Monitoring of How the Republic of Belarus Implements the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions

Center for European Transformation

We present a monitoring report of how Belarus Implements the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions  (2005) (referred to hereinafter as “the UNESCO Convention”) represents a consistent development of the ideas and approaches enshrined in the European Cultural Convention (1954) which contemplates culture not just as a public life sphere, but rather as a vital tool for mutual understanding among the peoples and for the peace process development on the European continent. The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity was adopted in 2001 and it kept on reframing the roles and functions of culture in the society and laid a material emphasis on the relations of culture with human rights, making provisions for human dignity and development, as well as for fostering the pluralist values and practices. The Declaration establishes that culture is a societal development (whether economic, social or humanitarian one) factor, as well as consolidates the partnership principle within the cultural policy domain among the state, businesses and the civil society. By 2005 the development of these ideas had led to the uprise of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, where the said reframing trends are enshrined as fundamentals of the modern states’ cultural politics.

The politics should be geared towards pursuing the objectives: respect for human rights and basic freedoms, protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expression forms, encouraging social inclusion, solidarity, mutual understanding and dialogue among the peoples and countries and addressing the new challenges related to technological advancement. The UNESCO Convention aims at reinforcement within the cultural politics of the mechanisms which expand a possible inclusion in the full culture cycle (from creation and production to consumption/participation) for the widest possible segments of population and enable distinctiveness expression outside narrow commercial or strictly functional socio-political frameworks.

Signing the UNESCO Convention has been a prominent milestone for the Republic of Belarus on the way to harmonizing its cultural policies with and integrating the country in the common cultural space. It happens by dissemination of the norms and standards inherent to the interlocutory multi-subject politics and by overcoming the marginalisation of individual spheres of cultural output production and consumption, as well as by being involved in cultural life.

However, signing a document as such hardly represents a sufficient condition for implementing any changes. The foundations for materialising the UNESCO Convention values and provisions lie in multiple domains: legal and economic conditions, techniques and technologies used to organise activity in the cultural sphere, educational system and media policies, public conscience, political practices applied to coordinate interests in the society, etc. Besides, in order to introduce substantial modifications in the cultural policies, primo, political will of all the subjects involved or interested in the process is required; and, secundo, adequate knowledge is needed on the cultural sphere status, which knowledge will assist in plotting a ‘road map’ of changes and in monitoring its implementation.

Problem Statement. Research Objectives and Method

The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions lays its signatory states under obligation to nurture cultural diversity by taking any political action needed. Under sub-paragraph (а) of Article 9, the UNESCO Convention Parties shall provide “appropriate information in their reports to UNESCO every four years on measures taken to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions within their territory and at the international level.” The mechanism has been launched and does work: in 2012 and 2013 65 reports were submitted to the UNESCO, while 6 reports were filed in 2014. The Republic of Belarus was supposed to present its first report in 2012, although it is not available in the UNESCO data base. As of the time this report was drafted, according to our information, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Belarus was involved in the activities related to preparing a report to be submitted to the UNESCO by 2016.

The reports which are sent to the UNESCO represent a description of measures taken by every of the State Parties within the framework of the UNESCO Convention’s values and principles. Article 19 of the Convention stipulates: “Parties agree to exchange information and share expertise concerning data collection and statistics on the diversity of cultural expressions as well as on best practices for its protection and promotion” (paragraph 1), as well as: “UNESCO shall facilitate, through the use of existing mechanisms within the Secretariat, the collection, analysis and dissemination of all relevant information, statistics and best practices” (paragraph 2). That being said, it is obvious that registration of any actions taken or decisions made, as well as information exchange on best practices has little to say about the effects of these actions, i.e. about real changes in the cultural sphere which come about as a result of the cultural politics pursued. However, the objective is not ensured through the mechanisms of the UNESCO Convention itself, although the conventional provisions quoted above contain an indication at a possible achievement of the objective, viz.: collection and dissemination of data and statistics on the diversity of cultural expressions.

