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Couchepin calls for a liberal culture policy

Pascal Couchepin wants to promote culture Keystone Archive

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin has called for a more liberal and less politically-influenced cultural policy in Switzerland.

His remarks, made during a meeting in Zurich on Saturday, come shortly before parliament is due to debate a law on the promotion of culture.

At the meeting, organised by Couchepin’s centre-right Radical Party but also attended by the centre-left Social Democrats and figures from the arts world, the minister said that political influence on culture must be stopped.

He said that both the Right and the Left had a tendency to punish artists who did not fall in line with their political thinking.

“What is alarming for our society is not the so-called scandalous artists, but those who are called into question via the censorship and marginalisation of liberal society,” said Couchepin.


The issue of cultural funding came to a head at the end of last year, when the Arts Council of Switzerland, Pro Helvetia, sponsored a controversial exhibition in Paris.

A row over the exhibition by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn resulted in parliament cutting SFr1 million ($880,000) from Pro Helvetia’s annual budget.

Entitled “Swiss-Swiss Democracy”, the exhibition contained an attack on the justice minister and rightwing Swiss People’s Party figurehead, Christoph Blocher. It also took aim at the country’s system of direct democracy.

This scandalised some parliamentarians, who claimed the exhibition had dragged the country’s “most intimate values” through the mud.

A second example, said Couchepin, was when a People’s Party parliamentarian was excluded from the Swiss Authors’ Association.


Couchepin also called for more cultural variety and the increased promotion of culture. He added that a lasting cultural policy was needed to awaken the interest of future generations.

More than 100 people took part in the meeting, which resulted in a joint resolution on cultural policy from the Radicals and the Social Democrats.

According to the text of the resolution, the government should not define culture but seek instead to facilitate conditions in which artists can flourish.

The two parties are to put the resolution to their culture steering committees ahead of the debate in parliament.

swissinfo with agencies

At the centre of the debate is a controversial Paris exhibition which featured, among other things, an actor pretending to urinate on a poster of Blocher.

Parliament first cut SFr180,000 from Pro Helvetia’s budget after it supported the exhibition. It then cut a further SFr1 million from the SFr34 million set aside for the Arts Council.

The exhibition has since had a record 30,000 visitors.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR