Culture minister laughed off stage

Group behind occupied theatre said it organised the protest

Artists' collective said it organised laughter in protest at what it said was the «fiasco» of the government's policy towards contemporary culture

A screengrab from the Mavili Collective video A screengrab from the Mavili Collective video A New Democracy minister was forced to abandon a speech marking the opening of a conference on “Financing Creativity” on Thursday due to sustained laughter and taunts from a section of the audience, who say the "Greek state is increasingly abandoning its support of contemporary culture".

The giggles in the Megaron/Athens Concert Hall began when Culture Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos expressed the view that Europe has been left behind by China and Middle Eastern countries.

“The cost of labour and a series of other factors have made many of the sectors of the European economy non-competitive and therefore non-sustainable,” he said. “European countries each individually and all together, as part of the European family, are forced to explore alternative processes of production that are competitive,” he continued, to guffaws of laughter.

The room again burst into laughter when the minister said that “In Greece, culture is not only our national identity but also our national pride.”

The incident was captured in video uploaded to YouTube by an artists’ group called the Mavili Collective, which said it “initiated” the protest.

In a statement, the group said: "This conference [sought] to address models of cultural policy in the coming decades. Yet not a single artist was invited as a speaker nor was the conference promoted publicly. Given this situation Mavili Collective called for artists from different fields of practice to attend the conference. Having been excluded from a dialogue about cultural policies the artists present publicly expressed their feelings regarding the proposed role of culture and laughed.

"The Minister of Culture stated in his speech that we need to be more competitive following the economies of China and Middle East since the cost of labour in Europe today is extremely high. The words most frequently used by many of the speakers were: competitiveness, business, industry, product, consumers etc. Mrs Lina Mendoni, general secretary of the ministry of culture and sports made the crucial statement that 'Culture is economy'. A vision for the culture that is nowadays expressed openly and indicative of how the Greek State is increasingly abandoning its support of contemporary culture. Instead, as was stated clearly in the conference, the Greek State intends to fund private institutions that will then form the cultural landscape of the country. Does such a policy reflect the wider vision of the EU for culture?

"Some might say the conference was a fiasco, but was the fiasco the laughter or the cultural policies/narratives being proposed?"

The minister eventually left the stage after a section of the audience began to sing. “Take the floor if you dare. Face me directly. Don’t hide behind the crowd,” he said, exiting.

In November 2011, the Mavili Collective, along with local residents, occupied the former Embros theatre, which had stood derelict for five years, with the aim of reactivating the space and using an alternative model of collective management and new contemporary forms of creative work.

But last September, the state privatisation agency Taiped, accompanied by a police escort, sealed the building, saying it would sell it off.

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