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Czech News in English » News » National » Shoes of protest against the culture minister

Shoes of protest against the culture minister

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Culture Minister Václav Jehlička certainly did not expect it: Every time he was reached for the microphone, a crowd of people in the back of the room raised their hands holding worn-out shoes. The Forum for Creative Europe, held in Prague last week as part of the Czech EU presidency, was an event the minister will not easily forget. And not just him. The critical situation in public funding for local culture was surprising for foreign journalists and guests, who witnessed the impressive shoe protest initiated by a group of Czech theatre artists, dancers and literature magazine publishers affected by the minister’s current budget cuts.

The protesters used the shoe (in Czech a shoe – bota – also means a gaffe) to symbolically express their disagreement with the budget cuts in subsidies for art. The budget cuts affected mostly the literature magazines, which have lost 35% in state subsidies. Jehlička argues the ministry’s total spending has been reduced because of the economic crisis. But the reduction is only 6%. When asked by the artists at the press conference for an explanation, the minister refused to answer. Only his spokesman addressed the issue, saying such questions should be asked elsewhere.

Overlooked creativity
Culture managers, politicians and theorists from all EU states attended the forum organised by the Czech Culture Ministry. Culture as a contributing factor not only in social, but also in economic growth of individual countries was the leitmotif of the conference. Robert Palmer, the director of culture and national heritage at the Council of Europe, said, for example, that high-quality art is closely linked with sectors such as the music and film industry, fashion, advertising, computer games, which all contribute 2.6% to the EU’s GDP. This has a positive impact on employment, with these sectors creating 3.1% of the EU’s jobs.

The European Commission’s study entitled the Economy of Culture in Europe, which was often quoted at the conference, highlights the contribution of culture to economic growth in comparison with other sectors. For example, the chemical industry contributes 2.3% to the EU’ GDP, the food industry contributes 1.9%, the textile sector 0.5%. France’s minister for Culture and Communication, Christine Albanel, added that knowing these figures, the support of culture could be considered one of the possible tools to cope with the economic crisis. She said state support should be provided for small and medium-sized businesses that are linked to the listed sectors through better access to the market and loans and lower VAT rate on culture services. When applying these measures, the state should have in mind not only the traditional culture institutions, but also the non-profit art organisations and institutions focusing on independent creative arts, which create innovative projects that generate profits in music and film industry.

But this way of thinking has not yet reached the Czech Republic. Marta Smolíková, director of the organisation ProCulture, described the situation precisely in Lidové noviny. “New thoughts are difficult to bring into practice, and our state officials and politicians are not an exception. It’s great that the forum is taking place. It is an opportunity to see how people from other countries think and work to make their future better or simply how they are aware of the risks of our times and what they do to maintain the quality of life in Europe.”

Also the protesting artists from Za Česko kulturní initiative aiming to raise state subsidies for Czech culture, agreed that organising the forum was important. The majority the experts who attended said that art and culture have always been the fundamental source of creativity. But they remain skeptical about government officials, though Minister Jehlička said several times since the beginning of the scandal with budget cuts for creative arts that he is negotiating with the Finance Ministry to increase the budget for funds.

The initiative presented their disbelief in an open letter distributed among conference participants. Among other things, the letter states: “The Czech governments have never kept the promise they made to their voters that they would invest 1% of the state budget in culture; the Czech legislature does not provide any kind of benefits in support of culture, and Czech politicians have been increasingly overlooking the arts.”

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