A common project of the Swiss Coalition for Cultural Diversity and the Swiss Commission for UNESCO
The sectoral workshop “International Cooperation” was composed of experts from civil society engaged in various areas: cooperation NGOs, promoters in Switzerland of the culture of the South and East, information and lobby groups, press agencies, fair trade organizations.
The four objectives that emerged from the discussions are:
Internationally it has be recognised that the idea that culture is now a key factor in the fight against poverty. Over the past decade, the World Bank has identified indicators of cultural development. The UNDP in its Global Report on Human Development, then the European Consensus of 2005 stating that culture is an integral part of the policy of the European Union, UNCTAD in its important 2008 report on the creative economy, are just some examples of awareness of the role of culture in development.
More than ever, culture is not a luxury. The figures speak for themselves. For example: commercial trade in culture increased for nearly 10 years by at least 7% per year. Africa, however, represents less than 1%. For Jamaica, the sector related to copyright employs over 12,000 people full time and represents 5% of GDP.
Beyond the numbers, culture, as a means of creative expression, is a factor in social transformation. In the South, it is often an element of reflection with respect to economic and social systems, often burdened with even more inertia than in the North. Therefore, talking of development without including culture as one of the axis of a policy of cooperation, seems somewhat misplaced or outdated.
In its action plan Strategy for Sustainable Development 2008-2011, the Federal Council identified culture as an interdisciplinary issue (Point 11). The fundamental role of culture is recognized for all economic and social transformation; a condition for sustainable development. The consistency of public policy, therefore, requires considering culture as an interdisciplinary theme of the international development cooperation policy of the Confederation.
a) “Culture is not a luxury”: The basic reference is the 2003 SDC document. “Culture is not a luxury” which “places the cultural principles of the SDC in a wider context... “ in order to “encourage the desire to undertake cultural projects, to further integrate culture and to find synergies with SDC programmes as a whole”.
In what context was this document prepared? In 1988, the UN launched the World Decade for Cultural Development. Switzerland was a member of its Intergovernmental Committee. With the presence of Kurt Furgler, former Federal Councillor, at its heart, Switzerland participated in the work of the World Commission on Culture and Development chaired by Javier Perez de Cuellar, former Secretary General of the United Nations. Switzerland contributed financially to its work. The highlight of the Decade was the publication in 1996 of the Commission report “Our Creative Diversity”.
In 1998 in Stockholm, the Intergovernmental Conference organized by UNESCO on cultural policies for development (“The Power of Culture”) concluded the Decade and confirmed through its action plan the commitment of the international community to clearly integrate a cultural component in international development cooperation policies. Switzerland took an active part in the debates in Stockholm and undertook a reflection that led to “Culture is not a luxury.”
b) A shrinking commitment: The international development cooperation policies of Switzerland had long been noted for taking into account specific cultural aspects in its programmes and projects. This is natural given the multicultural and federal nature of our country and, more generally, considering our preference to give priority to “local” rather than “global” orientation.
One of the measures to be implemented in early 2000 by the SDC, in the wake of the document “Culture is not a luxury”, was the promotion of local cultures in its partner countries in the South by allocating at least one per cent of its bilateral budget to culture.3 Meanwhile, in Switzerland, the made a clear commitment to culture either directly through the SDC, or through the Fonds Culturel Sud (Cultural Fund for the South) of Artlink4, or by direct support to the South for stage arts (music, theatre, dancing) or visual arts (cinema) or support in Switzerland for festivals and cultural development agencies (trigon-films5).
We should rather say, “had made”. In fact, the commitment of Switzerland has been gradually reduced to a trickle. Today, Pro Helvetia6, which from 1984 to 2001 was active in the “South-North” programme in promoting cultural projects both in the South and in Switzerland, is no longer visible, so to speak, in this field. The visibility of the SDC in connection with the cultural expression of the South has been severely criticized by Parliament and has crumbled. The budget of the SDC for culture has been reduced from 5 to 3 million Francs while, in the context of the in-depth reform of the SDC, the subject of culture has almost disappeared.
Regarding the “At least one percent for culture” Fund, the situation is bleak. A lack of clear guidelines has prevented a satisfactory and productive use of what was to have been a significant financial incentive to local cultures. These sums available to the coordination offices in the SDC partner countries were sometimes unused or often managed without consistency or medium term objectives. No studies on the use of the “At least one percent for culture” Fund are available.
Apart from that the programmes of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), another key agency in the international development cooperation of Switzerland, did not contain elements – direct or indirect – to promote the diversity of cultural expression. The encouragement by SECO of companies in the South does not concern the cultural industries.
c) A lack of consistency in international commitments: This ‘shrinking’ policy occurred while the country pledged clear solidarity and cultural cooperation of developed countries to developing or emerging countries. Switzerland played a very active and progressive role in the negotiations that led to the adoption of the UNESCO Convention of 2005 on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions. The above finding is particularly disturbing in that Switzerland became a party to the Convention by ratification in October 2008. In other words, from the point of view of cultural cooperation, the country’s gradual disengagement at a concrete level conflicts with her commitment at the diplomatic level.
