Anförande den 2 maj

Kulturrådets generaldirektör Staffan Forssell gjorde följande uttalande, om vikten av konstnärlig frihet och fristäder för förföljda konstnärer, vid den internationella konferensen World Press Freedom Day 2016 i Helsingfors den 2–4 maj.

Talet hölls på engelska. Det talade ordet gäller.

Offering Shelter To Artists At Risk

Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I strongly believe that good leadership means facing, and solving, a problem - not silencing the problem. And no one is better at describing the problem than an artist. But, I am concerned about the silencing of artistic voices across the world. George Orwell, wrote in his book 1984: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

About a week ago, I received a message from an embassy that reminded me of Orwell’s quote. It cited an official speech made by the leader of a country. This leader clearly stated that artistic works describing problems in society or the history of the current politics in a negative way, has no place in today’s society - and that systems to monitor and silence these cultural expressions were being planned.

What are world leaders afraid of? And what are world leaders prepared to do in order to quell that fear? I am very concerned about the silencing of artistic voices. As a leader appointed by the Swedish Government, I above all have to observe to one rule, established by the Swedish Parliament: Culture is to be a dynamic, challenging and independent force, based on freedom of expression. A cold wind is blowing across the world, silencing artistic voices.

The UNESCO Global Report, supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, shows that the rights of artists to express themselves freely are under threat worldwide. According to Freemuse Annual Statistics, last year was the worst year since they started reporting. The number of reported killings, attacks, abductions, imprisonments and threats has nearly doubled in a year. I am very concerned.

I thank the Ministry of Education and Culture and Hanaholmen for inviting me here today – a day to exchange ideas and find ways to cooperate for the protection of artists at risk. As the former UN special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Ms. Farida Shaheed, has pointed out, a large variety of actions are needed to counteract the threats to freedom of artistic expression.

What can we do? Offering a City of Refuge is one way of protecting those who risk their security, and sometimes their lives, for the freedom to express themselves. Given that fundamental human rights and fundamental freedoms are not respected, Cities of Refuge are needed more than ever.

Several organizations and networks do crucial work to protect threatened artists and writers, organizations such as Freemuse, PEN International, Scholars at Risk and the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN).

ICORN is an independent membership organization of cities and regions offering shelter to artists at risk. The member cities defend democratic values and promote international solidarity and offer long-term residencies. To become a City of Refuge means offering a platform for artists at risk and advancing freedom of artistic expression.

Since 2011 the Swedish Arts Council has been assigned to promote an increased number of Cities of Refuge in Sweden. Today Sweden has the highest number of Cities of Refuge in the world, 16 cities or regions all over the country offering safe havens to artists.

These artists - who often work for change in the home countries - can through digital technology still reach audiences in their countries of origin. They can thus continue to make a difference - in their City of Refuge and across the world.

The 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and the 1980 Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist, give an important common ground for promoting and protecting freedom of artistic expression.

According to the 2005 Convention “Cultural diversity can be protected and promoted only if human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression, information and communication /…/ are guaranteed.” Today, maybe more than ever, it is important to commit to these values.

Joint efforts are needed to protect the rights of artists could decrease the number who are censored, harassed, threatened, imprisoned and killed. Offering safe havens to threatened artists will also contribute to a cultural climate that enriches us all.

Today more than 50 cities around the world are part of the ICORN network. But ICORN has a long list of applications from artists that need a safe place. More cities can step forward and take concrete action to defend solidarity, hospitality and freedom of expression. So let us continue to join forces and offer protection to those in need.

We look forward to a strong international cooperation, where artists, city coordinators, politicians, public authorities and human rights activists together can make a change to strengthen and promote freedom of artistic expression. Artists at risk show great courage that we all can learn from.

Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Aleksijevitj was offered a safe haven in city of refuge Gothenburg in Sweden, between 2006 and 2008. She once said that if she had written what people wanted her to publish, she would not have written anything at all. I quote Aleksijevitj: Fear is a large part of our lives—more, even, than love. We all need courage to live on. I hope we’ll have enough.

Thank you

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