Swiss culture lashes out at Senate punishment

Some people at the show seem to wonder what all the fuss is about Keystone

Cultural authorities are appalled that the Senate wants to cut the budget of the Arts Council of Switzerland over a controversial Swiss exhibition in Paris.

This content was published on December 7, 2004 - 18:10

They say that the plan to cut SFr1 million ($880,000) from the Council’s annual budget of SFr34 million is inadmissible, arguing that it is tantamount to state interference.

Interior minister Pascal Couchepin also criticised the Senate move at a news conference in Paris but called for people to keep calm.

He said he had been surprised at the decision, adding that it was not desirable to have proposed such a cut in the middle of a dispute.

The Senate’s vote in favour of the move (24 to 13) comes in the wake of controversy stirred by attacks in the exhibition of works by the artist, Thomas Hirschhorn, against Justice Minister Christoph Blocher and Switzerland’s system of direct democracy.

One of the provocative images is a scene showing someone urinating on a poster of Blocher.

Hirschhorn on Tuesday evening was unperturbed by the planned cut, arguing that those who voted in favour were the people who should worry. He said he had nothing against a cut decided as a whole package of economy measures.

“But if the cut is a punishment against all artists, democracy is in danger.”

Provocative images

Hirschhorn said some politicians were using the exhibition to justify the budget cut.

“The Swiss suffer too much from money pressure, they want assurances, they are too worried... They feel very quickly under attack, they whine too much, too quickly.”

“If from Paris an exhibition of this kind can provoke a national outcry, there must really be a problem in Switzerland,” he added.

The director of the Federal Office for Culture, David Streiff, said that irritation over the exhibition was understandable but he argued that the planned budget cut against the Arts Council (Pro Helvetia) would hit the wrong people.

Writer Adolf Muschg was also upset by the move.

“Political pressure has no place in culture. Pro Helvetia is not there to make publicity for Switzerland but to show it in all its facets…I hope Pro Helvetia can resist this pressure,” he commented.

Authors and artists

The president of the association that represents authors and artists, Suisseculture, was also shocked. Mathias Knauer said that as an autonomous body, Pro Helvetia was precisely there to keep a distance between the state and decisions affecting culture.

At Zurich University, philosophy professor Georg Kohler argued that a free society should protect its artists. However, the freedom of culture had its limits.

“But if there’s doubt, you have to decide in favour of cultural freedom,” he said.

The director of Pro Helvetia, Pius Knüsel, said he did not want to comment on the issue, adding that the cut was not definitive because it had still to be discussed by the House of Representatives.

Christian Democrat Peter Bieri from canton Zug had earlier proposed the budget cut, commenting that Hirschhorn’s exhibition at the Swiss cultural centre dragged Switzerland’s “most intimate values” through mud.

Since Saturday, the Paris exhibition "Swiss-Swiss Democracy" has attracted about 2,000 visitors.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Thomas Hirschhorn was born in Bern in 1957.
Earlier this year, he was awarded the Joseph Beuys prize, which is worth €33,000 (SFr50,498)
His exhibition "Swiss-Swiss Democracy" is on show at the Swiss culture centre in Paris till January 30.

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In brief

The Senate on Tuesday voted in favour of cutting the budget of the Arts Council of Switzerland (Pro Helvetia) by SFr1 million.

Pro Helvetia had supported the controversial Paris exhibition of artist Thomas Hirschhorn with SFr180,000.

Cultural authorities are appalled by the Senate vote (24 to 13).

The annual budget of Pro Helvetia is SFr34 million.

The proposal now goes to the House of Representatives.

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