A New Cultural Policy for the Towns.

Culture with a big C, is a huge question. At the time of the electoral campaign with the municipal elections in sight, Daniel Cohn Bendit, a member of the European Parliament, having dual nationality of French and German, recently explained himself in a public meeting.

We remember Daniel Cohn Bendit who became famous in May ’68 as head of a left wing student movement at the Sorbonne in Paris. We called him then, Danny the Red. It is really he who has reappeared on the political scene, as a representative of the green party, the ecologists, to offer his vision of culture for the towns. Dani, as he is familiarly called, supports Gerard Collomb, the socialist candidate in Lyon.

There are some new cultural expressions which disturb, the graffiti on the walls… The graffiti on the walls, for me, is a cultural take over by some of the youth of their town, that is to say that some youth want to proclaim “we exist”, “we exist”, in the towns where we have always forgotten to give them, to leave them space, to allow them, perhaps even, to own a place. So, as we see this need for cultural expression at all levels, perhaps we will speak later, as well, about immigration, to talk also about the different cultural sensitivities, which have different origins, we understand that today, a citizen can only identify with his town, will only identify himself and be recognisable in this town if the town recognises his cultural needs at all levels. Then, obviously, there are cultural needs, I would not say of the elite, but let’s say of the traditional values which express themselves through opera, which express themselves through well known theatres through well known directors etc., that’s another level.

Then there is a second level which is a multitude, a multitude of cultural initiatives which need a place. They also need subsidies but the subsidies for me are secondary. They need space, not centralised places where they can express themselves, where they can try to win over the public, so they must be places with some warmth where the public want to go to meet different cultural expressions, cultural initiatives and try to compare them for themselves.

And then there is one other thing that mustn’t be forgotten, that the traditional left has, for culture, often forgotten, and that is culture as the avant-garde expression, of challenge, of society. We mustn’t think only of a culture market, but we must think also of a culture which provokes, which disturbs which even hurts, through these interludes culture dares to pose some problems that in political speeches we speak of politely, necessarily politely, of problems one doesn’t… that we rarely broach. And so, there is for the democracy of a town, something fundamental to try also to find places which give back to culture its rightful position, its potential, its contentious potential, not that which gives it however, to be badly thought of, but which permits contentious values to express themselves. So, to generalise now, the role of a town is to set up structures for different cultural expressions, where the citizens agree to adopt for themselves a particular culture, which expresses itself strongly and effectively. And, that is to say, in practice, we have to make a choice many times more difficult. Yes it’s necessary to have the famous cultural institutions, but the cultural budget hasn’t… cannot be restricted to that. On the other hand, we need initiatives. But be careful, there again, let’s not kill cultural initiatives with a plague of subsidies so that in the end we do not know any more why we subsidise something. That’s to say that the most important, as I have just said, of the subsidies, are the places, where a… a culture, of cultures which can take off and win over the public.

And then to finish, don’t throw in the sponge in face of a cultural expression which is disturbing, be it the young and their graffiti, or be it avant-garde culture, ugly, aggressive, but which advances discussion in society.

Admittedly all of that is quite straight forward, indeed acceptable. Yes, that was reckoning without some loud mouths who came to be kill joys at this meeting. A boat, which had just run aground on the Mediterranean coast filled with clandestine Kurdish immigrants from Iraq, poses another question of cultural integration in France. The people without papers have some champions who know how to make themselves heard. Listen:

We have today some boatloads of passengers who come from anywhere and no-one knows where they are going. So, really, truly, you speak of citizenship, where is the citizenship in such a statement, where is the citizenship in such disregard for people, where is the citizenship for the people who, in Lyon, live without rights, and M Collomb, you have absolutely given us the run around, because we were there in front of your office, you said that you were going to deal with the conditions of the people. You have done nothing. You have sent us for a walk. You have taken us for imbeciles and you have taken the people without papers for imbeciles.

Sort out the people without papers.

I am here. I am staying here. I will not go away.

$Id: 2001_04_cul.htm 35 2021-02-12 12:17:35Z alistair $

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