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Interview with Spyros Mercouris (Co-founder, PASOK; Honorary President, Network of Cultural Capitals and Cultural Months of Europe)

Q1. What are the challenges of spreading art and music when varying degrees of censorship are a reality in today’s political climate?

Democracies are still obliged to regulate and enforce certain rules on content. For example, there are policies against sexist, racist and xenophobic. This can inadvertently result in a form of censorship, as government policies often favour commercial interests that are against the interests of artists.
The challenge to artists is enormous. Today, artists must pander to the wishes of commercially-minded production companies, broadcasters and arts markets, all of whom emphasise the use of culture for financial gain over social meaning. The challenge is that in an age driven by the profit motive, an artist has to be conscious of the financial perspectives of culture.
Artists feel that there is a need to keep the balance between commercial needs and needs of cultural fulfilment. Here in Europe we have had a good balance between commercial demands on culture and public patronage of culture. It is important that government policy, which patronises the arts, by subsidising theatres, museums, libraries, cultural events and giving support to filmmakers continues. Cutting back on culture spending, for example the British government’s closure of the UK Film Council, must be resisted, if this balance is to be maintained.

Q2. You were in the Greek Ministry of Culture and have a lot of experience in promoting Greek culture and values abroad in other capacities. What advantages do you see in state sponsored initiatives in comparison to civil society initiatives and vice-versa?
State sponsored initiatives can draw on more resources due to their government support. Therefore, state sponsored events are more financially secure and experience less fund raising difficulties. Also, these events can draw from the enormous reservoir of cultural heritage stored in state owned museums and cultural facilities like national theatre, film-centres and other cultural organisations. However, civil society initiatives are politically independent. Independent artists who wish to use art as a tool to express, highlight or criticize certain aspects of society often require civil society venues where they do not have to pander to the demands of state policy.
Q3. How could arts and music help resolve the recent violent clashes in Greek society and state? What cultural implications does the conflict have?
Art and music cannot independently resolve the economic crisis in Greece, but within the context of culture they can. Today, developed countries of the world form a global village. Each country and each continent is in constant communication. However, we live in a time that is dominated by cynicism, mistrust, insecurity and fear. The pursuit of money has obscured the pursuit of culture. The balance sheet must not be the only thing of paramount importance. The economic decisions and programs must always consider the human factor if culture is to be allowed to flourish.  To develop, we must function in a way that can convince others of the importance and power of culture. We must never forget that culture is horizontal. Culture is at the centre of our social, economic and political life. It goes straight to the human being for the betterment of the quality of life.
Regarding the economic crisis in Greece, I want to stress that European policy does not give enough consideration to the human factor of each country. Critical to the crisis is the gap which has been created between the centres of power and the people. When the level of culture, education and intellectual life rises, governments and citizens will understand their problems more easily. They will evaluate their problems better and will face life with greater understanding and show greater tolerance for the thinking and acting of other people.

Q4. You are quoted as saying that “…the determining factor of a European identity lies precisely in respecting this diversity with the aim of creating a dialogue between the cultures of Europe”. If European culture can only be represented as being a mosaic, how would you propose the European Union, which has struggled to unify its members, become one unit and conduct its cultural policy?
Wherever we look we see a tendency to spread a uniform mass culture that expresses itself in every area: in music, literature, architecture and the performing and visual arts. The question this poses to our European civilization is a grave one. In contrast to the United States, which is a state and society created as a result of a single act of conscious will, modern Europe is the product of extremely diverse cultural influences, which however have their roots and have evolved their history within it.
The various peoples and nations that make up Europe retain their distinct personality and cultural individuality. It is a result of the constant interplay between them and the cultural forces that they embody that European civilization has taken its present form. This unceasing dialogue, conducted within a common framework and a single geographical space, has enabled European civilization to develop its remarkable creativity and dynamism.
All this is now threatened. The technological means to establish such uniformity exist and are being used aggressively for precisely that end. Moreover this process is rendered still more dangerous in that it is being, pursued insidiously, for reasons of commercial gain rather than for political power.
A Europe deprived of its many contrasting identities would be cut off from its roots. It would lose that quality of dialogue and of the interchange of ideas and of attitudes that is the source of its creativity. The result would be a culture both sterile and boring. It is impossible to believe that such a cultural monolith could ever capture the imagination or hold the loyalty of the people of Europe.
In contrast to the drive towards ever-greater cultural uniformity, there is the alternative that promotes cultural variety and individual expression. This should not be confused with a policy of ethnic exclusiveness or cultural chauvinism. On the contrary it would promote and strengthen the most positive and attractive elements of European culture.

Interview conducted by Kim Cornett, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy

Center for Cultural Diplomacy Studies Publication
Institute for Cultural Diplomacy


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The London Art as Cultural Diplomacy ConferenceAugust 21st, 2013


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