It is worth recalling three of the nine objectives of Article 1 of the Convention that are detailed further in the provisions of Articles 12 to 18 and 20 of the same text:
Thus, today, Switzerland has not only a legal basis for implementing cultural cooperation, but also a moral duty to fulfil its international commitments in this area. The political will must follow, as it has followed, for example, in most countries of the European Union, Canada and Brazil.
In July 2009, the SDC adopted “The strategic focus with respect to promoting intercultural and artist exchanges of the South and East (2010-2015)”. Despite its shortcomings, will it be the first step in this direction? It remains to be seen whether the encouraging intentions of the document will lead to practical results in its implementation.
Experts from the International Cooperation workshop have in their reflections, highlighted four pivotal points that Switzerland should follow to be consistent with the ratification of the UNESCO Convention:
a) Undertake a thorough assessment of the past policies and activities of Switzerland with respect to culture in its international development cooperation policy – in particular the SDC “At least one percent for culture” Fund – and draw conclusions for a cultural cooperation policy for the future; this to be carried out in collaboration with other stakeholders (Cantons, NGOs, Pro Helvetia, the private sector).
Without statistics or evaluation of past experience, any discussion or definition of new policies could be ineffective or irrelevant. Conversely, equipped with benchmarks, public, private and cooperation NGO players will be able to estimate the impact of a policy of cultural cooperation, as they can, for example, assess such impact in production, health, education or social areas. They will then be better equipped to define strategies and actions for the diversity of cultural expressions.
b) Implement a Swiss policy of proactive and consistent cooperation for the diversity of cultural expressions.
As shown in Paragraph 1 (Challenges), the importance of culture for development and the fight against poverty is a fact proven by many players and reports from international agencies. At the same time, we must recognize that there exists a gap between this recognition and the means (especially financial) implemented by the community of States. In this context, it is time for the Swiss cooperation to put culture at the top of the agenda and that its bodies – especially the SDC – seriously reconsider re-establishing it as a policy instrument. This should be done, in particular, in three ways: through concrete programmes in developing countries, through increased financial support at the multilateral level and through policies of a structural nature.
In this regard, beyond the cultural policies in their strictest sense, encouraging the diversity of cultural expressions also involves reflection and implementation of structural policies such as, inter alia, the promotion of peace in areas of high migration or the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities that are the number one victims of climate change.
c) Increase the demand in Switzerland for quality cultural goods and services from the South
The development of a market for cultural goods and services from the South in Switzerland is closely linked to the supply of these products. Thus, a clear relationship exists between encouraging production in developing countries and distribution in Switzerland.
Encouraging quality production is essential. Demand in the North, to be sustainable, must dissociate itself from a simple act of solidarity. The cultural product has an intrinsic value. The practice of fair trade in food products has demonstrated that quality is a prerequisite for market access in the North.
The same is true of cultural products (music, films, literature, crafts) that also contain a significant added value in the message they transmit. The tolerance of the market for lower quality products from the South is no longer viable.
Supporting production in the South (co-productions) and distribution in the North (festivals, exhibitions and stage presentations, facilitated mobility of artists, support of distribution channels, especially public service broadcasting) will provide support to both the offer of product and an expanding market.
d) Implement an international trade policy consistent with its commitment to promoting diversity of cultural expressions.
Faced with bottlenecks on the multilateral track, Switzerland – like many other industrialized countries – has committed itself to negotiating a growing number of bilateral free trade agreements with developing countries. While, until now, in the wake of the European Union, Switzerland has not sold off culture as a commercial trade off, there is concern that there will be a shift in this position on the day when it comes face to face with countries that consider access to the Swiss market for certain services that compete with their own cultural industry as crucial. Moreover, the increasing pressures on the WTO to liberalize audio-visual services as well as discussions on the regulation of cultural content distributed electronically could greatly change the situation in the future.
In this context, Switzerland must ensure that its decisions and commitments regarding foreign trade policy – bilateral and multilateral – are not an obstacle to the promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions, and even encourage it. A balance must be found, because the diffusion of foreign cultural goods is an important factor of mutual enrichment; preventing their access to the Swiss market would hardly be compatible with the expressed desire to increase the availability of cultural products from the South.
Particular attention should be paid to the consequences of the Swiss policy with respect to tourism and the protection of intellectual property; areas where it has interests that are often aggressive and can have a direct or indirect impact on cultural diversity. Another sensitive issue could be that of opening the market for the production of cultural goods and services to service providers from countries with strong cultural industries (e.g. film and audio-visual).
Mauro Abbühl. Head of music and visual arts, Artlink Office for Cultural Cooperation. firstname.lastname@example.org
Marcus Büzberger. Head of culture, Helvetas. email@example.com
Michel Egger. Head of International Trade, Alliance Sud. firstname.lastname@example.org
Diego Gradis (Commissioner). Lawyer. Executive Chairman of Traditions for Tomorrow; Vice-President of the
Swiss Commission for UNESCO and the Swiss Coalition for Cultural Diversity. email@example.com
Elisabeth Kopp Demougeot. President Swissfairtrade. firstname.lastname@example.org
Carole Vann. Director Infosud. email@example.com