Freedom of Artistic Expression and Creativity

Labour Party

This week I spoke at an event where Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights for the United Nations, presented her report on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity.

The report addresses the many ways in which the right to the freedom of artistic expression and creativity can be curtailed around the world. Ms Shaheed discussed the growing worldwide concern that artistic voices are being silenced. The report addresses laws and regulations restricting artistic freedoms as well as economic and financial issues significantly impacting on such freedoms. The underlying motivations are most often political, religious, cultural or moral, or lie in economic interests, or are a combination of those.

The report encouraged States to critically review their legislation and practices imposing restrictions on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity, taking into consideration their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil this right.

In her report, Ms Shaheed has a number of specific recommendations to help combat the problem.

(a)   Artists and all those engaged in artistic activities should only be subject to general laws that apply to all people. Such laws shall be formulated with sufficient precision and in accordance with international human rights standards.

(b)   States should abolish prior-censorship bodies or systems where they exist.  Prior censorship should be a highly exceptional measure, undertaken only to prevent the imminent threat of grave irreparable harm to human life or property.

(c)    Classification bodies or procedures may be resorted to for the sole purpose of informing parents and regulating unsupervised access by children to particular content, and only in the areas of artistic creation where this is strictly necessary due in particular to easy access by children.

(d)   Decision makers, including judges, when resorting to possible limitations to artistic freedoms, should take into consideration the nature of artistic creativity (as opposed to its value or merit), as well as the right of artists to dissent

(e)   States should abide by their obligation to protect artists and all persons participating in artistic activities or dissemination of artistic expressions and creations from violence by third parties.

(f)     States should address issues regarding the use of public space for artistic performances or displays. Regulation of public art may be acceptable where it conflicts with other public uses of the space, but such regulation should not discriminate arbitrarily against specific artists or content.

(g)   States should review their visa issuance system and adjust it to the specific difficulties encountered by touring artists, their host organizations and tour organizers;

(h)   States should ensure the participation of representatives of independent associations of artists in decision-making related to art, and refrain from nominating or appointing cultural administrators or directors of cultural institutions on the basis of their political, religious or corporate affiliation.

What is striking about these recommendations and the report in general, is that it shows that restrictions on artists are not limited to authoritarian regimes.  Though the worst cases of artistic oppression happen in countries such as Iran and China, there is still a lot more we can do in Europe to ensure a vibrant and unrestricted culture.  It was a very interesting event and if you would like to read the full report, you can do so by following the link here.

The LUX Prize 2012 – Shun Li and The Poet

Labour Party

The last finalist of the 2012 LUX Prize and which I’m reviewing is Shun Li and The Poet, from first time feature director Andrea Segre.

The film examines issues such as cultural alienation, xenophobia, exploitation, splintered families and the universal yearning for affection. The setting is Chioggia, a small city-island on the Venetian lagoon.

The protagonists are Shun Li (Zhao Tao) and Bepi (Rade Šerbedžija). She is sent from a textile sweat shop in Rome to work in a dingy café by Chinese gangsters to whom she is virtually an indentured slave. Aged in her mid-30s, she works hard to pay off her debts so her young son, who lives with her father in China, can join her.

Bepi is a café regular, a solitary man who was born in the former Yugoslavia and has lived in Italy for 30 years. Gradually a friendship develops as both realise they have much in common; they’re foreigners,  they lived under Communist rule, Shun Li is a single parent and Bepi’s wife died a year ago, her father and grandfather were fishermen; and both are distanced from their children. Bepi isn’t close to his son who lives with his wife and their two kids in Mestre, a city on the mainland.

Also, both have a passion for poetry, albeit in different forms. She is obsessed with a Chinese poet and celebrates a Festival of the Poets. He’s nicknamed ‘the Poet’ because of his facility with rhymes.

As they grow closer, she is warned by her roommate that their Chinese bosses don’t allow them to socialise with the locals and doing so could jeopardise her chances of reuniting with her son. “I’ll be careful, don’t worry,” she responds.

On the other side of the coin, Bepi’s friends and other patrons gossip and gripe about what they believe is an affair and they mock Shun Li’s nationality. One guy is overtly racist, railing against the Chinese “invasion” and the rise of a “new empire”.

The film is beautifully shot, rendering the lagoon and the fishing town setting in greys and blues, that feels cold but enticing.  The town is near Venice, and on one of her first days off Shun Li visits the city and Segre uses this scene to highlight the some-what bleak nature of Chioggia by contrast.

The film deals with its themes with subtlety and a lightness of touch that is quite refreshing, making the films message all the more powerful.  The performance of Zhao Tao is particularly memorable; reserved and understated but very moving.

Britian would be a political pygmy without the EU

Labour Party

Britain is at present sleep walking into political pygmy land without even realising where the country is heading. The euro crisis has provoked the ultimate challenge not only to the future of the European Union but also to that of the United Kingdom. As the EU possibly gears itself up to take hard decisions about further fiscal integration, with the inevitable consequence of further political co-operation, the UK would do well to consider its long-term future.

Britain’s decision not to join the euro in the late 1990s was undoubtedly based on sound economic criteria. Unfortunately most UK commentators on both economics and politics remain smugly sure that the current sovereign debt crisis in the euro zone vindicates the decision not to join the single currency. Few, including David Cameron’s coalition government, are, however, giving any thought to the future political realities of Britain’s current position.

The euro zone’s only realistic response to the Greek crisis and the looming chasm in Spain is to think beyond monetary union. In an incredible leader on 20 May, the Sunday Timescame out in favour of a united states of Europe, referring to Robert Mundell, a Nobel prize-winning economist, who set out the conditions under which a single European currency could function – fiscal union, wage flexibility and the ability of people to move between states to find work.

While the Mundell scenario is, I am sure, too much for Europe’s present leaders, the Economist this week came up with a far more acceptable proposal for greater financial and fiscal control at EU level. Although the end result of such moves would not be political integration as it is generally understood, it would inevitably give the EU more power and more political clout.  

It is my firm belief that moves towards further political integration, at least for the 17 EU member states in the euro will be the long-term outcome of the euro zone crisis. The 17 may increase to 22, 23 or even 24 since joining the euro was a condition of EU accession in 2004. Were this to happen, the two-speed EU model, often touted as the answer to Britain’s semi-detached position towards the European Union, simply will not work.

The British people, our government and our media need to be made aware of the consequences of Britain being outside a further integrated European Union.

The world is currently, and always has been, divided into power blocks, generally based on some recognised common interest. Once the euro zone crisis metamorphoses into a stronger European Union there will be four such blocks – the United States of America, China, India and, of course, the European Union. (I have excluded Russia as its future remains unpredictable).

Britain needs to take on board what it will mean for us if we were to position ourselves outside a European Union which is politically stronger with more integrated fiscal and financial arrangements. The only possible conclusion is that further European integration without the UK will isolate us in the wider world. If Britain wants to get anywhere near the position we held in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Britannia really did rule the waves, we have to be a real leader in the European Union. There is quite simply no other way.

Therefore, in order to remain at the global top table, Britain needs to take some very tough decisions. If we remain detached from the EU and let the European political project develop without us, we will no longer be one of the world’s leading political powers. We will not have that crucial “x” factor, the sense of being a world leader with the pride that goes with it. Our only hope of achieving something resembling our old imperial confidence is to be at the heart of Europe both politically as well as economically.

The European Union, the bold phoenix to emerge from the ashes of the Second World War, is one of the most visionary political projects in modern times. The EU’s success has been to unite a continent fractured and constantly at war since the fall of the Roman Empire. Remarkably, this twentieth century coming together was voluntary rather than enforced by brutal power. It is now time to move the EU forward with Britain playing a vital role at the heart of Europe.

China is one of the three pillars of the global economy together with the USA and the EU

Labour Party

This was a very prescient piece in the Guardian by Economics Editor Larry Elliott giving his take on the G20 summit, specifically in relation to China.

China is fast becoming a major power in the world, even a super power, if such nomenclature means anything these days. While we in Europe, closely watched by the United States, endeavour to get our economy, both turbulent and sluggish at the same time, back on track, the west as a whole seems to be missing an international development of gigantic proportions.

Ten years ago, in December 2001, Chinawas admitted to the World Trade Organisation, indicating its status as a fully fledged market economy. The country had indeed come a long way since the end of the Cultural Revolution in the early 1970s. Its journey from an idiosyncratic version of communism to a leading world economic power took a mere thirty years – just one generation.

Perhaps it’s this short time frame that makes us in the west place so little emphasis on China. Maybe it’s also because we don’t want to admit that the world is changing and other super powers are emerging, powers the west once thought it either ruled or controlled in some form or another. Not only does China now have a seat on the G20, it is also strong enough to be called on to contribute to the eurozone bailout.

It is now very clear that the global economy has three main pillars, China being one along with the United States and the European Union. Larry Elliott puts it very well in his comments on the G20 summit: ..”the focus of events was the unfolding crisis in the eurozone, but it was hard to escape the sense that power had shifted from west to east over the past 10 years. It was not just that Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel were holding out the begging bowl, pleading with China to dip into its foreign currency reserves to provide capital for Europe’s bailout fund. Nor was it that China’s leaders felt entirely comfortable lecturing Europe on the need to get its act together when it was not so long ago that it was the other way round….Rather it was the mixture of bemusement and derision with which China viewed (the G20) events…”

It is imperative that the west and Europe in particular heeds China’s growing status as a leading power. China’s population is 1.3 billion and its GDP $5.9 trillion, clearly a country which cannot and should not be ignored.

Nick Griffin’s Belgian Friend is Rude to China

Labour Party
Copy of the e-mail sent round by Mr. Claeys Copy of the e-mail sent round by Mr. Claeys

Earlier this week I received the above email which was sent to all my fellow MEPs. It was from Philip Claeys of the Belgian Vlaams Belang Party. He responded to this invitation from Hungarian Socialist Leader Csaba Tabajdi which featured a photograph of the famous and iconic ‘Birds Nest’ stadium, by posting no text, just a photograph from the student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Now I think it is appropriate to criticise China’s human rights record and have done so on a number of occasions including on this blog.

However, Europe also needs to engage with China in order to have a constructive relationship, it cannot just resort to rude gestures. Mr. Claey’s party is the Belgian equivalent of the British National Party, with the aim of creating an independent Flemish state in the Flanders area of Belgium.  Philip Claeys has many views in common with Nick Griffin. Here’s a selection of what he said when he visited London in 2005:

It’s Islam against the West, it’s also mass immigration, multiculturalism and relativism against the preservation of our identity, it’s political correctness against freedom of speech.”  

“look at our acceptance of the fact that major parts of European cities have become ghettoes.”

Does he watch the Wire selectively like Conservative Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling MP?? Perhaps Vlaams Belang should apply to join the Conservatives new ECR group in the European Parliament, Chris Grayling could give them a reference. 

 “If Turkey were to become a European member-state….. that this would lead to nothing less than an immigration tsunami.”

” The Walloon minority that rules Belgium is lead by an aggressive, extremist and archaic socialist party.”

All unpleasant views, although it true that like my Belgian Socialist colleagues I have been known to aggressively take on the views of people like Philip Claeys and Nick Griffin.

Mr. Claeys has reportedly been trying to distance himself from the BNP, he was reported to have arranged a secret meeting with Mr. Griffin and Holocaust denier Bruno Gollnisch in the run up to the most recent European elections.  You can see a video of Mr. Griffin giving his full support to Mr. Claeys’ recently expressed view that ‘Islam is a cancer’ here, vile stuff. 

Mr. Claeys has a selective view of human rights. In my view this offensive and bigoted reaction to a cultural event celebrating Chinese art is unsurprising. In his world anybody from a different ethnic background is to be found fault with.