Culture as a catalyst for increased democracy

At the same time as the development of democracy continues to be one of the most priority areas for development assistance, cultural support continues to decline. The reduced cultural assistance risks undermining the Swedish contribution to democratic development. That is the opinion of Sten Rylander, Forum Syd.

This year, Umeå is Europe's Capital of Culture year and this week the city is visited by the Human Rights Days, which this year focus on culture as a force to strengthen and promote human rights.

Previously, cultural support within development assistance has been an important part of Sweden's development policy. But for many years, cultural support has been reduced. In total, cultural assistance over the past decade has decreased from 180 to just over SEK 40 million, which is a fifth of where it was in the middle of the twentieth century. The entire unit at Sida that worked with this so successfully until the beginning of the 00s is today dismantled.

One of the areas that both the previous and the current government have specifically chosen to prioritize in development aid is democracy. But with the reduced cultural aid, there is a great risk of missing an important tool for achieving the goal of democracy.

Culture can be a catalyst for change and democratic development. Both in history and in the present, there are many examples of how culture has constituted a space where important socio-political issues have been possible to discuss. The choirs in Estonia, the literature in Poland and the theater in the Czech Republic all contributed to the fall of socialism and increased democratization in Eastern Europe. During the Arab Spring, many writers and journalists were in leading roles for increased democratization.

Free speech poses a threat to dictators and undemocratic regimes around the world, which is why they often attack cultural life and cultural expression.

Forum Syd currently supports several organizations and cultural projects, the purpose of which is to create platforms for a free and open dialogue on human rights and sustainable development, not least in undemocratic states such as Ethiopia and Belarus and others.

Because we know that culture can contribute to increased freedom of expression, increased participation and demanding responsibility. Culture creation can promote the exchange of views and influence democratization processes in authoritarian states and stagnant democracies, as well as contribute to increasing the level of knowledge of the public.

To allow people to take part in the whole flora of cultural life, such as literature, music, art, theater and cultural heritage, is to equip them with active citizens with knowledge of the world and history. That is why strong Swedish cultural assistance is needed. Culture is an integral part of democracy - for the development of every society.

Stone Rylander
Chairman, Forum South

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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