The possibility of getting an idea of the cultural politics effects is hindered by lack of comparable data and non-availability of a single cultural sphere monitoring system. All the know-how and groundwork available today in this area have neither completeness, nor mandatory nature. Every country has its own statistical system and a set of research and studies to be used both for tracking the cultural sphere changes and for assessing the efficiency of any action taken or policy adopted. Nonetheless, an analysis conducted into the available research and studies demonstrates that Belarus lacks the data which would reflect in a systemic way the cultural sphere development in line with the principles and goals of the UNESCO Convention. It also means that neither there is in place a possibility to evaluate the effects and consequences of any actions undertaken by various subjects in the cultural space. The lack of data and research or studies aimed directly at the UNESCO Convention also provides evidence of the shaky foundations with regard to the decisions which are made in the area of cultural policies. In which of the areas the greatest efforts are to be exerted? What trends are there in place? All these issues need conducting an analysis into the current situation and coordinating the broad picture and action prioritisation among various cultural process actors.

In summary, despite the fact that the Republic of Belarus has signed the UNESCO Convention and the Belarusan Ministry of Culture takes a number of steps within its framework, there is a problem of introducing the UNESCO Convention as a real cultural politics base in Belarus. A full-fledged application of the UNESCO Convention provides for putting in place all the tools needed to correlate the national-level cultural politics with the principles and goals specified in the treaty:

  • ideas about the culture and cultural politics which are in line with the UNESCO Convention and enshrined in the legislative acts and manifestoes;
  • cultural sphere assessment system which enables seeing what changes are taking place, what effect is produced by the actions (measures, political decisions, etc.) on the domain and whether it allows preserving and developing the cultural diversity; and
  • terms, conditions and possibilities of integrating the assessment with the decision-making process of all the subjects which implement the cultural politics in the country. In this particular case, these are not only the state institutions, but also businesses, as well as various forms of public interest representation: public associations, associations of a creative profession and individual persons, mass media, etc.

This research has promotion of addressing the stated issues as its goal:

  • primo, presenting some comparable characteristics for tracking the cultural sphere changes within the framework of the UNESCO Convention goals and objectives; and
  • secundo, setting up a base for a public discussion over the cultural sphere status and promising vectors of the cultural politics implementation in the country.

The following objectives were set in course of the research progress:

  1. Analysis into the laws in effect in the Republic of Belarus within the implementation context of the UNESCO Convention standards and principles;
  2. Analysis into the available information and data collection possibilities on the cultural sphere (statistical data and research materials);
  3. Determination of the basic measurements needed to monitor the cultural sphere situation and elaboration of a methodology to assess the UNESCO Convention application;
  4. Analysis into the basic statistical indicators and expert evaluations in pre-set measurements of the UNESCO Convention; and
  5. Development of practical recommendations on pursuit in the Republic of Belarus of cultural politics within the framework of the UNESCO Convention implementations.

This research has used three groups of major notions:

  1. “Culture” (“Cultural Domains” and “Culture Cycle”);
  2. “Cultural Diversity”; and
  3. “Cultural politics measurements within the Framework of the UNESCO Convention.”

In course of our research we relied upon the definition of culture proposed by the UNESCO when revising the ideas about culture and developing the measurement system specified in 2001 in the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. The UNESCO defines culture as “a set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of a society or a social group and that it (culture — Ed.) encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems and beliefs.” The definition reflects recognition of the fact that “culture is being increasingly seen both as a development means, i.e. a mainspring for development and support of economic progress and as a development result, i.e. the sense behind our existence.” It was articulated in 1995 in the conclusions of the report of the World Commission on Culture and Development Our Creative Diversity that culture produces an influence on human conduct and on people’s contribution to the process of economic development, social development and prosperity growth.

In order to get a possibility to analyse the cultural sphere changes, as well as to build plans and programmes around its development, based on the ideas of cultural activity and its types, it is common to single out: “Cultural Domains” and “Culture Cycle,” whereby we describe and delimit the totality of phenomena which are seen as related to the cultural sphere. The revision of the “Culture” notion in the UNESCO materials has had primarily its effect on expanding the range of phenomena needed to analyse the cultural sphere.

Thus, for instance, a number of major cultural domains are singled out among the cultural domains (they represent a commonly known set of branches in the production, activity and practices):

  • Cultural and natural heritage;
  • Performance and celebration;
  • Visual arts and crafts;
  • Books and press;
  • Audio-visual and interactive media;
  • Design and creative services; and
  • Intangible cultural heritage (a penetrating domain).

Apart from these traditional areas, there are some interrelated domains singled out which are linked to the broader definition of culture and deal with public life and entertainment:

  • Education and training;
  • Archiving and preserving; and
  • Equipment and supporting materials.

Their role within the culture cycle of culture production and transmission becomes ever more meaningful.

In its turn, the notion of “Culture Cycle” is being likewise expanded and differentiated in the framework of these new ideas. The culture cycle encompasses various stages of culture creation, production and dissemination:

  1. Creation: the originating and authoring of ideas and content (e.g. sculptors, writers, design companies) and production of one-off output (e.g. crafts, fine arts);
  2. Production: the reproducible cultural forms (e.g. TV programmes), as well as the specialist tools, infrastructure and processes used in their realisation (e.g. the production of musical instruments, the printing of newspapers);
  3. Dissemination: the bringing of generally mass-produced cultural products to consumers and exhibitors (e.g. the wholesale, retail and rental of recorded music and computer games, film distribution;
  4. Exhibition/Reception/Transmission: refers to the place of consumption and to the provision of live and/or unmediated cultural experiences to audiences, including the transmitting of intangible cultural heritage from generation to generation; and
  5. Consumption/Participation: the activities of audiences and participants in consuming cultural products and taking part in cultural activities and experiences (e.g. book reading, dancing, participating in carnivals, listening to radio, visiting galleries).[x]

In summary, the culture cycle encompasses the widest possible range of cultural participation, including such components of culture which traditionally remain side-lined.

This peculiarity of ideas on culture corresponds to the development purposes and objectives which are provided for in the UNESCO Convention. It is geared toward ensuring access to the cultural diversity expressions in all the areas and in all the forms (ranging from creation to participation) and towards a contribution to the sustainable development of the society through involvement in these areas and activity types.

Elaboration of the “Cultural Diversity” notion represents a crucial aspect of the contemporary ideas about culture. Within the framework of the UNESCO Convention purposes and principles, cultural diversity is construed as “the manifold ways in which the cultures of groups and societies find expression.[xi]” The momentum for political revitalisation in the area of cultural diversity has been provided by several factors:

  • growing demand for the cultural products created in the developing nations which is linked to unfavourable situations for these nations in the exchange or joint production situations due to their feeble institutional frameworks and developed cultural production spheres;
  • erosion of borders between the high and popular cultures and between the cultural specimens of the West and the rest of the world; and
  • commercialisation of the cultural production output (in general, crafts) and its use in the economic strategies and programmes for a number of developing countries.

These trends have put to the forefront the issues of diversity and highlighted the need for factoring in various conditions in cultural output production, consumption and dissemination for different countries and groups. An important place which the authentic cultures, subcultures and small groups’ cultures have taken in social development served as a basis for making a special focus on the diversity implementation conditions and opportunities, as well as preventing the discrimination or marginalisation practices. The UNESCO Convention emphasizes that preservation and protection of cultural development is a development factor both in economic terms and in terms of human rights to intellectual, emotional and spiritual development.

The UNESCO Convention formulates the development vectors for culture and cultural politics but does not set any distinctive indicators or parameters in the cultural sphere which can be used as a basis for achievement tracking and registration within the framework of the UNESCO Convention at the level of culture at large. Therefore, for the purpose of organising monitoring over the UNESCO Convention implementation, we have singled out several practical measurements which can reflect the principles and objectives of the UNESCO Convention. A crucial factor for determining these measurements is the fact that the UNESCO Convention has a distinctive policy-related dimension, i.e. it sets the basic bearings in the cultural politics. This cultural politics, according to the provisions of the UNESCO Convention, is based primarily on recognition of culture as a sphere which mediates society development and which is becoming a way to achieve the major development objectives: respect of human rights and basic freedoms, protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions, fostering social inclusion, solidarity, mutual understanding and dialogue of the communities and addressing new challenges related to technological advancement.

Cultural politics measurements within the framework of the UNESCO Convention represent five basic vectors for cultural politics rollout which enable achievement and support of the purposes and values included in the UNESCO Convention:

  1. Conditions for diversity Development/Manifestation. What is meant here are the legal, economic, social and activity-related opportunities and conditions which are provided by the state and society for implementation of all the culture cycle components, inclusive of consumption and participation, as well any available discriminations or preferences and social or cultural readiness for cultural diversity;
  2. Cultural sector influence on economy and development indicators. This influence is expressed by the cultural sector contributions to the country’s economic development and employment, as well to the personal development (linguistic or other cultural competences) and formation of favourable social conditions (tolerance, gender equality and interpersonal confidence);
  3. Internal resources and the potential for cultural sphere development. What is meant here is the extent of involvement in the cultural sphere, extended participants’ composition and advanced qualifications, as well as the sphere’s stimulation and development tools and the external or internal support granted;
  4. Development of intercultural interaction and contacts. What is meant here is the extent of joint cultural productions with other countries, product exchanges, exports and imports, as well as the development of contacts and interactions among different cultures within a country (communities, cultural groups and ethnic minorities); and
  5. Interaction among various cultural politics subjects (state, businesses and civil society). Interaction and partnership are construed as any available mechanisms and practices conductive to participation in strategic and programmatic decisions and interaction possibilities and extent (joint projects and programmes).

Methods and Procedure of Data Collection and Analysis

The measurements singled out have been taken as a basis for a pilot monitoring exercise, as well as provided foundations for a further development of individual assessment indicators and procedures. The development process took into account several significant considerations:

  • lack of unambiguous and conventionally adopted indicators for such measurements;
  • need for obtaining comparable data (as expressed in objectivised indicators) not just for a regular-basis assessment of the Belarusan situation, but also for correlating the cultural sphere situation in other countries; and
  • a limited number of quantitative assessments for reflection of a real picture of the cultural sphere condition and the need for obtaining factual evidence which both gives reasons for and clarifies the quantitative assessments.

As a result, the overall monitoring arrangements have included two components:

  1. Operations related to each one of the measurements singled out involving objective information, i.e. a set of statistical or other information (statistical data, data included in research and studies, etc.); and
  2. Obtaining expert estimations on each of the measurements. The assessment procedure has included a quantitative evaluation (in every measurement between 1 and 30 points) and a substantive argumentation of the grading granted.

To collect objective information, some indicators have been attributed to every one of the indicators. When developing the indicators, we have relied upon:

  • an analysis into the available statistical framework in the cultural sphere of the Republic of Belarus;
  • an analysis into the UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics (2009);
  • Culture for Development Indicators, CDIS); and
  • European Statistical System Network on Culture, ESSnet-Culture, which is used to collect comparable data in the cultural sector in the EU countries.

An analysis conducted into the publicly accessible data has highlighted a limited nature of the cultural sphere information which is capable of reflecting the indispensable aspects of its development process. Notably, the measurement “Interaction among various cultural politics subjects” cannot be actually presented as objectivised data confirmed by an authoritative and competent source. As a result, the indicators have been adjusted to factor in the available information collection possibilities.

To enable an interpretation feature, the analysis has included the 2012, 2013 and 2014 data. The data on indicators of the key cultural politics measurements within the framework of the UNESCO Convention have been collected from the following sources:

  • data provided by the National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus (sections: Culture, Education and Household Surveys; compendia: Labour and Employment in the Republic of Belarus, Belarus and Countries of the World, etc.);
  • data provided on the website of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Belarus;
  • sociological surveys: Existential and Sociocultural Strategies of Public Conduct on the Culture Market (Institute of Sociology with the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus), etc.;
  • Annual Review by the Belarusan Institute of Culture Belarusan Culture Today (2013); and
  • international index data (e.g., by Freedom House).

Expert estimations have been obtained from 3 group interviews (two focus groups featured 8 experts each, while the third one had 7 experts). Invitations to take part in the survey as experts had been sent to representatives of various target groups interested in cultural politics engagement: civil servants, cultural managers (curators, producers or private gallery managers), cultural project activists and organisers, cultural figures (artists, musicians, etc.), members of associations of a creative profession and cultural sector public associations, lecturers, researchers and analysts.

The experts were requested to provide their assessments and to grant grading on every cultural politics measurement within the framework of the UNESCO Convention under the 0 through 30 point scale, where 0 points corresponded to a complete lack of development in the measurement, while 30 points meant, in practical terms, a complete implementation of all the concepts and principles enshrined in the UNESCO Convention. For a more precise evaluation, the experts were proposed to group their grading points under several levels:

  • “Extremely low” — 0-6 points;
  • “Low” — 7-12 points;
  • “Average” — 13-18 points;
  • “Advanced” — 19-24 points; and
  • “High” — 25-30 points.

Explanatory notes containing a substantial description of each level were handed out, too.

Apart from the grading estimation, the experts were provided with a possibility of preparing an argumentation of their assessments or quoting examples in justification of their grading: facts, events, situations and so on. During the group interviews, every expert in succession articulated her or his point grades and arguments. All the grades having been articulated, the experts were enabled to adjust their estimations.

The grades along with the argumentations were recorded by the research team.

When calculating a total value for each of the measurements, the extreme grades (whether high or low ones), if they were isolated, were discarded and then an average grade was attributed for every measurement.

An analysis into the objective data obtained and expert estimations was conducted by the research team with due regard to the comments received, as well as to some additional research carried out: study of international documents, looking into the legal frameworks and programmatic documents, benchmarking of various studies in the cultural domains, etc.

The research was conducted by the Centre for European Transformation (Minsk, Belarus) between 1 January and 31 March 2015.

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About the authors:

Tatsiana Vadalazhskaya: Senior Analyst of the Centre for European Transformation, Candidate of Sociological Sciences (PhD). Graduated from the Department of Sociology of the Belarusan State University. Active in the area of humanitarian research since 1996; at first, as a research fellow of the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and then as an expert with the Analytical Team of the Agency of Humanitarian Technologies. Focus of research interests: methodology of humanitarian and social studies, national and civic identity, local community development, civil society, cultural politics and policies in the cultural domains.

Andrei Yahorau: Director of the Centre for European Transformation, Master of Political Sciences. Graduated from the Department of Political Sciences and completed his master course in ‘Political Sciences” at the Belarusan State University. Active in the sphere of political research since 2001. Focus of research interests: transformation of the post-Soviet space, civil society, political transformations in Belarus and in the Eastern Partnership region and European studies.

Alena Zuikova: Analyst of the Centre for European Transformation, Master of Political Sciences. Graduated from the European Humanitarian University in Vilnius, Lithuania, with a BA degree in Political Sciences and European Research, as well as completed her master course at the French Institut d'Études Politiques de Lille (Lille Institute of Political Studies) in ‘European Affairs.’ Focus of research interests: European neighbourhood policies, Eastern Partnership, European policies towards Belarus, European development policies; civil society and role of civil society organisations in the democratisation processes in Belarus; and the European Economic Union.

Iryna Lashuk: Candidate of Sociological Sciences, Associate Professor. Graduated from the Department of Sociology of the Belarusan State University. Focus of research interests: sociology of culture, sociology of family, sociology of young people and social stratification.

Olga Lashkevich: Master of Political Sciences. Graduated from the Faculty of Journalism and completed her master and PhD courses in Political Sciences of the Belarusan State University. Lecturer in political sciences since 2004. Focus of research interests: social communication and communication technologies and mass media measurements and analytics.

Dzmitry Halinouski: Candidate of Biological Sciences. Graduated from the Faculty of Biology of the Belarusan State University. Expert with the Agency of Humanitarian Technologies and member of 2007-2008 expeditions to the small towns of Belarus within the framework of the Cultural Policies programme. Focus of research interests: research methodology and methodology of science.

Ihar Rasolka: a sociologist, Master of Sociological Sciences. Graduated from the Department of Sociology of the Belarusan State University. Focus of research interests: quantitative methods of sociological data analysis and ethnosociology.