"Free culture is a great support for a democratic state," says philosopher Alice Koubová in an interview

author: Kateřina Korychová

In the context of the coronavirus pandemic and the current inflation, culture - cultural institutions and artists themselves - are under pressure to constantly defend their place. Is the solution to this situation better communication or resilience? Will this change the role of cultural institutions? And what is the place of the (PERMA)CULTURAL FORUM in all this?

The central theme of České Budějovice's candidacy for the European Capital of Culture is (PERMA)CULTURE and its application to the city, or region. The Budějovice 2028 team is organizing a two-day conference this week, where you will present your contribution Culture of Relations. How do you understand the concept of permaculture in the context of Budějovice and what contribution will you make to it?

The concept of (PERMA)CULTURE was elaborated by the team presenting the candidacy of České Budějovice for the European Capital of Culture in a very detailed, convincing and innovative way. What I can now partially offer on the subject is a framework of political psychology that is based on the thinking of the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott and his followers. Winnicott is interesting in that he connects the field of psychology and political theory through the concept of so-called "cultural experience". He claims that the psyche of a person is necessarily formed in interpersonal relationships and that it depends on whether there is room for playfulness in interpersonal relationships in childhood and for cultural experience in adulthood. If so, then the prerequisites for democratic action and sociality are also created through these interpersonal relationships. From the perspective of this political psychology, art as a part of cultural experience acquires a key role for the development of personal emotional maturity and a mature political culture. At the same time, however, Winnicott does not create any romanticized idea of art as an area of goodness, harmony, or the belonging of all to all. Maybe just the opposite. He talks about how cultural experience is a space that makes it possible to experience otherness, conflict or ethical dilemma. When we live a rich cultural experience, we encourage living in "good enough" relationships, that is, relationships that are not full of consuming fear and threat, that have some degree of trust that allows us to solve difficult situations together. Culture can thus nourish political space as well as psychology.

photo by Nika Brunová

Will your contribution be based on the topic of resilience? If so, how can aspects of resilience be beneficial in the context of cultural strategy?

Resilience is a complex concept, but as I interpret it, it refers to the ability of an individual, community, city, or state to manage crises in such a way that the chosen solution does not cause us to fall into an even worse crisis. Such an effect occurs when, instead of solving the problem, we make it invisible and suppress it, move it to another area or transfer its solution to other people.

It follows from the current situation of polycrisis (Edgar Morin, Adam Tooze) that the solutions we have tried so far have rather this unsuccessful nature. We don't have much reason to feel triumphant. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly apparent that our crises are not caused by something external to us, but rather result from actions and decisions that in turn rest on a particular interpretation of what we as humans are entitled to and what we are. If we want to solve them, we simply have to start understanding each other differently than before. And again, in order to manage such a change, it is not possible to proceed rigidly, or unbearably radically, by absolutely overturning all orders (mainly because such overturning often means confirming the old order only with other actors). Developing resilience means investing precisely in a culture of relationships, which in principle has creative potential. A sufficiently good culture can handle difficult things in a non-romantic way – grievances, conflicts, misunderstandings, pressures and the like. He has the ability to work with real socio-political power relations and not resign himself to meaning, or even joy, excess.

In one of your previous interviews, you mentioned the UNESCO initiative ResiliArt – Because art makes us resilient. A sequence of 123 discussions from around the world discussing how concretely and locally art supports the resilience of that society. Can you please provide inspiring examples of good practice that would be applicable to a city such as České Budějovice?

I think that what is important about this is that in the field of art it is not so much about examples as it is about diversity and specificity. Cultural experience is important in that it is not unified. What specifically unites us in our city for a problem, topic, enthusiasm? How can we equip ourselves enough to have the capacity to think about other people? This promotes a positive feedback cycle. Culture is a place where money is not primarily about buying goods. The purpose of our participation in cultural events is, among other things, to experience something at once with other people, to open up space for meanings that are not "useful", but make us feel richer as a person. Then we have the capacity to communicate with the environment in a way that is not cynical, to understand people not as obstacles or means to our goals, but as living beings with whom we can live our complex humanity.

Culture - cultural institutions and artists themselves - are under pressure in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and current inflation, within which they must constantly defend their place. Primarily from a financial point of view. Is there a way out of this pressure?

It's complicated. When you're at a disadvantage, your every reaction can seem neurotic. When you start to complain, you're a crybaby, and you can't do anything but beg. When you are angry, you are hysterical and reckless. When you accede to that principle, you legitimize it and allow it to harm not only yourself, but also other cultural actors. And it may happen that you become equally cynical and, out of desperation, fight unfairly with other cultural actors for what little is available.

