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Artists unite to protect cultural diversity

One of Mali's most celebrated "griot" singers rehearses before his European tour


As part of the world movement against free trade in culture, a Swiss coalition for cultural diversity, representing 50 groups, has been formed in Bern.

The coalition aims to put pressure on political authorities to prevent cultural activities and products from being treated as simple commodities.

"In a free world trade environment individual states cannot protect their cultural products," said Mathias Knauer, filmmaker and co-founder of the association. He added that, according to the logic of free trade, subsidies would be seen as a market distortion.

The Swiss Coalition is part of a worldwide movement against the liberalisation of trade in cultural goods. Similar coalitions already exist in at least 30 countries. More than 50 cultural organisations have signed up to the Swiss coalition.

Global free trade has been seen as a threat to cultural diversity, particularly in the film sector. Knauer said the US, with its large film industry, has long been frustrated by the state support for the medium which exists in Europe.

TV fees

Fees for public television and radio services could come under pressure, according to the Swiss Coalition. It is feared that the current negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade Services (GATS) at the World Trade Organization could have an impact on this area.

In its mission statement, the Coalition says it wants every country to be able to pursue its own cultural politics.

This right should be enshrined in international law. "Artistic expression reflects the identity, experience and values of the people," Knauer explained.

The different national coalitions are not alone in their quest.

At last week's Unesco General Assembly in Paris, experts from 190 countries continued negotiating a convention for the protection of cultural diversity.

They were aiming to agree on a definition for cultural goods and services.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The Swiss coalition for cultural diversity intends to pursue its goals nationally and internationally by:
Raising awareness and informing public opinion, political and cultural circles;
Making representations to Swiss and international authorities
Carrying out monitoring activities
Enhancing the value of cultural life in Switzerland

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In brief

An international liaison committee of coalitions for cultural diversity (CIL) was created in March 2003 to facilitate cooperation between the coalitions and the development of common positions and actions.

To date, CIL includes the coalitions of the following 30 countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Congo, South Korea, Ecuador, France, Germany, Guinea, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Mali, Morocco, Mexico, New-Zealand, Peru, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Togo and Uruguay.

The movement is still expanding with new coalitions being created on a regular basis.

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