10th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers Responsible for Culture

Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow , 

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Dear Special Presidential Representative
Dear Ministers,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour and privilege for me to open the 10th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers of Culture at this extraordinary venue, the Bolshoi theatre.

I would like to thank the Russian Authorities, and especially the Minister of Culture, Mr Medinski, for the hard work they have put into organising this conference.

The beautiful Bolshoi, with its rich cultural and historical heritage, is the perfect place for this event. Rebuilt and renovated time and again during its history, the Bolshoi is a cultural gem.

A cultural gem of Moscow and Russia. But also of Europe.

The Bolshoi at its best embodies our continent's cultural core.

Over the centuries, the inspired works of artists and artisans have reflected the beauty, the creativity and the diversity of Europe.

It is this deep-rooted connection between culture and diversity that is so vital for our continent right now.

Culture and diversity are vital for us to be able to build societies based on mutual respect in order to sculpt sustainable democracies.

Culture helps us understand diversity and enables us to live together. With each other, not aside each other, or even against each other.

Without culture, diversity is at risk.

Without diversity there can be no democracy.

This is the reason why the Council of Europe's commitment to the cultural sector remains constant.

Founded in 1949 amongst the ash and rubble of post-War Europe, the Council of Europe held firm to the power of culture through its European Cultural Convention.

Our organisation's mission was simply expressed: to bring Europeans together.

To build bridges and understanding.

To build tolerance and respect.

To mould a European identity rooted in common values and beliefs.

Over sixty years on we remain committed to these honourable goals.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,

These are testing times punctuated by social and economic change.

New means of communication bring new awareness and opportunities for participation in culture.

But they can also lead to fragmentation.

Our future as an innovative continent depends on ensuring that everyone has access to the arts and to cultural opportunity.

We have now reached a point in time where our cultural policies need to be reconceptualised to meet today's challenges.

The monumental changes taking place around us present Europe with a unique opportunity.

An opportunity to reinvent itself – economically, socially but also culturally.  

Let us have no illusions: this won't be easy, it will take time. But it can be done.

Not too far from here, just over the river, is the Tretyakov Gallery Krymsky Val which, among many works of art, displays the work of Lyubov Popova, one of my favourite artists.

Immensly talented, one of the most prolific artists of the Russian avant-garde scene, Popova understood the power of creative renewal.

By jostling together geometric shapes, overlapping and intersecting them, their edges sometimes pushing beyond the frame, Popova helped change the perception of European painting.

She was not afraid to try something new. To adapt to the rapidly changing world around her.

One hundred years on, Popova's lessons for cultural renewal still ring true today: whilst staying true to our continent's proud cultural heritage, we must also continue renewing it, enriching it.

What we need now is a fresh approach.

A fresh approach which reflects changes in cultural production and consumption, but also in the means by which culture is diffused.

Above all, we must ensure that culture and art are embedded in a larger human rights and democracy context.

We live in the era of the iPhone applications, where anyone can act as a creator, consumer, distributor and producer of culture with a simple swoosh of a finger.

We live in a time where the lines between so-called "high culture" and "popular culture" are becoming increasingly blurred.

Is raising the issue of participation in the age of mass culture then paradoxical? 

I believe not. Inequalities still prevail. 

In some parts of Europe, non-participation is particularly acute among the urban migrant population. Elsewhere cultural exclusion is primarily a rural and post-industrial phenomenon.

So let's take a step back and ask ourselves some important questions.

Are our policies truly inclusive, actively seeking cultural democracy? Are they contributing to social cohesion?

Are we really prepared for living in a global and digital age? What, after all, is the impact of digitisation on culture?

Is culture truly getting more democratic, more participative? 

I hope this conference will help us come closer to finding answers to these questions.

One thing is clear. As an organisation committed to promoting sound democratic governance and intergovernmental co-operation in the field of culture, the Council of Europe is in a unique position to take on this challenge.

Of course, we cannot do it alone.

In order to produce a sustainable response to the immense challenges of our day we will need to stage co-productions, so to speak.

I would like to acknowledge the important work already undertaken by governments and by other international organisations on issues of democratic governance, the progress of society and, importantly, the access and participation of citizens.

It is the responsibility of all member states represented here today to form a governance model that allows all voices to be heard in a well-tuned choir – a multi-stakeholder, multi-level, multi-sectorial model.

How do we go about this?

First, by creating better measurement and indicators of access and participation as well as by monitoring the impact of financing of culture.

Second, by providing a platform for exchange on the impact of digitisation on culture.

Let me first mention better measurement and indicators.

It is in the interest of all our member states to agree on a minimum-level of shared European standards in terms of the nature and degree of access to culture. The same applies to defining basic criteria for the democratic governance of culture.

Many statements and pledges have been made regarding culture's role in democracy, but empirical evidence, measurement tools and accepted proofs are still scarce.

As demand for evidence-based policies increases, European governments need to intensify and co-ordinate their efforts in this regard.

It is worth remembering that our Culture Watch Europe Compendium has put forward a proposal to select a set of key indicators to be applied by all member states.

Throughout this process, however, it is important that we make sure that technical and economic implications of creativity are not dissociated from social and cultural implications and human rights values.

This brings me to our second challenge, providing a platform for exchange on the impact of digitisation on culture.

I believe this to be pivotal.

Not only to pin-point topical concerns through hearings and address discrepancies in digital access, but also to develop joint orientations for future policy-making in this sector.

This project could be realized in close co-operation with interested Governments, international bodies as well as the Council of Europe's Internet Governance Task Force.

In addition, the Council of Europe's Audiovisual Observatory could provide crucial information on digitalisation.

Our Conference today is the first of three major events related to digitalisation taking place this year at the Council of Europe.

The second event is the forthcoming Strasbourg World Forum on Democracy in November – the main theme of which is "Re-wiring democracy: connecting institutions and citizens in the digital age" – which could provide pertinent ideas for the platform's future activities.  

So could a third event – the 1st Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Media and Information Society in Belgrade later this year on the theme of "Freedom of Expression and Democracy in the Digital age – Opportunities, Rights and Responsibilites".

These three events all feed into a political reflection at the Council of Europe of the consequences of the Digital Age and possible action to be taken.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The arts are not just a luxury to have or to do if there is free time or if one can afford it. 

Paintings and poetry, design and dialogue: they define who we are and provide inspiration and hope.

Indeed, culture is about who we are as individuals. It is about identity. And it is about being able to express it.

Let us never forget this.

So let us make this 10th Council of Europe conference of Ministers of Culture in Moscow a distinct event.

Let us fully use the inspiration and power of culture to celebrate the soul of democracy. Thank you for your attention.