In my opinion, the only way to get out of the presumption of guilt trap is to be active on many levels at once. Disdain for politics, disdain for officials, systematic cultural advocacy, broadening the context to include comparisons with European countries, maintaining the awareness that we can diagnose society, not just be diagnosed, and also a willingness to self-criticize. In power minority resorts, the last thing is almost the hardest. There are abuses and pressures of all kinds in the culture itself, and they shouldn't be afraid to talk about it just because it might weaken us in the eyes of outside evaluators. It does not weaken us, it is a sign of great self-confidence.

Is the imaginary key better communication between cultural actors and political representation? Better communication of the social benefits of culture, the results of analyzes that show that culture increases GDP in a given country? Or is it more about increasing sensitivity?

Yes. Culture is financially profitable for the state when all the money flows are added up. Moreover, culture is powerful. If she were not powerful, autocratic and totalitarian regimes would not try to control cultural institutions so massively, there would be no propaganda or censorship.

A culture that is not subject to politics, on the contrary, contributes to the connection within society, thanks to which people are closer to trust, and trust is a cheaper substitute for control. A free culture is a huge support for a democratic state, within it the ability to manage otherness, ambivalence, ethical dilemmas is strengthened and democratic thinking is thus nourished. It needs to be explained robustly and at once.

In an interview for CEDIT magazine, you talked about the fact that "problematic and conflicting areas in Czech cultural policy and its application are the links between individual actors. (...) The public likes to go to cultural events, but they are not so willing to stand up for "their" cultural houses when needed, they do not behave like a partner in a relationship. In my opinion, it is very necessary to focus on these gaps in relations: political representation - cultural institution, cultural institution - public, cultural institution - other cultural institution." How could the mentioned gaps in relations begin to be filled?

By joint participatory long-term projects. By respecting and recognizing the qualities of other actors instead of ubiquitous self-presentation. By not supporting the prejudice that the other party wants to hurt me and despises me, building all negotiations on sharing a common goal and finding the easiest way to achieve it together. To endure a different opinion and a different perspective, to endure even the failure of such attempts, or only partial success. Set a culture of communication and stick to it. Someone has to start it, and above all, they have to stick with it.

At the same time, how to avoid manipulative patterns of behavior in this relationship?

We cannot avoid manipulation, but we can react to it. By not manipulating back that we maintain a mature position. Now I feel used because this and that. Do we perceive it the same way? Can we say again what our common problem is and how we will solve it while maintaining respect for all of us involved?

Even if it comes from the other side five more times, keep that mature level answer. Despite the attacks, maintain respect for the other side, a willingness to compromise, and at the same time a clear unwillingness to be taken advantage of. And self-reflection, constant control of one's own motives and steps. Once we are close to the manipulator, we have to work it out for him and for ourselves, it's doubly hard work.

How can these institutions build a deeper relationship with their visitors?

So that would probably be preceded by asking what is not deep enough now, why should it deepen. But it is certainly true that there is not only a way of self-recognition, self-promotion and efforts to attract the interest of visitors so that they come more often and pay more, but there is also a way of interest in visitors, a way of making their topics and the world more visible. I think that an institution attracts attention when it acts with a certain self-respect and self-confidence - it values its own work, and thanks to this, paradoxically, it does not have to focus only on itself and its success. For example, he can talk openly about his problems when they arise, he works in wider connections and connections, he notices his surroundings. I probably don't have a more detailed answer to this.

Alice Koubová

Researcher at the Philosophical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, head of the Systems of Resilience research team within the National Institute for Research on Socioeconomic Impacts of Diseases and Systemic Risks (SYRI) and vice-dean for science and research at DAMU Prague. In his research, he focuses on performative philosophy, ethics and resilience thinking, which he develops in cooperation with Czech public institutions.

The title of European Capital of Culture is awarded annually by the European Commission to two to three cities from the EU. The purpose of the title is to present the cultural strategy and life of the city in a given year, focus Europe's attention on it and enable it to develop faster and better. The title has been awarded since 1985, when it was won by Athens, Greece. České Budějovice is applying for it for 2028 together with several French cities and in competition with Broumov. In June 2023, the expert commission at the EU level will select the definitive candidate cities - one from the Czech Republic and one from France. The theme of the České Budějovice candidacy is PERMA (CULTURE) - as a sustainable, holistic and locally rooted approach to cultural planning, management and cultural operation. It will be put into practice by the authorized Budějovice 2028 program team in cooperation with all residents of the city.