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Romanian artists decry government takeover of cultural body

Latest update : 18/06/2012

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Article text by News Wires

Romanian artists have launched an online petition to rally against a government decree to take over the country's independent body responsible for promoting culture at home and abroad. Artists see the move as a threat to free speech.

AFP - Hundreds of Romanian artists upped pressure on the government Sunday to preserve the independence of a state-funded body that promotes the country's culture at home and abroad.

An online petition is attracting signatures after Prime Minister Victor Ponta's centre-left government issued an emergency order Wednesday to shift control of the Romanian Cultural Institute from the presidency to the Senate.

"This emergency order, adopted without any consultation or debate, is definitely a diktat," Cristi Puiu, winner of Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival, told AFP on Sunday.

The decree is seen as an attempt to take political control of the body, which is modelled after the British Council and Germany's Goethe Institute, with 17 offices abroad including in New York, Tel Aviv and Paris.

On Sunday, a coalition of rights groups accused Ponta's coalition, formed in May after the collapse of Mihai Razvan Ungureanu's centre-right government, of seeking "to take revenge on independent voices and apply pressure on the public TV and independent agencies like the ICR."

Filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, who won the prize for best screenplay in Cannes this year, called the decision a "purge of the worst kind" -- bold words in this former communist dictatorship.

Under the decree, the ICR management is expected to be replaced within weeks.

"It would be disastrous if the brutal practices and the arrogance of past and present politicians came to nefariously guide the destiny of culture," said prominent Jewish Romanian writer Norman Manea, a literature professor at Bard College, New York.

And eight rights groups said in a press release that the "committee of culture in the Romanian Senate, which is now to control ICR, is known as a rock bed of backward-looking nationalism".

Since 2005, the ICR has financed the translation of more than 300 works by Romanian authors. In 2011 alone, more than two million people attended ICR cultural events staged in major cities throughout the world, official figures show.

Puiu said the ICR "helped break the stereotypes on Romania. Only 10 years ago, when you said 'Romania,' people abroad thought only about dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and gymnast Nadia Comaneci. Now, our cinema is famous and this is thanks to the ICR."

Ponta, a rival of centre-right President Traian Basescu, has defended the move, saying the institute would be less politicised under Senate control.

But the ICR management denied ever coming under any kind of political pressure.

Even critics of current ICR president Horia Patapievici, who have in the past accused him of siding with Basescu, deny Ponta's allegations.

"I disagree with Patapievici from an ideological point of view but I cannot help noting that under his guidance the ICR has become an institution we can be proud of," writer Vasile Ernu said.

On Sunday, a coalition of rights groups accused Ponta's coalition, formed in May after the collapse of Mihai Razvan Ungureanu's centre-right government, of seeking "to take revenge on independent voices and apply pressure on the public TV and independent agencies like the ICR."

Filmmaker Puiu told AFP: "Unfortunately, every time there is a change of government in Romania, the newcomers bin everything that their predecessors did, even the things that worked well, dreaming they will thus leave their imprint on history."
 

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