Keys to keeping culture alive

  • 2004-01-29
Urmas Paet is inspired by the art surrounding him in his ministerial office in Tallinn, which includes two large abstract paintings by Jaan Elken - "The Soil" and "The Air" - behind his desk. Just by looking at them visitors can tell they are not in the Defense Ministry.

Paet, 29, admits that the presentation board and desk lamp he brought to his office stand out as odd for a culture minister, but he insists on their practicality. "They might not fit here designwise, but they are very necessary for work," says Paet, culture minister and a Reform Party member, former journalist and holder of masters degree in political science, who met with Aleksei Gunter on Jan. 26.

What is the jurisdiction of the Culture Ministry in Estonia?
The jurisdiction of the Culture Ministry is culture in all its appearances, sports, media issues and the preservation of cultural heritage. We could roughly say the ministry deals with the fields people are involved in during their free time. On the other hand, there is also that creative side, top culture and top sports and related issues.

What are the main projects of the ministry this year?
There are many. Above all are the activities related to the national song and dance festival to take place July 2 - 4, which perhaps is more important this time because last year the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian song festival tradition was placed on the UNESCO list of cultural heritage.
Then there are several important laws that are now in the final stages of preparation. For example, the Law on Artistic Persons, the Law on National Culture, amendments to the Law on Sport as well as a draft version of the Law on Films.
Another huge undertaking is the creation of a new public broadcasting organization, that is merger of the public-national television channel ETV and the national radio broadcaster Eesti Raadio. A whole range of solutions will be required for this project, both organizational and financial to provide new technical quality of the new organization.
The idea to merge ETV and Eesti Raadio is actually written down in the coalition agreement - maybe Finland's YLE public broadcaster that unites both national radio and TV was of a role model. The idea was also supported by the European Broadcasting Union head, with whom I recently met.

How will the Law on Artistic Persons help Estonian culture?
I see the main point of this law as the appraisement of creative people by legislation. On the one hand, the law would make creative people more valuable for Estonian society. On the other, it will provide a number of practical solutions for creative people whose work has failed during some period of time and will ease their economic difficulties. Creation is not a stable process, after all. It is impossible to predict if a literary of music work will sell. Through the creative workers' unions those people will be able to receive an allowance for up to six months, according to the draft law. The allowance is more or less close to the minimum salary.
Tax exemptions will not be available as the Finance Ministry and the general tax policy does not welcome tax privileges.

Could this law bring extra fraud options?
A person willing to receive the allowance must file an application and has to prove he does not have other sources of income and suffers from poor economic conditions. I am not afraid of fraud in this respect. Other criteria, such as pride, will also play a role. Besides, in cultural circles everybody knows quite well how this or that person lives.

Are there any projects related to the EU accession?
The culture sector is more of a domestic division of every country and is not much regulated by the EU.
This year there will be a number of events abroad at which Estonian culture will be represented more actively and also more cultural events in Estonia presenting West European countries.
There will be, however, more cooperation, especially in the audiovisual field. Filmmaking is an expensive luxury and cooperation in this field occurs with ease. International cooperation in filmmaking is very common today, and maybe the status of a EU member state could give new opportunities to Estonian filmmakers. Starting this year Estonia is also a member of Eurimages, a film organization under the Council of Europe.

Will joining the EU, opening of borders and migration pose any additional challenges for preserving Estonian culture?
As to the threats coming to Estonia from being a small country, the opening of borders, the invasion of the English or French language culture - I do not consider them real. Just take a look at the history of Estonia, those hard times it had to survive - for example, the plague outbreak after the Northern War, all those foreign rulers, and so on.
Today I do not see any threats to Estonian culture coming from the EU. We would gain rather new opportunities.

Estonian animated films often receive awards at international festivals. Is there a special program supporting this part of audiovisual culture?
Without a doubt Estonian animated films represent one of the strongest parts of Estonian filmmaking. We have to honor the two studios, namely Nukufilm and Eesti Joonisfilm, in this respect.
I consider animated films very important not only for promoting Estonia abroad but also for bringing our children closer to film culture through quality animated films. The Culture Ministry tries to support concrete [animated film] projects.