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Prof Kazimierz Krzysztofek: “There is a growing understanding among the European political elites that culture is not a burden but an asset”

The European Cultural Convention – which provides the basis for European co-operation in the fields of culture, education, youth and sport - is 50 years old. Following the conference launching the celebrations in Wroclaw, Poland, Polish professor Kazimierz Krzysztofek gives his views on the convention’s new role, 50 years on. Among other things, he underlines that it was “drawn up by a different generation. The current generation is less focussed on institutions and uses technologies of freedom”.

Question : In your opinion, bearing in mind the changes that have taken place in the political, cultural and economic structure, what is the new role of the European Cultural Convention? Have we exhausted all the possibilities it offers us?

Kazimierz Krzysztofek : Most of the major aims embodied in the Convention have no doubt been achieved. The Europe we are talking about today is totally different from that of 50 years ago. When the Convention was adopted, only the governments of the member states acceded to it. Now there are several players on the European scene: non-governmental organisations, regions and local authorities. In the past, there was very little financial gain to be had from culture. Now it is firmly embedded in the economy.

The industries related to cultural creation are expanding fast; we are witnessing a revolution in information technology which offers culture unprecedented opportunities. That is why we must meet these challenges. However, there are many activities which should be continued, such as, for example, cultural education, the protection of endangered cultures, funding for translations, support for associations of creative artists. The Council of Europe has achieved undeniable success in these fields.

Question : Can we say that, 50 years on, we are seeing the start of a new chapter in the building of cultural co-operation?

Kazimierz Krzysztofek : It is a new chapter to the extent that co-operation is not dominated by the State, whose role is confined to laying down principles, establishing a legal framework, encouraging participation in culture, saving endangered cultures and allocating central government funds. Political elites are realising more and more that culture is not a burden to be borne, but an asset.

Because culture is the “face” that enables us to be recognised. An unprecedented process of decentralisation is under way in Europe. Towns, cities, regions and cultural associations are forming a whole network of agreements. Cultural co-operation is no longer managed from the top down. This is “network Europe”. The “Schengen” mentality, the notion of protection from foreigners, cannot win. I think that the creation of networks of human relations can be an effective remedy. The Council of Europe can help in this.

Question : What kind of Convention should we expect in future? What do you consider most important in the building of future cultural relations?

Kazimierz Krzysztofek : The Cultural Convention was drafted by an earlier generation. The current generation is less institution-oriented. It uses technologies of “freedom”. To ensure equal opportunities, an open education system must be created, mainly for citizens in the newly democratised countries, in order to build a knowledge-based society. Because the Internet offers the lesser known cultures a chance of survival, we must find a common denominator of values. We must therefore get to know each other better and learn to speak to each other.

That is why encouraging a knowledge of others, supporting youth exchanges, stimulating the need to travel and training people to promote intercultural dialogue are important aims which the Convention should foster. It must not be forgotten that the creation of a wider area of freedom in Europe means that societies will have to take initiatives of their own and not wait for them to be proposed. We are seeing a shift away from institutions and towards networking. That is another sign of our times.