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Minister of Culture interferes with artistic freedom and freedom of expression, HFHR says in statement

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights is concerned about actions taken by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, which, according to the HFHR, interfere with such values as artistic freedom or the freedom of expression.

Artistic freedom at risk

The most recent example of a detrimental decision is the arbitrary dismissal of Magdalena Sroka from the post of Director of the Polish Film Institute. Notably, Ms Sroka’s directorship was terminated before the end of her statutory term of office. In its statement, the HFHR also noted other worrying examples of the Minister’s interferences in the personal composition of public cultural institutions, such as the dismissal of Paweł Potoroczyn, head of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. The statement also pointed to other activities threatening artistic freedom such as the attempt to suspend the premiere of a stage play (Death and the Maiden), the murky cancellation of certain artistic events (Malta Festival, Prapremiery Festival, Dialog-Wrocław International Theatre Festival) or the merger of the Museum of the Second World War with the newly created Westerplatte Museum.

Cultural policy should be pluralistic

In the statement, the HFHR has recalled constitutional standards that public servants must adhere to in taking policy decisions about culture. We have noted that all decisions of public authorities in the area of culture should be based on transparent rules and elaborately justified, and remembered that artistic initiatives supported by the state must present different points of view.

“The state must not be allowed to take actions that aim at blocking the presentation of certain content or paralysing the operations of a given cultural institution only because the institution presents ideas that are not shared by those in power. It is unacceptable if politicians support exclusively those of the institutions whose operations are guided by the convictions endorsed by policymakers”, the statement reads.

The HFHR also emphasised that public authorities’ obligation to act in a non-discriminatory and transparent way applied also to staffing decisions that affect public cultural institutions. The head of such an institution may be dismissed only for cause; such a dismissal may not be a retribution for exercising the freedom of speech. The above in particular applies to situations in which the freedom of speech was used to reveal improprieties in cultural policy, which is a critical area from the perspective of the social interest.

Soft censorship

In the opinion of the HFHR, the actions of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage should be considered examples of the so-called “soft censorship”. “We think the long-term goal of this type of censorship is to exert pressure on artists or managers of cultural institutions, which is to discourage the artistic community from creating or presenting works and taking other actions that may run against the preferences of the ruling political power. This strategy aims at subordinating cultural activities in Poland to politicians”, the HFHR argues in the statement.

Also in the statement, the Foundation called on the Minister of Culture and National Heritage to respect the freedom of artistic creation and other constitutional values and to cease any actions that may endanger such values.

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