Friday, 6 May 2011

Our Dear Minister of Culture

If you google "kultura v čr",
this picture comes on the first page...
We have a very special Minister of Culture. A dentist by education, a president of an ice hockey club and a hotel manager by profession, Jiří Besser is known for being a fan of the hard rock group Kabát ("Coat") and a determination to liquidate the State Opera. While I respect different people's tastes and something probably should be done about the State Opera (like, give it more money), the longer he's been the Minister of Culture, the more I'm convinced that he shouldn't be.

I have that weird opinion that ministers, especially some, should fight for their portfolios. The Minister of Environment should try to protect the environment, the Minister of Education should aspire for our children to be as educated as possible, the Minister of Culture to protect the culture of the country, and so on and so forth. Apparently, not so with our government. Let me not write about the ex-minister of environment who had said that he would "breathe for Czech industry" (he resigned in 12/2010 after a corruption scandal at his ministry, too big even for Czech conditions). Let me not write about the salaries - or rather handouts - that Czech scientists and research workers get, either. That hopefully cannot get any worse. Let me write about culture.

...and this one on the fifth.
Jiří Bělohlávek conducting a concert at the Prague Spring.
foto: Jiří Bělohlávek © Pražské jaro – Zdeněk Chrapek
According to ČT24, at the conference Creativity and Innovation in Cities and Regions of the Czech Republic, our beloved Minister of Culture uttered the following: "We must realize that cultural output not only enriches the spirit, but also brings economic effects." He added that it was necessary to change the perspective that if something in culture is popular and financially successful, it becomes suspicious. Of course, Kabát made it to the Eurovision contest with the song Little Lady, and their live DVD Hellishly Big Concert sold 50,000 copies. Soloists from the State Opera, can you claim that?

It is a very dangerous attitude indeed. Let Mr.Besser dream about a Czech version of U2 (which, by his own words, brings a lot of capital to the British Ministry of Culture - which cannot be denied, of course), but he must realize that what rings a bell in a foreign mind is Dvořák, Janáček or Bělohlávek. We often criticize [some] Czech orchestras for their quality, but it is a bleak reality that musicians must often play in two or more orchestras to make a living. In these circumstances, the situation of Czech musical scene is nothing short of a miracle! The Czech Republic gives 0,5% of state budget to culture, which is, according to this very, very interesting website, one of the lowest in Europe.

Jiří Besser, M.D.
Of course, investment in culture doesn't return so apparently. Possibly a famed opera house brings more tourists. Possibly if citizens live up to their cultural standards, they are happier and more productive. But most importantly, an air of quality culture has a positive effect on the entire society. When people regularly encounter posters inviting them to the opera, maybe they will eventually go. Art is not escapism in catchy tunes and loud beats from everyday reality, as I suspect most of pop music is, but it brings a value and beauty to our lives. Are they useless for the economy? Not even that! Capitalism is built on Western moral values. The very values that were destroyed in Easter Europe by socialism and the lack of which is I believe now causing e.g. the levels of corruption being so high precisely in these countries.If art enriches our lives, it enriches our society - and what is a minister good for if he doesn't care about the future of his country?

We are not rich enough not to invest in art and culture.

PS: I fear it's lobbyists at work here, too :-(