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Malta Foundation sues Culture Ministry for 300,000 zloty

On 5 June 2018, the Malta Foundation, organiser of the Malta Festival Poznań, filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, seeking the payment of PLN 300,000 on account of the Ministry’s failure to pay this amount as a dedicated subsidy for the 2017 Festival.

In 2016, the Malta Foundation made a three-year contract for the organisation of the Malta Festival Poznań, which obliged the Ministry to pay annual dedicated subsidies. However, in 2017, the subsidy was denied in response of appointing Olivier Frljić, author of controversial play The Curse, as one of the Festival’s Curators. The denial was confirmed in a press release of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage issued on 9 June 2017. The release read that Mr Frljić “provides no guarantee that the audience will be engaged in a dialogue and persuaded to open themselves to the artistic experience; rather, he is likely to pit a significant portion of the audience against the theatre and discourage them from taking part in the event”.

The HFHR decided to support the Malta Foundation by retaining pro bono counsel from Hogan Lovells. According to the Foundation, this a landmark case. The matter is one of the first examples of domestic subsidies denied due to the personal involvement of a particular artist. Notably, the Constitution of the Republic of Poland guarantees that everyone can enjoy the freedom of artistic expression and may freely use cultural goods. In Poland, culture is financed mainly from the national budget so a decision denying a subsidy can be considered a measure of “soft censorship”. Soft censorship consists in pressurising artists to refrain from certain activities such as the production of a play.

The Foundation will be observing proceedings in this case.

Additional guidance can also be found in two Foundation’s publications on artistic freedom. The first one, Artistic Freedom – Practical Guide, explains how far artists can legally go in exercising their freedom and describes the boundaries that they should not cross. The Guide also discusses the guarantees of artistic freedom, including those established in the Constitution. The publication also shows artists how they can defend against acts of vandalism against works of art, the intimidation of artists or disruption of cultural events.

The other publication, entitled Freedom of Expression in Artistic Field touches upon a plethora of issues relating to limits of artistic freedom, approaching the subject from various perspectives: primarily legal, but also theological, historical, journalistic and artistic.

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