Global Freedom of Expression

Security, Creativity, Tolerance and Their Co-Existence: The New European Agenda on Freedom of Artistic Expression

Key Details

  • Region
    Europe and Central Asia
  • Themes
    Artistic Expression

Executive Summary

The protection and promotion of freedom of artistic expression is crucial to both ensure that artists can express themselves freely through various artforms and for audiences to be able to enjoy diverse cultural expressions, including having their beliefs and opinions challenged by others. Unnecessary and illegitimate restrictions are often placed on fundamental rights and freedom of expression in times of uncertainty and securitisation, most recently through anti-terror legislation. Freemuse believes that it is the protection of the fundamental right to freedom of expression, rather than unnecessary restrictions, that ensure sustainable and long- lasting security. The role that artistic expression plays in this context in addressing socially pertinent issues as part of vibrant and functioning democracies cannot be underplayed or understated. Arts and culture are central to shaping communities at the local, regional and national level, as they represent narratives and conversations that can contribute to a wider feeling of belonging and social cohesion. However, as stipulated by former UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed during her term, “Artists, like journalists and human rights defenders, are at particular risk as their work depends on visibly engaging people in the public domain. Through their expressions and creations, artists often question our lives, perceptions of ourselves and others, world visions, power relations, human nature and taboos, eliciting emotional as well as intellectual responses.

European democracy is dependent on a shared vision of its culture and values. And it is the integration of culture—and therefore artistic freedom by inference—which is crucial to European societies. With the 1992 Treaty on the European Union (the Maastricht Treaty), the role of culture was introduced as a policy area in Europe, making it binding for European Union members to contribute to “the flowering of the cultures of the Member States.” The Treaty also stipulates that, among other areas, action shall be aimed at supporting and supplementing states in the area of artistic and literary creation, as well as the improvement of knowledge and dissemination of European the culture and history. This commitment, recognition and understanding was reiterated in a communication issued by the European Commission in May 2018 as part of the New European Agenda for Culture in which it emphasized how, “Europe’s rich cultural heritage and dynamic cultural and creative sectors strengthen European identity, creating a sense of belonging. Culture promotes active citizenship, common values, inclusion and intercultural dialogue within Europe and across the globe.

States carry the legal responsibility to respect, protect and fulfil obligations to artistic freedom—a responsibility that needs to be fully implemented to ensure artistic freedom is ultimately and implicitly free. Human rights that are guaranteed by national constitutions and/or ratified through international agreements are in many cases not implemented in practice. Freemuse’s documentation highlights that State authorities play the most dominant role in the suppression of artistic creativity within the region.

Security, Creativity, Tolerance and their Co-existence: The New European Agenda on Artistic Freedom of Expression is an analysis of the human right to freedom of artistic expression based on monitoring of legal and policy development and individual cases of violations of artistic freedom in Europe over the past two years (January 2018 to October 2019).

Freemuse’s analysis demonstrates the growing tendency by governments to prosecute musicians and particularly rap artists under anti-terrorism legislation for their lyrical content on grounds that they contain forms of expression which “praise” or “glorify” terrorism. Such incidents often occur despite weak prosecutorial evidence. Freemuse’s observations suggest that musicians with dissenting or politically oppositional views (which may also be expressed through their music) are disproportionally targeted.

Freemuse has found a number of cases in which artists are tainted by allegations of intention to hurt “religious feelings” or are likely to be subjected to censorship if their work is considered “blasphemous” or obscene. This report finds that all artists documented within are largely unable to freely exercise their right to express themselves artistically without repercussion when commenting on religion. Offending religion or hurting religious feelings of others—including through art—is prohibited by blasphemy laws currently existing in at least 14 European countries. Research has established that European states are increasingly resorting to laws that prohibit and criminalise insults to the state, including national symbols. Those found guilty of such charges can face hefty fines and/or imprisonment.

Freemuse also notes attempts by governments to take administrative control of national museums and cultural institutions to ensure that they favour artworks with nationalistic or pro-government messages in their exhibitions. In some instances, museums or institutions have been coerced into complying with certain measures to avoid withdrawal or restrictions of State funding sources. In other instances, staff in leadership positions are replaced with pro-government personnel. The attempt to silence or marginalise opposing or less-preferred views is central to all of these measures. It is largely framed within narratives by the government which label dissenters as threats to national security, national community and traditional history. The deliberate interference in the programming and leadership of cultural and arts institutions inadvertently places undue restrictions on the rights of those accessing the arts.

In a growing backlash, Freemuse has documented cases where artworks which either feature LGBTI themes or are produced by LGBTI artists are subjected to restrictions under laws that prohibit spreading “anti-homosexual propaganda” (for example, in Russia and Lithuania).

By providing analyses of regional and international legal frameworks, and laying out the principles of accountability, equality and non-discrimination, and participation, Freemuse aims to inspire awareness and structural change. This report outlines the international, regional and national instruments that protect freedom of expression, and specifically, artistic freedom to which European states are legally bound. The recommendations listed at the end of this report are directed at relevant international bodies, regional bodies belonging to the European Union, governments and civil society organisations.

Read The Security, Creativity, Tolerance and their Co-existence: The New European Agenda on Freedom of Artistic Expression here.

Further analysis on the subject can be found at Freemuse.



Independent international organisation advocating for and defending freedom of artistic expression