Sweden cuts down on culture and development

October 2009 -

The Swedish development agency Sida has dissolved the Department of Culture and Media in the course of a complete restructuring. It remains uncertain whether the support of cultural activities in developing countries in political, infrastructural or financial terms will be continued. The access to the Swedish policy from 2006 is still possible, but it should be called into question whether enough political support to continue the theme of culture and development has remained. Similarly, this change was observed already 2006 with the closure of the Cultural Department of the Swiss development agency SDC.

The changes are also tragic because especially Sweden had been considered as a lighthouse for a heightened commitment to culture and development in other donor countries since the 1980s. At the same time this reorientation is a flagrant contradiction to the commitments that also Sweden (in 2006) and Switzerland (in 2008) have entered into with the ratification of the Unesco Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

The reasons for the changes in Sweden might be found in the specific savings in the development budget by 20% (€ 450 million) due to the global economic crisis. Not to be underrated is also the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness of 2005 by the OECD. In particular, smaller donor countries were urged to reduce the number of partner countries and the number of work fields. Insiders report that exactly this has led to the shortening of the departments for culture and development in Sweden and Switzerland, accompanied by a lack of individual key players.

Initiatives in Spain and German give some hope. For example, the interests of the AECID, Goethe-Institut and Pan y Arte are now followed by the German Commission for Unesco to formulate a White Paper on the Unesco Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. It will be presented in December 2009 to the Bundestag including recommendations for the German foreign policy. Sweden and Switzerland must be seen as an example for the global initiative on Culture and Development how vulnerable this topic still is.