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#FA2013 - Summary of the opening session

Opening of the Forum « No Politics Without Culture 

President Nicolas Seydoux opened the sixth edition of the Forum d’Avignon on  the theme "Culture & Power" by reminding the audience that globalization, facilitated by Internet, is an opportunity for "old" civilizations, wealthy in their diversity and properly armed, to confront a world whose extraordinary complexity is hidden by technology’s standardization: “For the past six years, the Forum d’Avignon has been supported without fail by all Ministers of Culture and has been fighting with them so that Culture remain the center of reflections about power. The Forum d’Avignon has this year selected the theme "No politics without Culture". 

Seydoux also underlined the importance of a collective conversation within a European network constituted by the Forum d’Avignon in Ruhr and Bilbao, gathered around the Catalyse project supported by the European Union’s Culture program.  Bernd Fesel, Deputy Director of ecce (European Center for Creative Economy), spoke on behalf of professor Dieter Gorny, Director of  ecce. Fesel, asked one of the most central questions according to Seydoux: "What is the place of culture in the world of tomorrow?"

The RUHR.2010 edition, provided one possible answer: "The culture of change – change through culture". Ecce was created to ensure the sustainable development of creative and cultural industries in Ruhr, as motors of innovation. Today, we focus on reinforcing strategies and processes, rather than financial investments. We perceive cities as spaces for social learning, rather than as tourist destinations. The second edition of the Forum d’Avignon Ruhr in June 2013 was centered on ‘The effects of culture on climate change, intercultural exchanges, and the dynamics of urbanism and the new economy’. The results of these meetings are presented in a study soon to be published, entitled “Culture is the key”. This study exhibits that the culture is a catalyst, yet skeptics must still be convinced of this. The CATALYSE project, shared by the Forum d’Avignon and Bilbao, aims to propose the tools necessary for urban change through culture, beyond a mere awareness of the cultural impact on territorial development. Such is our common mission, such is our collective responsibility.

Canadian journalist, Denise Bombardier, moderated the opening discussion: No Politics Without Culture! From the get go she declared that culture and politics created an explosive cocktail, complex in its nature, dangerous and enriching at time.

Erik Orsenna, author and member of the Académie Française, is convinced that during times of change, culture is needed more than ever. Culture is the primary shield against increasing violence in reaction to change. Hosts of culture create uncanny dynamics that emphasize central State’s inability to answer citizens’ demands. As a result, we must question the function of these very States in addition to the role of theirs Ministers of culture. While new behaviors of culture are emerging, central powers must take into account new goals beyond those determined by public service (defined parameters, guaranteed long term values on education, the protection of heritage). What remains is to enforce the evaluation of these commitments. Similarly to the Erasmus Program that allows students to study in all European countries, Orsenna proposes that one year of a politician’s mandate be spent in Europe.

For Badr Jafar, CEO of Crescent group and President of Crescent Petroleum (United Arab Emirats), culture is what represents people and the languages they speak. Numerous misunderstandings of Middle Eastern countries remain due to their visible position in continued warfare. That being said, culture is the only way of surpassing differences between people. 

Chetan Bhagat, Indian author, focused on India’s influential power. He notes that his country remains a poor nation with a GNP per inhabitant that is 4 times inferior to that of China. India has been dictated by a corrupted elite and a dynastic political cast for the past four generations, in addition to the effects of religion. Nevertheless, change can occur, even if India’s inherent problem is its culture (250 of English domination, indifference to inequalities, brewing religious conflicts). India requires a therapy, according to Bhagat. If there is no change without politics, there are no politics without culture. “The emancipation of my people is my inspiration, even if their passive nature can be a source of disappointment”.

The debate then targets democracy as the necessary cultural foundation for a more encompassing discussion. There is no universal prescription on this matter. Jafar insists on the importance of a State of Law, highlighting that corruption varies from one country to the next (tensions within clans vs western lobbies that finance political campaigns). Orsenna condenses: there are either too many internal political connections, either not enough of them. For the author, a country must have a personal narrative; the concept of a nation can not only be a technical solution.

According to Jafar, societies are the origin of cultural evolutions. For Bhagat, a fundamental weakness is that Indian artists, though highly esteemed, do not take political stands. The cultural sector remains in the shadow of the political sphere. The private sector will have to assume full responsibilities upon realizing culture’s power. For Jafar, companies have a role to play; they must not only rely on their productivity, but also have a social and sustainable development agenda.

Bombardier contends that no cultural revolution can occur without equality of the sexes. Jafar advances that the UAE has adopted more policies toward equality of the sexes, encouraging the dubious to visit his country. Artists play a pivotal role in facilitating these changes. Jafar recalls Quincy Jones’ advice: to better understand a country’s culture, one should savor its cuisine, listen to its music, and learn at least 30 words in its lexicon.

Members of the audience provided multiple points of view: the Minister of Culture of South Africa insisted that politics are influenced by culture. Culture represents the people’s will and is the soul of a nation. Culture is perverted when it is used to oppress a people, yet also becomes virtuous when serving democracy and intercultural exchanges.

Guillaume Klossa invites the audience to not forget the essentials: "we are at a time when citizens are losing their reference points. Cultural leaders are held responsible. Similarly to when Stephan Zweig noted in 1913 that the intelligentsia knew of the brewing conflict but were unable to directly face it. We must redefine universality, beginning on a European scale. Our ecosystem is now a global one. Each must assume individual responsibility to partake in collective change, so as to avoid the worst".

Orsenna had the last word: "Politics can be defined as the confrontation with reality. Politics must thus make art possible, so that culture can in turn influence reality".