task to change the way of thinking and approach to different cultures and traditions, which our part of Europe in particular is going to experience with growing intensity. We do not delude ourselves by an idea that culture should be able to prevent all the arising ethnic, religious and other conflicts. However, we agree that it is possible to reach this change in the way of thinking through co-operation and co-action of competent institutions and civic associations.

The conception adopted by the Czech Ministry of Culture includes the support to be provided to the widest possible involvement of citizens and their initiatives into cultural and artistic activities and their participation in the care of cultural heritage. The Czech Government guarantees equal access of citizens to cultural heritage and it is a task of the Ministry of Culture to facilitate this access for minority social groups, to support education in relation to the system of cultural values creation and utilization, and to hold back negative influence of commercialised culture. The main goal of the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic is to guarantee the protection of the freedoms to be enjoyed by artists and authors, and to create conditions for them so as they might utilize these freedoms.

Now, I would like to make concrete comments to the draft of the Declaration. The text of the Declaration generally corresponds with the principles and goals of the conception adopted by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic. However, I would like to make two minor notes concerning the text:

In relation to Article 4: Cross-sectoral Co-operation and Exemplary Steps to Be Taken to Prevent Conflicts - one of its paragraphs declares the opinion of the ministers of culture stating how important it is to develop the knowledge of cultural, artistic, and religious realia, and proposing to include them into school curricula.

The Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic believes that it is fully within the scope of competencies of the Ministries of Culture and their representation in the Council of Europe. We recommend leaving this paragraph out of the draft of the Declaration.

In relation to Part III. Operative clause, Article 5: the Council of Europe, an observer and initiator of correct procedures

We think that the process leading towards international co-operation mobilization should not result in the establishment of new institutional structures, as it is proposed in the last paragraph of operational measures. It is possible to use the existing structures to evaluate and disseminate information. To this purpose we propose to reword the paragraph mentioned above as follows:
“(they) recommend to gather information about any concrete activity carried out in the area of culture on all levels and to strive to enable an intercultural dialogue. To update the gathered information and its evaluation annually. To report the results to the Council of Europe which would publish this information and the possibilities to prevent conflicts by means of a round table.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

I hope that this Declaration, which is necessary in the current world, will be accepted and that we will meet in the autumn next year to sign it.

Thank you for your attention.