On 4 April 2019 the Minister for Culture and National Heritage made a statement regarding the non-payment of a tranche of a designated subsidy for the organisation of Malta Festival Poznań 2017 due that year.
In 2016 Malta Foundation and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage concluded a three-year contract for the organisation of Malta Festival Poznań, by virtue of which the Ministry was under obligation to annually pay designated subsidies. In 2017 the subsidies were not paid, because Oliver Frljić, a theatre director and the author of the play The Curse, had been one of the festival curators.
In his statement Minister Piotr Gliński claims that the subsidy had not been paid due to Malta Foundation’s failure to comply with the contract. However, which was also indicated in the Court’s oral justification for the judgement, the contract entitled the Ministry to decrease the subsidy only in a very specific situation, which hadn’t occurred in this case. As Malta Foundation specified, the Ministry had known already in 2015 that Oliver Friljić would be the curator, therefore his person could not have been the reason for the non-payment of the designated subsidy to Malta Foundation. A fact also indicated by the Court.
Minister Gliński quoted statistics, which show that in 2018 the Ministry received 11 526 applications for subsidies, 3 498 out of which were granted. A decision to decline subsidies based on substantive grounds does not constitute an act of censorship in itself, unless it leads in the long run to the exclusion of a certain type of events or entities from the opportunity to receive funding. If, however, the refusal to pay a part of the already granted subsidy aims to block certain content or paralyse the functioning of institutions of culture solely because they represent views which are opposed to those held by the representatives of power, this must give rise to serious reservations. The representatives of public power have the duty to be guided by constitutional values in all their endeavours. It bears highlighting that the Constitution guarantees the freedom of artistic expression, the freedom to enjoy cultural goods (Article 73), and the freedom of speech (Article 54). It also introduces the rule of impartiality of the public authorities in matters of religion, outlook or philosophy (Article 25), as well as prohibits discrimination on any grounds in political, social or economic life (Article 32 point 2). Any decision of public authorities in the realm of culture should be taken according to transparent rules and be justified in detail.
The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights wishes to thank the Hogan Lovells law firm, whose attorneys have been representing Malta Foundation pro bono, as well as other law firms which have been cooperating with HFHR on a pro bono basis. Acting for human rights and representing those who stand up against the state and are exposed to criticism of those in power, their engagement is hugely significant for changing the practice and the regulations in situations which raise serious reservations in the context of human rights protection.
The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights