A non-partisan cultural policy will benefit all
Recent action by Culture Ministry General Secretary Christos Zachopoulos over which poets would represent Greece at the Turin Book Fair, and the immediate resignation of the administration of the National Book Center (EKEBI) make it a matter of urgency that we try to define current cultural policy in the literary world. The Greek establishment – rulers, representatives of political life, the state administrative machine and economic figures – has never acquired a substantial relationship with culture, namely, a deep knowledge of the things, texts, trends, people, issues and values at stake. And yet, during PASOK’s long term in office, an unprecedented break occurred, when something that was self-evident to the intelligentsia also became self-evident to official government institutions. It is a serious and unresolved question as to whether EKEBI’s organizing anniversary events, not funding infrastructure projects and not evaluating the outcomes of its activities constitute book policy. It was an even graver error that the Culture Ministry (YPPO) squandered precious funds on unsuccessful events and useless advertisements, that we still don’t have a national library and that the Education Ministry has not managed to get school libraries functioning. But it is also true that, despite the lack of any fixed notion about literature, for at least the past 10 years many vital posts – state literature prize juries, EKEBI, numerous committees – have been staffed by people from the world of letters who have offered various opportunities to genuine intellectuals and writers. And there is no evidence of any intervention in the decisions of those committees by PASOK culture ministers, Thanos Mikroutsikos, Elisavet Papazoe, Theodoros Pangalos or Evangelos Venizelos. What is the explanation for this real distance between power and the world of letters, on the one hand, and, on the other, a positive assessment of PASOK’s 11 years in power from the viewpoint I mentioned? Most young writers today profess no political identity, but a long tradition going back to the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s turned an extraordinary number of noteworthy writers and artists to the Left. The natural communication between PASOK and the forces of the Left permitted the polity to develop, during PASOK’s time in power, the attitude of respect and recognition mentioned above. What will happen now that a new hand has been dealt? Will we have to start from scratch, explaining basic facts to ignorant state officials? For example, the vast difference between commendable lyricists and composers, such as Evanthia Reboutsika and Loudovikos ton Anogeion, and a poet; or that a tradition in the arts is not divided into left-wing and non-left wing. Will the positive practice of political non-intervention in cultural assessments be lost? These are vital issues of cultural policy that the new government must tackle responsibly. Let us hope that its prompt attempt to rectify matters indicates that what happened was no more than an unfortunate episode. Those who are not on the Left must deal with another serious matter. The intelligentsia’s turn to the Left in the 1950s and ’60s meant that non-Leftist writers of that time completely lost interest in political discourse about culture, abruptly cutting off a powerful earlier tradition of cultivating liberal thought that had begun with zeal and was systematically cultivated by artists and writers of the 1930s generation. The unbearable burden of terrorism, combined with the wooden rhetoric of the Civil War victors, crushed any hopes such discourse had of developing. In recent years, New Democracy has made a significant break by casting off the terrible cultural legacy of the Civil War. Now that the time for action has come, may it find ways of casting off whatever vestiges of obscurantism burden the liberals. May it, like PASOK, find ways of making connections with real people of ideas and letters who will take initiatives and make decisions. Left-wing discourse on culture is not being cultivated nowadays, but there is the discourse of left-wing intellectuals. May the new government incorporate it and, at the same time, may the conditions be created in which the discourse of non-leftists, of liberal intellectuals, is sought. Everyone stands to benefit.