Romanian government accused of tightening grip on culture

Artists and intellectuals Thursday voiced concerns over the independence of cultural institutions in Romania, saying the government wants to use a top cultural body as a "propaganda tool".

As a sign of protest, the whole managing board of the Romanian Cultural Institute (ICR) announced its resignation.

The ICR, which is modelled after the British Council and Germany's Goethe Institute, promotes Romanian artists abroad and has been widely praised by international institutions for its contribution to intercultural exchange.

"We cannot fight anymore against the government's will to transform the Romanian Cultural Institute into a propaganda tool" for nationalistic purposes, its outgoing president, essayist Horia Patapievici, told reporters.

He deplored that the ICR's mission has been changed in order to "defend the national identity" instead of promoting independent voices.

"This is a sad day for culture," Cristi Puiu, a leading figure of the Romanian cinema new wave told AFP, saying he was "worried" by the tightening grip of the authorities on culture.

Thousands of artists in Europe and in the United States, including Nobel Literature prize winners Tomas Transtroemer and Herta Mueller, Cannes film darling directors like Cristian Mungiu, plus curators of the New York Museum of Modern Art had sent letters of protest to the centre-left government after it passed an emergency order changing the statute and the mission of the ICR.

Prime Minister Ponta had admitted a "lack of dialogue" but he refused to budge, saying the Institute should not remain under the tutelage of the presidency.

The bitter feud between Ponta and his arch rival, president Traian Basescu, now suspended awaiting a court ruling on an impeachment referendum, has led to one of the worst political crises in this former Communist dictatorship.

The European Commission recently criticised Ponta's government for breaching the rule of law in the impeachment procedure.

The Romanian minister of culture Puiu Hasotti said the changes in the ICR statutes will not impact its activities.

"The fact that the Institute will pass under the control of the senate does not justify the public statements made by its managing team," he told the news agency Mediafax.

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