Changing Politics – Changing Cultures
One-day European Cultural Policy Symposium
Political conditions in Europe are changing drastically. Only seven out of 28 EU member states are governed by social democrats while at the same time Europe is being overrun by an anti-liberal political wave. The British political scientist Garton Ash says that the "continent has been flooded by a wave of national populism” that – as we can witness in Hungary and Poland – is undermining the achievements of liberal democracy.

This trend couldn’t be reflected better than in the European political reaction to the appointment of the new Austrian right-wing government. While the formation of government between the conservative and right parties in 2000 in Austria has been understood as a direct provocation to the European integration project and was reacted to with so-called political sanctions, the inauguration of the Austrian government in 2017, again between the two parties, is widely accepted at the European level as a representation of a new political normality.

At the same time, processes of disintegration that drive national societies apart are becoming more and more evident. Not only that the recent Austrian election campaign has been evidence to how voluntary and involuntary migration is used for a new round of social conflicts. Also, the paralyzing uncertainty that has captured a large part of the populations and decreasing solidarity are part of this scenario. Both trends represent challenges to civic engagement as an irreducible prerequisite for the further cohesion of national societies.

In Austria, Norbert Hofer, a right-wing populist almost became President of the Republic. Now a far-right/conservative federal government gets ready to realize a societal U-turn that their representatives had promised during the election campaign. The political programs of the new coalition parties also imply a massive impact on what culture will be about and its reinterpretation in the next years. Intentions like "Modernization of the Austrian Cultural State" (ÖVP),  "Fighting cultural identity destruction" (FPÖ) or "Defending our culture and language" (FPÖ) suggest the interpretation that the new regime is going to reinstall a specific Austrian culture that will attempt to demarcate itself from what is happening outside. What we can expect is the realization of a retro cultural policy concept that is mainly about defending “Austrianness” as an idea of a unique homogeneous culture against all kinds of diversity concepts.

The creeping decline of the party landscape, which - as the brilliant election victory of Emmanuel Macron has made obvious – has fully affected the big traditional parties. This fundamental transformation of the political party landscape has nurtured hopes that civil society - a thoroughly vague term, ranging from private foundations or civic engagement to new social movements - would successfully become an increasingly important actor in the political arena and thus renew the political system "from below". Respective new cultural policy priorities in selected European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain,…) will be presented.

The fact that civic initiatives in this regard can be an important factor in such events, has become obvious when new illiberal democracies have attempted to forcibly prevent these initiatives, like in Hungary. The question remains whether they can effectively counteract a social breakup caused by growing social inequality.

It can be assumed that these political changes at both European and national level will have a major impact also on arts and culture. While considerable restrictions on public funding are being applied to the sector, as is currently the case in Upper Austria, other actors are trying to adapt to new political conditions by explaining their willingness to promote a specifically national, Austrian understanding of culture.

But central to this event are those artistic initiatives that critically aim to reflect on the new political situation and thereby counteract their apparent lack of alternative. As examples of good practice, they provide illustrative material for answering the question as to whether and, if so, in which way artists and other actors of the cultural sector are willing and able to deal with the new political circumstances and to reach significant public spheres with their artistic forms of expression.

While the symposium sets out to negotiate primarily the European context, the conclusion of the event should primarily reflect the Austrian-specific implications. After five months of government activity, it should be possible to have a first round of assessment of the new cultural policy of the right-wing/conservative coalition and to discuss possible effects on the arts and culture sector.

Symposium "Changing Politics – Changing Cultures"

Date: 26. April 208, 9.30 am- 6 pm

Location: University of Applied Arts Vienna, Exhibition Center Heiligenkreuzer Hof, Schönlaterngasse 5, 1010 Vienna

Concept: Michael Wimmer

Presentation: Aron Weigl und Michael Wimmer/EDUCULT


Speakers and the detailed programme are to be announced shortly.